RUSSIA. The 2018 World Cup is causing a “tourism boom” in Russia, according to analyst ForwardKeys. Flight bookings for arrival in the country between 4 June and 15 July are currently +50.5% ahead of where they were at this point last year. [ForwardKeys said it was unable to release absolute numbers in the public domain].

Many Russians are staying at home for the tournament and are not going on holiday as usual, the analyst noted. Outbound bookings are -12.4% behind.

One feature of the booking profile is that the current upsurge has its peak around the opening matches, ForwardKeys said. As of now, there is a “limited advancement” in bookings after the group stages of the tournament. “Once the outcome of the group stages becomes clear, a subsequent surge in bookings is possible for the latter knockout rounds, as fans come back to support their teams,” the analyst suggested.

World Cup ticket holders must obtain a ‘Fan ID’, which grants them visa-free entry into Russia between 4 June and 15 July, the date of the final. They must leave the country by 25 July, which affords anyone coming for the final the opportunity to remain in Russia and take a holiday afterwards.

However, ForwardKeys’ data suggests few are taking advantage of this opportunity. The average length of stay is 13 nights, but overnight stays fall off to normal levels very sharply after the final, it said. “This suggests that whilst fans are planning to use the World Cup as an opportunity to visit Russia, their real interest is in football, much more than it is in Russia,” the analyst noted.

Forward bookings for overnight stays in Russia for the whole visa-free entry period are +39.6% ahead of the equivalent period in 2017.

“Whilst one might expect the World Cup to attract football fans following their own teams, an analysis of growth in bookings to Russia during the World Cup period reveals that there are very substantial uplifts in visitor levels from countries that have not qualified too,” ForwardKeys said.

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Of the countries that have qualified, those with the greatest uplift in number of visitors to Russia are, in order: Brazil, Spain, Argentina, South Korea, Mexico, the UK, Germany, Australia, Egypt and Peru. Of those that have not qualified, those with the greatest uplift in number of visitors to Russia are, in order: the USA, China, Hong Kong, Israel, India, UAE, Paraguay, Canada, Turkey and South Africa.

Europe’s major airports are also benefitting from the “mini tourism boom” to Russia, ForwardKeys said. That’s because over 40% of visitors during the World Cup will arrive via indirect flights.

The list of major hub airports with the greatest number of passengers to Russia is headed by Dubai, with forward bookings to Russia +202% ahead of the equivalent period last year. It is followed, in order, by: Paris (+164% ahead), Frankfurt (+49% ahead), Amsterdam (+92% ahead), London Heathrow (+236% ahead), Istanbul (+148% ahead), Helsinki (+129% ahead), Rome (+125% ahead), and Munich (+60% ahead).

“Regardless of whatever happens on the pitch, from a visitor perspective, Russia is already a winner,” concluded ForwardKeys CEO Olivier Jager.

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