China’s attractiveness as a tourist destination for the Russian traveler. Inferences India should draw.

_ Vikram Suhag, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. Moscow, 29 April 2019.

The article was made as part of a research exercise during a tenure at the Embassy of Republic of India in the Russian Federation to give an existing outlook for the upcoming office of the India Tourism Inc. in Moscow. I would like to thank Ms. Mahima Sikand, Director of Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre of the Embassy of India for her inputs towards this article. This article compares India and China in terms of Tourism engagements with Russia and provides considerations from an Indian perspective.


When it comes to tourism the first agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Republic of India on Tourism Cooperation of 06/30/1994. This agreement was followed by JOINT ACTION PROGRAM for the period 2009- 2010 for the implementation of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the Russian Federation on cooperation in the field of tourism. The results of the ongoing co-operation between the two countries can be seen by the annual increase in the number of incoming Indian tourists to Russia and Russian outbound tourists to India. 2017 saw an increase of 20 percent in incoming Indian tourists to Russia and as compared to 59000 tourists in 2016, the number of tourists in 2017 was 71000.

Though improvements have been going on there is a lot of potential which both Russia and India have left untapped in terms of promoting tourist exchanges. Although China and India have a comparable population base, the numbers of Chinese arrivals to Russia and Indian arrivals have a huge gap. We can give a consideration to geographical proximity between Russia and China, but the numbers of Chinese arrivals vis a vis India still remains high. Another aspect of the high numbers of Chinese inflows can be attributed to a high level of economic Cooperation between the two countries. Indian arrivals stand a humble 71000 compared to Chinese 1478000 for the period of 2017. Realizing that tourism is an important aspect of promoting mutual understanding and goodwill and enhance people to people connections, the current trajectory and pace needs some reset and considerations. Tourism being a symbiotic relation between nations also showcases the lack of Russian outbound tourists to India compared to China. Although India and China both have a strong cultural heritage and attractions-based destinations and diverse geographic and climatic conditions, the number of incoming Russian tourists to India also remain low and concentrated to only a single regional pocket of Goa.

In this article we would highlight the tourist profile of the Russian outbound traveler and point to the fact as to why Russia as a market needs consideration and dedicated focus from Indian tourism industry. We will bring out inferences from Russian social media search data on destinations, attractions, cities and see how China is considerably high in number of searches as compared to India. We would then see the bilateral agreements between Russia and China on the area of tourism promotion and finally we would some policy recommendations for the Indian tourism industry.

Chart 1. India’s tourism sector (2017)

As seen in Chart 1. although the absolute size ranking of India’s tourism sector is 7th globally, the relative size ranking in terms of contribution to GDP is 99. The visitor exports in 2017 stood at 5.8% which is below the South Asian average of 6.3% and the global average of 6.5%. The growth in visitor exports through 2028 based on current trends is forecasted to be 5.1% of all exports which is below the South Asian forecast of 5.7% and global forecast of 6.9% which is forecasted to rise from current levels. Indian tourism industry as share of GDP will increase primarily due to increasing domestic tourism, whereas in the long run the visitor export proportion of total exports will fall from current levels.

Chart 2. Russo-Indian tourism relations (2017)

Table 1. Number of Russian tourists abroad (2017)

Country No of Russian Tourist visitors
China 1654000
Finland 2481000
Turkey 3944000
Egypt 1214000
Estonia 1285000
Thailand 706000
Tunisia 458000
Vietnam 395000
Israel 256000
Korea 169000
Dominican Republic 165000
India 127000

Also, it is worth mentioning that in 2017 the number of Indian tourist visits to Russia was 71000. At the same time the number of Chinese visitors to Russia was 1478000 in 2017. Based on mutual tourism relations the numbers for Russian tourists to India is almost twice the number of Indian tourists to Russia.

Russian Federation as a market for tourism export – Why Russia should matter to India

The Russian Federation is the world’s 4th largest source of outbound tourists, more and more of Russian Federation’s 115 million Internet users seek information and book their trips online, for themselves or their older acquaintances. The online travel booking market is growing by 40–50% per annum and there are reasons to believe that this growth will continue. There are a growing number of online travel agents, increasing popularity of mobile devices and social networks. Also, increasingly sophisticated Russian travelers, choosing to organize their trips independently, are driving adoption of online channels.

