Ukraine invasion destroys Russian outbound tourism



According to the latest industry data, Russian outbound tourism, already severely handicapped by the global COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions, has fallen even further, because of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

In the week before Russia launched its aggression against Ukraine (w/c February 18), outbound international air tickets from Russia stood at 42% of pre-pandemic levels; but in the week immediately after the invasion (w/c February 25), issued air tickets fell to just 19%. Since then, flight bookings have sunk deeper still and have been hovering at around 15%.

Owing to war-related sanctions on civil aviation, Russians cannot book flights to many of their favorite destinations in the West; so, they are instead booking trips to Asia and the Middle East.

So, the wealthy Russian are still flying, just not to Europe.

The war with Ukraine, and the consequent sanctions on flying, have effectively caused Russia’s outbound tourism market to dry up. Those people who are still flying comprise an elite, affluent niche, who are forced to holiday in Asia and the Middle East rather than in Europe.

An analysis of flight bookings made between February 24, the start of the invasion, and April 27, the latest data, reveals that the top five destinations for travel between May and August, in order of resilience, are Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and the UAE.

Bookings to Sri Lanka are currently 85% ahead of pre-pandemic levels, the Maldives 1% behind, Kyrgyzstan 11% behind, Turkey 36% behind and the UAE, 49% behind.

However, Sri Lanka’s position at the head of the list is not a true reflection of the island’s attractiveness as a destination, it’s more about safety. Rather, it is a consequence of terrorist bombings, which scared away visitors in 2019, the pre-pandemic benchmark year.

A deeper analysis of the recently issued tickets to Turkey and the UAE suggests that a substantial proportion are affluent Russians going on holiday. Premium cabin travel is making a comeback. The number of seats sold in premium cabins has tripled, compared to 2019.

Moreover, the average trip duration for premium travelers is now 12 nights in Turkey and 7 nights in the UAE.

Changes to flight schedules and flight paths

Changes to flight schedules, following Russian attack on Ukraine, have been as follows:

  • February 24: Air space in southern Russia was closed and Aeroflot was banned from flying to the UK
  • February 25: Russia banned British airlines from its airspace
  • February 27: The EU closed its airspace to Russian planes
  • March 1: The US banned Russian flights from entering its airspace
  • March 5: Russian airlines (Aeroflot, Ural Airlines, Azur Air and Nordwind Airlines and others) suspended international flights
  • March 25: Rosaviatsiya, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, extended a ban on flight operations at 11 airports in southern and central parts of Russia
  • March 25: Vietnam Airlines suspended regular flights to Russia
  • April 14: AirBaltic stopped flights to Russia – but will return to Ukraine ASAP
  • April 22: EgyptAir resumed daily direct flights between Cairo and Moscow ahead of the popular Red Sea summer season.
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