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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Is Moscow a Dream Destination?

"To come to Moscow you have to be either super rich or super adventurous", said Lynn Arkin, a travel agent from Los Angeles.

In spite of this assessment on travel to the Russian capital, Lynn Arkin and a group of 44 travel agents from the United States and Canada gave rave reviews to Moscow after a week of sightseeing and inspection of hotels and restaurants around the city.

Their tour was conducted by Apex Travel, a Moscow-based agency run by Igor Grymov, a dapper Russian who speaks flawless English. Pavel Baskalov, the company's sales manager, said that the visit bodes well for Russia's private travel agents and the industry as a whole.

"It is a very good sign", he said. "The American travel industry generates $4 billion a year worldwide. If agents start recommending Russia as a destination, it would be very good for us".

The travel agents are part of ASTA, or the American Society of Travel Agencies, which has 20, 000 members worldwide. Every year, ASTA picks a city for a "fam", or familiarization tour for some of its agents, so that they can report to their clients whether or not a place is worth visiting. This year, ASTA chose Moscow.

David Love, the chairman of the group, was upbeat at a press conference on Tuesday, the last day of the trip.

"Everything was wonderful", he said. "Our guides were wonderful, and the food was great. Our impressions were highly favorable".

Love did have some concerns, such as the "high price of hotels and the complicated visa requirements".

Two guides, Lyena Kaplina and Dmitry Kharlampidov, led the two bus-loads of tourists to all the usual spots, such as the Kremlin, Red Square and Sparrow Hills, plus they went to Zagorsk and Sergeyev Posad outside of town.

It was not all sightseeing, circuses and gala dinners, though. The group called on all the major hard-currency hotels in Moscow, and came up with one simple conclusion.

"They're too expensive", Arkin said.

He was a little more generous with his room at the Cosmos Hotel, although baffled by the furnishings. "My hotel room is nice but there are no drawers. All of my things are on top of the desk or the TV set", said Arkin.

Jennifer Kammer, an agent from Austin, Texas, said that Russia was not at all what she expected it to be.

"The American media paints a picture of Russia that is not at all correct", she said. "Based on what we see in the papers, I thought everything would be gray and depressed. I know people have troubles here, but they seemed happy. People were extremely friendly".

Margarita Krasnopolskaya, who works in the Regional Ministry of Sport and Tourism in Nizhny Novgorod, took the train all night to be in Moscow for the press conference. She asked the Americans how to put her city on the travel industry's map.

"We are just at the beginning", she said. "There are so many young travel agents in Nizhny Novgorod, with so much enthusiasm. We need guidance".

After the press conference, the agents relaxed with a cocktail and chatted more freely about their trip. They discussed how tough Moscow would be for an individual traveler, how difficult it is to get around if you don't know the Cyrillic alphabet, and whether or not street signs should be in English as well as Russian.

The recurring theme was history; the United States is a young country with a brief history, but Russia has been at it for a thousand years.

"Americans can be really arrogant", said Lee Gentry of Cincinnati, Ohio. "But we shouldn't be. We've seen centuries of history here. The other day when we went to Zagorsk, a priest was showing us around the monastery. I asked him when it was built, and he said 1472. This blew me away. The United States didn, t even exist yet".