Revisiting Russia – Regardless of Putin’s Efforts, Russians Want to Join Our World!


Recently I revisited East Russia both for pleasure and business. The pleasure included joining a cruise along the Kuril Islands and Kamchatka, which highlighted getting acquainted with East Russia’s not so distant history and with its nature in all its magnificent forms. The business part had to do with visiting my Russian partners to see what they were up to and whether there would be possibilities to engage in new business models.

The cruise, one of which I had taken in earlier times, proved that the area of the Kurils and Kamchatka still merits interest whether focused on its history, culture or nature, all of which are interesting both on the local as well as international level. What stayed the same was the ubiquitous presence of rules and regulations governing almost each landing and the trash that had gathered on even the remotest of islands. What did change was the gracious welcome and participation of the nature preserve staff both on the Commander Islands and in the Kronotsky Reserve. The ship itself was small and Russian, its home port Vladivostok and the officers and staff were friendly and helpful. The staff was mostly from New Zealand and had its hands full with about 58 international travelers. The landings were interesting and active, we walked, climbed, crossed rivers, sled down hills on our bottoms and enjoyed the privilege of having the space all by ourselves, except for the flora and fauna. And with growing visibility, I strongly feel that this could grow into another interesting destination, much like Alaska, all though a bit less accessible

Kamchatka seems to be doing all right all though my partner there did not handle any large groups this year only individuals or small groups. The destination is very difficult to reach and the costs therefore are very high. In addition most international clients have too high of an expectation, which are usually not met. They encounter friendly service, just not offered in a way that they are accustomed to. There is a lack of cultural understanding of how things actually are, versus of how the travelers would like them to be.

The weather has been glorious better than in any other part of East Russia and thus those who did come were entirely happy with their experiences, as Kamchatka can be perfectly glorious. However, large groups of international travelers are disappearing, because Russia is just too expensive. Esso, a long time favorite of tourists, suffers from road construction on its only road from Petropavlovsk, which makes it even more dreadful to get there, almost ten hours on a gravel road.

Moving into a much more businesslike attitude, I found Vladivostok not much changed at all, except for a continuous building boom of high skyscrapers. The large Chinese hordes are still there but very few other international travelers. Not much new infrastructure, all though one of the tourism companies produced a large book describing tours within the Primorsky Krai, however, the book is written in Russian. The season has been bleak mostly because of the bad weather, lots of rain and low temperatures.

Khabarovsk fared only a bit better as far as the weather but not as far as tourism is concerned. There are some new hotels that are modern at not too high of a price but which lack Russian ambiance and offer all kinds of Russian quirks, such as plastic hangers in a totally modern environment. Quite a few restaurants grace the city, some of them offering a chic ambiance with a quite European flavor.

Traveling to Russia now is not difficult, it is just expensive and traveling to the Russian Far East requires a couple of day or an around the world air ticket. One of the ways to make it more affordable is to join a cruise with an added land package, which gives one a much more in depth experience of the cultural as well as natural treasures of this part of the world.

Interestingly what I hear from my partners is that Russians are eager to travel with international groups. On the other hand, I learned from my acquaintances in Europe that they all hate Rich Russians traveling abroad and now it appears that other Russians interested in going abroad that would rather be part of an international group than one formed only by Russians.

That frankly opens a totally new market for any travel company abroad, which up till now could not get a foot on the ground in Russia. However will anyone listen?