Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scotland Dances for Rich Russians

MTTwo girls doing a Scottish dance down the steps of the British Embassy on Tuesday at a presentation to promote tourism.
Russians love to travel, and the Scots want in on the action.

Kitted out in kilts and accompanied by the skirl of bagpipes, a Scottish delegation made its first pitch Tuesday on why they should reconsider going to Egypt or Germany on their next vacation.

"The Scots like to think of themselves as people who like to eat, like to drink, who are hale and hearty, who are vigorous, who are passionate and on our good days even romantic, and I think if you ask the average Russian he'll say something very similar," Eric Milligan, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, said at the presentation at the British Embassy.

Milligan cited a long list of sporting and cultural activities that could interest Russians in Scotland, ending with "and drinking the best of Scotch."

"It's a fact," he said. "Even Russians have to accept it's a far better drink than vodka."

The Scots are in town to participate in the mammoth MITT travel exhibition, which starts Wednesday and runs through Saturday at the Expocenter on Krasnaya Presnya.

And they are not the only ones out to catch the eye of Russian travelers, whose wanderlust has been steadily recovering since the 1998 financial crisis. Hotel giants Le Meridien and Radission SAS are expected to announce this week plans to open representative offices to reel in well-heeled Russians.

Russia is the world's 13th biggest spender on tourism, according to the World Tourism Organization. The global body says Russians spent $7.4 billion on travel beyond their borders in post-crisis 1999, the latest year for which it has figures available.

According to the tourism department of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, the top 10 destinations for Russian travelers outside the CIS are Poland, Germany, Finland, South Korea, China, Turkey, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Spain and Italy. Tourist numbers to all these destinations, except China, grew last year. Some of those destinations also receive many shuttle traders, making it difficult to estimate how many were traveling for pure tourism.

The number of Russian visitors -- including those going for vacations, business, study or personal reasons -- to Britain reached the 100,000 mark in 2001, a 50 percent increase on 2000, according to the Tourism, Marketing & Intelligence agency, or TMI. No separate figures are available for Scotland.

Jeremy Hawkings, chief executive of Connoisseurs Scotland, which owns seven elite hotels, a private luxury yacht and an exclusive train, said at the British Embassy reception that he hopes business with Russia will grow to 11 million British pounds a year. He was unable to say how much was spent in Scotland last year.

"A small but growing segment of the Russian population is extremely wealthy, and Scotland is a highly appealing destination to them," he said. "The Scots are seen as very friendly. They like our history, food and our countryside."

He said rich Russians prefer suites to individual rooms, the finest malts to blends, and chauffeured limousines to self-driven cars.

Alexander Zborovsky, deputy director of Sodis, a travel agency that specializes in individual packages, said Russians with extra cash to spend on world travel are interested in Scotland.

"Those who can afford more than charter flights and package tours have already been around the world, visiting many five-star and deluxe hotels, and are now looking for new experiences," he said.

He said top vacation experiences have included carnivals in Rio de Janiero, Venice and Nice, Munich's Oktoberfest and Berlin's Love Parade.

"Europe has a great concentration of interesting places. Britain, and especially Scotland, has many historical sites," Zborovsky said. "Many of our clients want to go to Loch Ness because everybody has heard of the monster."

Florian Sengstschmid, CIS regional manager for Austrian tourism, said Scotland shares with Austria some of the factors that draw tourists.

"Russians value the landscape, mountains, lakes and nature," he said, adding that the cultural attractions of Vienna also draw tourists, with some 30 percent of hotel nights spent there.

Maria Makarova, spokeswoman for Switzerland Tourism, said while Russians like Swiss mountain resorts such as Crans-Montana, Gstaad, St. Moritz and Zermatt, they also frequent Geneva and the Lake Geneva region, Bern, Lugano and Lucerne.

Switzerland is not only for the wealthy -- many Russians enjoy the country's sanatoriums, spas and thermal baths, she said.

"More and more people travel with their kids because there are many attractions for children and you can find moderately priced hotels," she said. "More and more people are visiting different events like the jazz festival in Montreux or the watches and jewelery exhibition in Basel that will be held next week."

TMI said Switzerland saw a 66 percent increase in Russian visitors in 2001, while visitors to Austria increased by 200 percent. TMI and the countries' tourist boards could not immediately provide specific numbers.

South Africa last year had one of the biggest increases in Russian tourists among countries without direct charter flights.

Anesh Maistry, third secretary at the South African Embassy, said the number rose by 15 percent to about 3,000 people.

"Obviously we are not going to get the hordes of Russians that go to Turkey and Egypt. We are a long-haul destination," he said.

Asked what characterized Russian visitors, he said: "They are big spenders, I can tell you that. A lot of them go on safaris to national reserves to look at the wildlife. Some of them go on hunting safaris.

"Russians love to stay at Sun City; they have seen it in the Miss World competitions," he said.