As seen in Graph 1., Russian outbound travel has seen high growth rates in the past years. Since 2000, international tourism expenditure by Russians has increased by an average of 15% a year, reaching an estimated EUR 42.3 billion in 2017, up from only USD EUR 8.9 billion in 2000. It is currently the fourth biggest spender on tourism expenditure, after China, the United States of America and Germany, and ahead of the United Kingdom and France. Its share of expenditure of all European travelers was 11% in 2017, up from 4% in 2000.

Graph 1. Outbound tourism by main countries (1995-2013)

Source: UNTWO.

Table 2. Outbound tourism by main countries (1995-2013)

Source: UNTWO

The general Russian travel interest can be summed up as follows:

Firstly, ooverall, Russian travelers show the greatest interest in recreation and attractions based on the volume of Internet searches, to which family travel and shopping should be added if based on social media buzz.

Secondly, Russian travelers value comfort, translating this into a desire for popular recreation resorts or big cities where attractions, nightlife, shopping and restaurants are easily accessible. Even travelers that follow the crowd when it comes to choice of destination and activities have a strong preference for staying away from other travelers, particularly Russians.

Table 3. General Russian tourist profile

Map 1. General Russian destination profile. Where China wins over India in numbers (2017)

As seen in Map 1., the main destinations for Russians based on destination clustering also places China favorably centered between the three clusters. That is due to a high presence of Chine se destinations in attraction centered cluster and a popular wellness centered destination like Sanya. India despite having a high potential and diverse destinations is lagging behind China to attract higher volumes of Russian tourists.

Table. 4. Russian Google searches in combination with European countries (2017)

As seen in Table 4., the main focus areas of Russian tourists when searching for vacation destinations also presents a different perspective. India has high potential for attractions, food, nature and culture, yet India vis a vis China is falling behind in terms of attracting Russian tourists.

Table 4. Top sightseeing attractions for Russians tourists

As seen in Table. 4, top attractions which drive Russian tourist behavior to choose destinations in the attraction centered destination cluster. In the top 25 attractions searched in the Russian social media, China has three mentions whereas despite having a rich collection of UNESCO sites, no Indian attraction makes the list.

Map 2. Intensity of Russian outbound flight connections (2017)

According to Map 2., major departures for Russian outbound tourists. There is a strong tendency for Russians from Siberia and Far East Russia to choose Asian destinations. The number of flight connections to Russian cities forms the basis for attracting tourists. China scores high in this regard with India having minimum connections. India has flight connections with Moscow on a frequency of 2 flight daily which is substantially low to match Chinese- Russian tourism exchanges.

Map 3. Top city destinations in the European Union for Russian tourists (2017)

The single city holiday destination profile for rich Russian world travelers consists of highly globalised cities which offer all ingredients of demands requested by well travelled Russians. Currently, two Indian cities are classified as type 1 global cities in GAWC, but the lack of aerial connections between the two countries is hampering tourist exchanges. In the above mentioned most searched cities in the Russian outbound flights map, no Indian destination is present in the top 45. China has 3 cities which are embedded in the minds of potential Russian tourists.

Map 4. Russian regions and their destination preference (2017)

According to Map 4., major Russian regions with specific outbound destination preferences. The western part of Russia is predominantly focused on European and Turkish destinations. This may be attributed to higher income levels in the European Russian regions. Asian destinations are more popular in the Eastern and beyond Urals Russia. Geographical proximity to China and enhanced transport connections between the two countries make an ideal setting for stronger people to people contacts and higher tourism exchange potential. The major lack of air connectivity between Russia and India is a big hurdle in this regard.

