By Cheranka Mendis
Tapping into the high-end tourism market Russia would help boost tourism numbers in large volumes and drive the industry to surpass the expected arrivals of 750,000 by the end of the year to over 800,000.
SriLankan Airlines yesterday made its first direct flight to Moscow, the financial and political centre of Russia. Flying a UL 531, the flight will be twice weekly on Wednesdays and Saturdays and is expected to increase Russian tourists to 20,000 by year end.
Sri Lanka welcomed 13,278 tourists from Russia in 2010, a 12.2% increase from the 11,834 in 2009.
Speaking at a press conference held yesterday, Deputy Minister of Economic Development Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena stated that over 19 million Russians travel overseas every year and local authorities are hoping to benefit greatly from the new flight.
With over 9,781 Russians having visited Sri Lanka between the January- August period, Abeywardena noted that bringing in 20,000 Russians by the end of the year was a possibility.
“Russia and Sri Lanka have always enjoyed a good relationship. We have had a long term diplomatic relationship. Even during the war period, when restrictions against flying to Sri Lanka were high, Russia always backed us up by sending tourists over,” Abeywardena said. “This market holds great potential for Sri Lanka.”
The Deputy Minister stated that the connection with Russia had gone beyond political affiliation to trade as well. He noted that 28.7% of Russia’s tea consumption was supplied by Sri Lanka. “There is mutual love there. Sri Lanka earns some US$ 243 million through tea supply to Russia.”
Acting Director General of Sri Lanka Tourism Vipula Wanigasekera added that with Russians considered as high spenders, the market was important in Sri Lanka’s attempt to market itself as a niche destination attracting high spending tourists.He stated that on average Russians spend US$ 2,200 when overseas, which is US$ 500-600 higher than and European tourists. Russia’s tourism spending exceeds US$ 26.5 billion annually, he said.
Russian outbound tour operators and journalists were also invited to be part of the launch.