The Malta Independent 9 August 2020, Sunday

Does Malta need more Russian tourists?

Tuesday, 7 July 2020, 09:58 Last update: about 2 months ago

On 15 July Malta's Airport will be opening to all countries and destinations including tourists from Russia, but their flow, which is already insignificant in terms of the industry, may decrease. The reason for this can be divided into two groups: the consequences of the pandemic and the typical ones. Julia Fedotova writes

Let's start with the latter, the traditional ones, and take a global picture: Why out of 17 million people leaving Russia for holidays per year, only 30,000-50,000 opt to come to Malta? I should say that for this material I requested the official statistics of the main tourist companies and conducted a sufficient number of interviews both with representatives of the tourist industry and with Russian tourists. To understand why there could be many more Russians visiting Malta (even now some would say "God forbid"), we should highlight the main requests of travellers.


Russians need a seaside vacation "as it is healthy", that's what every "born in the USSR" will tell you. As for me, the sea is the best in the world. I am sure because after I got stung by a jellyfish in Sliema, the scar remained on my arm for three years. I tried to replace it with Maldivian clear waters, uninhabited beaches of Fiji and party beach clubs of Miami... But a "normal" Russian man wants to have sand under his feet and a hotel on the first line of the sea. When an agent offers Golden Bay as an option, tourists refuse because of the distance "from the capital". This is another point. We think in terms of the measures of giant Russia and the "capital" for us is the centre of civilization, a point of prestige.

Julia and her daughter Liana in a hotel in Sochi 

Next comes the food: Turkey will never stop being the #1 destination while there is the famous all-inclusive model. After all, it is much easier for a Russian to pay once and "hit money back" than to spend money continuously, assessing a glass of wine worth €10 and experiencing stress. And let's be honest: what is a glass of wine on vacation by our standards? As for the cuisine, those who have already overeaten in Turkey, accept the Cypriot and Spanish half-board. Also, Russians like big hotels with "grounds" - infrastructure. Not everyone knows about diving or tours on the island.

In recent years, tourism ministries of different countries are actively fighting for Russian tourists. Rumours say that last year only little Bahrain invested millions of dollars in advertising. But here, before saying that the Maltese authorities are losing the battle, I would be interested to know in a private conversation: Does Malta need more tourists from Russia, is there even such an objective? If so, then logistics are also important: Air Malta, together with Aeroflot, offers a direct flight a couple of times a week. But this is not even a red-eye flight, it's a difficult night flight. To get on the flight even from home in Moscow (and many tourists fly with transfers) you need to leave at one o'clock in the morning. And there is no way to sleep onboard - you just don't get enough time. As a result, sleepy tourists who arrive at 7am have to wait for check-in at the hotel, in the heat. A day charter would certainly make a difference.

Listening to these points every time, I was "getting" the trump-card argument: "What about the convenience of widespread use of English?" "Huh," the respondents answered, "Why should anyone be stressed by speaking English if they already speak Russian in Turkey and Cyprus!" But those who want to improve their language are the major visitors. Russians think that language schools on the island are worthy.

Turkish restaurant open for tourists

About competitors on the continent - We have already mentioned Turkey, and it is a monster: 70% of vacationing Russians end up in this country. The Olympic city of Sochi, Cyprus and Spain with Italy are still dragging a significant percentage. France, Bulgaria, Montenegro with Croatia take up the rest. However, in 2020, there is an urgent reorientation to domestic tourism (the virgin soil to be worked on, as in some parts of the country, only 10% of the flow are locals). It makes sense because Russia is in no hurry to open its borders. Yet, even here it is not without politics. This is how we approached the second group - "topical" one. Obviously, after the spring decline in oil prices, the euro became even less comfortable for us. And the expensive, in comparison with the last decades, and moreover inadequate in the quality of service Sochi became competitive. And (attention, a favourite Russian expression for quantitative limitations) "not made of rubber". At this moment, when the decent resort is overcrowded, the flow of tourists is redirected into the Crimea! The dream of the president and his associates comes true at the right time: now the Crimea is not only Russian but also in demand. Today, it can be adequately built into the system of life of the state and will no longer seem like an artificial appendage. The Russian "party" (those representatives who are no longer afraid of sanctions) from the beginning of June will post stories on Instagram from this location.

And a short anecdote. Russians accustomed to looking for backup exits came up with a way to get to Malta (or Europe) before the official permission of the authorities. And in the same way, as well as (either as a joke or seriously) the forbidden cheeses in Russia get into restaurant dishes in Moscow: through Belarus. People say that there are already such services: you are being taken to the border, further you have to walk 20 kilometres through swamps and dens. From there you may call a cab and freely move to the airport. However, I'll wait. Even though I count the days before I meet my favourite island.

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