Tourism Exchanges in Russia–China Cooperation

There has been a steady increase in the number of tourists between Russia and China in recent years. China ranks first among countries outside the former Soviet Union regarding the number of visitors to Russia, and it is the second most popular destination for Russian tourists. The number of Chinese tourists in Russia in January–September 2017 increased by 16 per cent, and the number of Russians in China increased by 25 per cent. Success in the development of bilateral tourism is based on a wide range of measures adopted at the state level and in the tourist industries of both countries. Group tourism has grown because of the visa-free regime in place for Russian and Chinese tourist groups. Measures have also been taken to improve the overall quality of services and provide comfortable living conditions for tourists, and specialized projects and routes have been created to attract Russian and Chinese tourists, with attention paid to their particular interests.

In January–September of 2017, the number of Russian tourists visiting China reached 1.478 million, which is 25 per cent more than in the same period in 2016. Meanwhile, a total of 1.243 million Chinese tourists visited Russia, an increase of 16 per cent. During the same period, the number of Chinese tourists who visited Russia as part of tourist groups under the visa-free regime equaled approximately 840,000 people, 24 per cent more than in the same period in 2016.

Success in the development of bilateral tourism is based on a wide range of measures adopted at the state level in both countries, first and foremost, of the Year of Russian Tourism in China in 2012 and the Year of Chinese Tourism in Russia in 2013.

Second, the simplification of the visa regime also contributed to the growth in the number of tourists: in 2000, Russia and China signed an intergovernmental agreement on visa-free group tourist trips.

Third, new tourist routes were launched in both countries, along with cross-border tourist trains. Both sides have incorporated theme-based tourism projects focused on meeting market demand which includes “red tourism” packages, visits to places of military glory and ecotourism.

The two countries attach great importance to the development of tourism services and are studying the possibilities of improving their quality. In Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major Russian cities, airports and public places include signs and information in Chinese, and China Union Pay bank cards are accepted in most locations.

A series of similar public and private initiatives within the China Friendly programme have simplified the stay of Chinese tourists in Russia considerably.

At this stage, Russia and China have moved past simple tourist visits to more meaningful cooperation between the respective industries of the two countries, from the state and regional level to cooperation between second- and third-tier cities, and from visits to border zones to journeys to regions inside the states.

The issue of considerably simplifying the visa regime between countries, including the possibility of abolishing visas altogether, continues to be of great interest in the context of developing ties between the peoples of Russia and China and growth in tourism between the two countries. To this end, there is a joint special working group formulated in December 2018 to discuss proposals for simplifying the existing visa regime and establishing a visa-free regime between Russia and China.

Good relations between districts, border regions and twin cities cover such issues as building new infrastructure, developing cross-border tourism, studying the possibility of creating new areas of tourist cooperation, and searching for prospective models of cross-border cooperation in tourism.

Public diplomacy institutions play a crucial role in the development of regional cooperation. One of the essential organisations working in this field is the Russian– Chinese Friendship Association. In 2018, the Association plans to double the number of regional offices. In the long term, the Russian side is considering a format of cooperation that would see each Russian region establish reciprocal ties with a Chinese province. On the other hand, the China–Russia Friendship Association has also proposed establishing regional offices in several Chinese provinces.

One of the best tools for promoting bilateral ties across all sectors and stimulating friendly interaction between the peoples of Russia and China is the mutual study of the Russian and Chinese languages.
Interest in the Chinese language is growing in Russia. Approximately 40,000 people are currently studying it in institutions of secondary and higher education across the country. The Confucius Institute has contributed to Chinese language and cultural instruction in Russia. In turn, interest in the Russian language is also high in China because of active inter-state cooperation, and approximately 40,000 people are studying the language in Chinese institutions of higher education.

The practice of holding bilateral years is very popular with the two countries. Years of inter-regional cooperation are set to be held in 2018 and 2019, and will thus mark another milestone in cooperation following the national cross-years, the years of the Russian and Chinese languages, the years of tourism, and the years of youth and media.

Around 130 treaties have been signed on twinned cities and friendly relations between regions.

Heavy investment by Chinese companies in Russian Tourism companies in all regions of Russia to create Chinese friendly tourism services for Chinese tourists to Russia.

Similar measurement has been made for Russian friendly services in China for Russian tourists. Audio guides for all landmarks have Russian language support.

