Did American tourism to Russia increase in 2017?

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A couple stood in front of St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square in Russia.Image copyright
Getty Images

Claim: The number of American tourists travelling to Russia increased by 25% in the first three quarters of 2017.

Verdict: Based on figures from the Russian Federal Security Service, yes it did. Tourism from the US to Russia has grown steadily since 2014.

Anti-Russian propaganda was the reason behind the spike in tourism from the United States to Russia last year, said Oleg Safonov, head of Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency. He said coverage in the media is making Americans want to go to see Russia for themselves.

Russia has featured a lot in the American news media in recent years. US intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow executed a plan to interfere in the presidential election and only recently President Trump expelled 60 Russian diplomats after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. Russia has denied any involvement in the attack.

Mr Safonov was quoted in the Izvestia newspaper, noted by the Moscow Times, saying that the number of tourists from the US had increased by 25% between January and September 2017. Reality Check has looked at the numbers and whether “propaganda” actually does influence holiday-makers.

According to figures from the Russian Federal Security Service, which records the arrivals of foreign citizens, there was a 25% increase between January and September 2017 compared with the previous year. Across the entire 12 months, the increase was 26%.

When you include every category of travel, such as business, arrivals from the US went up by about 18%.

It reflects an upward trend that started in 2015, the year after the conflict erupted in Crimea between pro-Russian forces and Ukraine. At the time, the Russian tourism agency linked the political tensions to reduced travel from the US and Europe.

The number of tourists now exceeds pre-conflict levels, despite the US state department warning its citizens to reconsider travel to Russia “due to terrorism and harassment”. It advises against all travel to Crimea and the North Caucasus region.

The UN World Tourism Organization has not yet released its own data for trips from the US and Russia in 2017. In 2016, its data showed an increase – but of fewer than 1%.

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After the Salisbury attack, the Russian embassy in London tweeted out a message encouraging Britons to visit Russia.

Like the US, more tourists from the UK also travelled there in 2017. Recovery was slower in the UK, however, with the number of tourists to Russia dipping for a second consecutive year in 2015, based on Russian government figures.

The increase in travel overall from the UK has been minimal since 2015 and has remained at about 190,000 visits.

Andrea Godfrey, a Russian travel specialist at Regent Holidays, says she has seen a slight drop-off in inquiries and bookings since the incident in Salisbury.

Russian government figures aren’t available yet.

It’s also not clear how the political situation will affect the number of people going to Russia for the World Cup this summer.

Ms Godfrey says her company’s bookings have grown since 2015 after the “all point low” when a Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down flying over Ukraine.

The trans-Siberian railway and St Petersburg remain an “aspiration destination” for British and American travellers and she expects any slowdown to rebound next year.

Image copyright
AFP

“Anti-Russian propaganda”

It’s difficult to say whether politics actually motivates someone to go on holiday, but some people in the Russian travel industry believe the increased media attention is attracting more Americans.

Pavel Rumyantsev, a deputy director at the Russian Travel Industry Union, says the Russian tourism industry is reaping the rewards from all the press, even if it is in a negative context. Tourists are not put off from travelling, instead they visit to try to understand modern Russia, he says.

“There are two images of Russia for American tourists: politically the countries can be somewhat adversaries and compete for power on international arena, but common Russian people are thought to be friendly, hospitable, interesting and heart-warming”.

The increase, says Mr Rumyantsev, is also down to the exchange rate of the dollar against the rouble, and affordable internal transport and accommodation.

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