Russian Holiday

The Rest and Recreation Show in Moscow

“If you don’t like sweaty people and hot vodka, take your annual leave in January” may be an old bureaucratic joke, but winter vacations are still a relatively new phenomenon is Russia.

However, the Rest and Recreation Tourist Show, held October 5¿9 in Moscow, demonstrated the winter-vacation business is growing-despite the latest economic crisis.

This year the show attracted almost 500 companies from more than twenty countries. Although it was mainly designed for professionals in the tourist industry, it was also open to public.

The snowboard image was quite popular at the show. Posters, catalogs, and even some of the companies known for Alpine ski tours all had snowboarders popping big airs on the covers.

After the Iron Curtain fell, the Russian tourist market grew rapidly. In 1997, almost two-million Russian citizens spent their vacations abroad. The number of tourist companies in Moscow is currently around 1,000, and almost 80 percent offered winter tours last year.

Of those, approximately 100 companies specialized in snowboarding and skiing tours. A dozen American companies with branches in Russia control most of the tours to the United States-which primarily have traditional sightseeing itineraries.

Austria, the clear leader in ski tourism in Russia, dominated the show. It even sponsored the freestyle ski demo on a rolling-carpet slope -a completely new thing for the Russian audience.

Among the other popular snow-resort countries are Slovakia, Andorra, Turkey, Slovenia, Finland, France, and Switzerland.

In spite of the fact that most Russian resorts are facing financial problems, they may actually get more customers this year. While not all of them can radically improve their services, they easily beat many foreign resorts on lodging and lift-ticket prices.

Since Orthodox Christmas is on January 7, and the Russian school holidays are in the first week of January, the winter-tourist peak is not in December but in January.

“We mostly focus on winter tours to France, Austria, Russia, and now Alaska,” says Vitaliy Ilinykh, director of the Vertical World tourist agency. “Our company is not the only one providing heli-ski tours, but what makes us unique is that we have top-level ski instructors escorting the groups. Some time ago we discovered snowboarding, so now we do both ski and snowboard tours.”

And what about the current economic crisis in Russia? “The cheapest and the most expensive tours will not suffer-at least they won’t be dramatically cut down,” predicts Lyudmila Radionovskaya, project manager of the Tetraedr advertising agency that works closely with the tourist industry. “The total number of the companies will decrease, but those who survive will eat the whole cake, big or small. There is also a trend toward switching over to the tours within Russia. In any case, I’m sure snow fans will find the money to go to the mountains.”

-Valeriy Yevseyev