Fuelled by its rising middle class and growing spending power, Russia is experiencing a travel boom like never before. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Russia is now the world's fastest growing outbound travel market, rising by 29 per cent during the first nine months of 2013. To put that in perspective, Russians were the fifth highest spenders globally in 2012, with a total spend of $43 billion on travel abroad.
The Russian middle class is set to account for 86 per cent of the population by 2020, according to Nielsen, with a spending power of $1.3 trillion. The impact of this can already be seen, with Russians now amongst the highest spenders on hotel rooms globally. Our booking data for the first half of 2013 shows that Russians pay an average of £125 a night, a statistic matched by figures from VisitBritain, showing that Russian visitors typically part with almost £1,100 when visiting the UK - almost twice the £600 average.
According to a global study that we conducted recently, almost half of all hoteliers surveyed worldwide have seen a rise in Russian guests in the last year, with 53 per cent of those hoteliers seeing bookings grow by 10 per cent or more. Despite this, the UK has seen its share of the market decrease and still only accounts for less than one per cent of all trips made abroad by Russians. In our research, we found that London was the UK's only entrant in the Top 20 list of destinations for Russian travellers during the first half of 2013, coming in at number nine. However, various initiatives are underway to change this.
One of the reasons why the UK has failed to benefit fully from the increase in Russian tourists is that transport links between the UK and Russia have been mostly limited to London and Moscow. However, new flight routes launched earlier this year between these cities and between Moscow and Manchester, are making the UK more accessible.
In 2014, our two nations are joining forces for the UK - Russia Year of Culture, during which time the best of Russia and the UK's cultural heritage will be showcased in both countries. The programme is set to foster cultural exchange across arts, education, language and science and is indicative of a huge improvement in cultural relations. Alongside this, President Putin has stated that he hoped the project would create a "new trust" between the countries.
To make the most of this year of cultural exchange, our study showed that the travel industry could be doing more to take advantage of this opportunity by reviewing the experience that Russian visitors receive, once they are here. Translating tourist information is a good first step but hoteliers can also consider adapting the services they offer and making changes to attract the more lucrative Russian guests, such as having Russian speakers available, introducing Russian menus and adding Russian TV channels.