In July 2016, the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang started an experimental procedure of refunding taxes on purchases made by foreign citizens.

In the last few years, Russia has been proactively developing new routes, with the interests of Chinese tourists in mind. These initiatives help introduce them to the cultural diversity of Russian regions, demonstrate a common history,260 and unlock the potential of ecotourism.

The “red tourism” development is integral to the process of strengthening humanitarian
cooperation.262 The project is growing constantly. The Museum of the 6th Congress of the Communist

Party of China (CPC), which was opened in New Moscow in 2016, is expected to become part of the sightseeing route. “Red tours” are also being developed in Sakhalin, where tourists arrive from Harbin by air.

Other factors contributing to tourist exchange growth include the increase in the number of regular air routes linking the regions of Russia and China

As far as China is concerned, the northern and north-eastern regions, as well as Hainan Island, are traditionally proactive in attracting Russian tourists. Since 2016, the authorities in the province have employed a special marketing strategy on the Russian market, as Russians are not only interested in learning about the cultural and historical heritage, but also seek health resort therapy and beach holidays. The Sanya resort has put up signposts and signs in Russian. Sanya healthcare centres have hired Russian-speaking translators, and the number of charter flights to the region has been increased. Russians ranked first in terms of foreign tourists at the resort at year end.

In addition, in order to further cultural and other ties, the countries are gradually relaxing the visa regime. For instance, in 2016, citizens of the Russian Federation were allowed to transit visa-free for a total of 144 hours through the territory of Shanghai, and provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu. The 72-hour visa-free transit rules still apply to people transiting through Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Shenyang, Xi’an, Guilin, Kunming, Wuhan, Xiamen, Tianjin, Harbin, Qingdao, and Changsha.

As for Russia, in February 2017 the Head of the Federal Agency for Tourism of Russia Oleg Safonov claimed that in order to raise the number of tourists coming to Russia, it is necessary to simplify border control formalities, including considerably lowering the visa fee or making the visas free.

The below mentioned joint declarations and MOU’s bring out the maturity of the Russian-Chinese Tourism interaction.

• MEMORANDUM OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING between the Federal Agency for Tourism (Russian Federation) and the State Administration of Tourism Affairs of the People’s Republic of China on the further expansion of cooperation in the field of tourism
• MEMORANDUM OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING between the Federal Agency for Tourism (Russian Federation) and the State Administration of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China on investment cooperation in the field of tourism
• MEMORANDUM ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ACTION PLAN for the development of Russian- Chinese cooperation in the humanitarian sphere
• MEMORANDUM OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING between the Federal Agency for Tourism (Russian Federation) and the State Administration of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China on cooperation in the development of military-historical (“red”) tourism
• MINUTES OF THE FIFTEENTH MEETING OF THE SUB-COMMISSION ON TOURISM Russian-Chinese Commission for Humanitarian Cooperation
• MINUTES of the Second Meeting of Heads of Tourist Administrations of Russia, China and Mongolia
• MINUTES of the Third Meeting of Heads of Tourist Administrations of Russia, China and Mongolia

• MEMORANDUM OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING between the Federal Agency for Tourism (Russian Federation) and the State Administration of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China on the further expansion of cooperation in improving the quality of tourist service

Requirements for Indian tourism industry alignment: policy goals and measures to compete for Russian tourists

1) The classification by Cohen (Swarbrooke & Horner 2007, 84) suggests four categories of Tourism targets as applied to India:

  • The organized mass tourist – buys a full package and travels in group;
  • The individual mass tourist – buys a partial package so has a freedom for local options, still usually belongs to group;
  • The explorer – makes arrangements on its own, travels individually;
  • The drifter – downshifter from the current point of view, becomes a part of a local community.

Based on these 4 types of target portfolio and the varying motivation to travel within each target various traveler tribes need to be formed by the Industry and Tourism products on offer should be aligned to the prospective target.

