The place Russians have been vacationing for the reason that starting of the Ukraine conflict

There was a time when Western Europe was the destination of choice for Russian tourists.

But things have changed.

Max, a Russian in his forties, used to stroll through museums in France, enjoy fine dining in Italy and hike in the hills of Spain.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine. This year Max, who told CNBC he was uncomfortable sharing his last name, “didn’t even consider Europe as a vacation destination.”

“I am aware of the problems in obtaining visas for European countries,” he said.

Last week, the European Union agreed to suspend a 2007 travel deal with Moscow that made it easier for Russians to get visas. The move will make it harder and more expensive for Russians to travel to the bloc.

In the future, when Putin leaves and we become a normal country again, I hope to visit Europe again.

The blocking of EU airspace for Russian airlines in February also made travel more difficult.

The wicked irony is that I am absolutely against the war and Putin, but I also have travel difficulties,” said Max.

“In the future, when Putin leaves and we become a normal country again, I hope to visit Europe again. I love Italy very much.”

Fewer Russians in Europe

Max is one of many Russians who traded European holiday destinations for other countries this summer.

EU countries like Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Greece were among the top 20 destinations most booked by Russian travelers before the war broke out, according to data from ForwardKeys, a travel data company.

EU countries like Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Greece were among the top 20 destinations most booked by Russian travelers before the war broke out, according to ForwardKeys.

Francesco Riccardo Iacomino | moment | Getty Images

However, ForwardKeys’ Olivier Ponti said Russian air traffic to Europe in the summer was just 26% of 2019’s figure.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has certainly limited its citizens’ vacation choices as direct flights to many popular destinations have been banned,” he said. “Russians are still able to visit Europe, but they now have to change trains in places like Istanbul or Dubai.”

Where are the Russians going?

According to ForwardKeys, which studied flight arrival data, several holiday destinations saw increases in Russian visitor market share in June, July and August compared to 2019.

  1. Maldives (from 5% to 20%)
  2. Seychelles (3% to 7%)
  3. Turkey (4% to 8%)
  4. United Arab Emirates (1% to 3%)

Most of these countries were also popular with Russian visitors before the war. According to the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), Turkey was the top destination for Russian tourists in 2019, followed by the Russian-occupied territories of Abkhazia, the United Arab Emirates and the Maldives.

Analysts at EIU told CNBC that the Maldives has long been a travel destination of choice for wealthy Russians, who can easily obtain tourist visas on arrival for stays of up to 90 days.

Arrivals of Russian tourists to Europe fell in the summer but surged in the Maldives, a popular vacation spot for the country’s wealthy citizens.

Nicolas Economous | Nurphoto | Getty Images

A more favorable exchange rate in Turkey since mid-March has likely boosted travel figures there, EIU analysts Mario Bikarski and Federica Reccia told CNBC. The Turkish lira is currently at 18.23 against the dollar – near a record low after Turkey’s central bank cut interest rates in August despite inflation hovering at nearly 80%.

Still, Russians’ travel options could be further restricted, they said. In addition to the EU’s suspension of the 2007 preferential visa deal with Moscow, Bikarski and Reccia said economic problems could keep Russians from traveling.

“As the war continues, we also expect that the deteriorating economic outlook will weigh on Russians’ desire to travel.”

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