The term of e-Tourism (or e-Travel) has been started to be used in the Russian tourism industry at the last few years but more frequently regarding online purchasing the tourism-related products like tickets, hotel bookings and so on. Balandin and Laizane (2013, 1-2) in the project of developing modern tourism in the Russian Karelia (Republic of Karelia) include into e-tourism also available online information about destinations for making tourist choice, real-time local services (i.e. up-to-date local sites) and available mobile applications for destinations, virtual communities for sharing post-travel experience. The recent report of the Russian research company Data Insight (2018, 3-17) gives the following highlights regarding the online purchases for tourism:

  • There is growth in e-Travel market (inbound + outbound) between 2016 and 2017 ~40%; the main contribution in such jump is growing experience of Internet users, not Internet penetration (it was only 7%);
  • Russians prefer to make savings on not buying new cars and home technique but do not refuse from traveling for leisure and entertainment. There is a sharp decrease in buying tour packages but growing purchases of e -tickets and hotel bookings;
  • There is growth in Internet visits in 2017 – 2018: for hotels reservations systems +65, online booking flights +45, sites of online travel agencies (OTA) +5%; there is growth of demand for individual tours and travel consulting.

As a conclusion regarding e-Tourism in Russia it can be said that it grows very fast and there is a trend to use less
the services of travel agencies and more organize trips on one’s own.

Indian travel and tour services should not just focus on pre-built packages but also create an e-tourist ecosystem for information and e-behavior mapping.

3) The focus should be high on promoting and tracking Indian tourism brand performance on social networking sites. The activity in the networks, portals and forums specialized on tourism is much higher in Russia. The list of some Russian popular Internet resources dedicated to tourism:

4) A more user friendly and agile API enabled India tourism website which is compatible with different platforms like PC, tablet, and Mmobile. Currently the website is text intensive and the Russian language section is diverted from the English menu using Google translate and the experience is not seamless and performs in a non optimum way over different platforms.

5) Russians have a large language dependency. Even the ones who know English have troubles with the language barrier. All major attractions should have Russia friendly tourist policy if we aim to attract high volumes of Russian tourists. This will enable to increase numbers of travelers who don’t purchase Group or packaged tours.

6) Our major UNESCO World heritage sites and museums should include audio guides in Russian language in addition to the regular tour guides. This will enable to generate revenue outside the package tour segment from drifters and individual travelers. This will also enhance experience of tourists overall.

7) Since all major destinations which have high Russian outbound volume are regions whose citizens visit Russia in large numbers. China, ASEAN nations like Vietnam, Thailand all have more tourists visiting Russia than tourists from India. There is a trend of mutual reciprocation in terms of negotiating of favorable intergovernmental agreements from the Russian side.

8) There should be an exploration and analysis of the twin city agreements between Russia and China and similar feasibility study should be done from an Indian perspective.

9) Exploration and identification of common interest theme based tours which would intrigue both nationalities.

10) Significant effort should be based on Branding and advertising Indian offerings through campaigns in popular mass media and Internet. The results and penetration should be tracked on social media afterwards.

11) India should unilaterally think in terms of removing visa restrictions for Russians for up to 14 days of intended stay in India.

12) An ASEAN model of Russian language proficiency buildup should be explored to create suitable environment for Russian tourists in terms of language barrier issues.

13) The major hindrance is the number of air connections to India. The efforts to establish air contacts with 5 major Russian cities with 2 major Indian cities of Delhi and Mumbai should be made.


  1. Indian Treaties Database at
  2. Federal Agency for Tourism of Ministry of Economic development of the Russian Federation (Rostourism) at
  3. Information files on Tourism at the Embassy of India in the Russian Federation
  4. Dibb, S., Simkin, L., Pride, W.M. and Ferrell, O.C. (2001). Marketing Concepts and Strategies. 4th European edition. Houghton-Mifflin.
  5. Horner, S. and Swarbrooke, J. (2005). Leisure Marketing: A Global Perspective. Elsevier Butterwork- Heinemann.
  6. Middleton, V.T.C and Clarke, J. (2001). Marketing for Travel and Tourism. 3rd edition. Butterworth- Heinemann.
  7. Sharpley, R. (1994). Tourism, Tourists and Societies. 2nd edition. Elm
  8. Smith, V. (ed.) (1989). Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism. 2nd edition. Univer

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