Vadim Krukhin, Head of 'Indoor Tours' at Intourist in Russia, sat down a week ago with IRAS for an interview about Iranian-Russian cooperation in tourism and the obstacles in the way of tourism industries of both nations. Intourist was the official state travel agency of the Soviet Union, founded in 1929 by Joseph Stalin. The field of Intourist competence includes the marketing of Russian tourist products and services, as well as the organization of services for foreign tourists and businessmen in Russia. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What problems and challenges are in the way of Iran-Russia tourism industry?
"For many years, our main problem was the limitations of airlines between the two countries; only two airlines of “Aeroflot” five days a week and “Iran Air” once a week were moving passengers between the two countries. This was a major obstacle to the tourism development. At the time, charter flights were not yet launched. An Iranian company launched charter flights five years ago.
"On the other hand, Russia has given much more attention in Iran’s tourism market which largely owes to the warming of political relations between the two countries and providing Iranians with positive and documented news and information about Russia. Accordingly, new flights have been launched by some Iranians airlines such as Qeshm Air, Zagros, Taban, and Mahan. In addition, along with Iran Air and Aeroflot, Mahan launched permanent flights between Iran and Russia, firstly 3 days a week and then 4 and 5 days a week.
"Problems this year and the next two years are mainly related to accommodation of tourists during the season. Due to shortage of hotels to accommodate tourists, tour agents had to reject many requests of tourism agencies in Iran and other countries including France, Spain, etc., because there were no vacant room, especially in St. Petersburg."
In your opinion, to what extent, the recent opening of the 'VisitRussia' office in Tehran would help Russian tourism industry?
"Unfortunately, it has not been much helpful. I think that we made a mistake in choosing the management of this office. We expected more programs and activities. We had developed a good marketing plan. We planned to send a number of media activists in a “press tour” to Kazan in the Republic of Tatarstan. This tour involved all costs relating to tickets and accommodation and visiting the tourism attraction for further promotion. Unfortunately, nothing was done by the office and none of our expectations were fulfilled.
"However, we hope the situation changes, because Russia will participate in the tourism fair in February this year. In this fair, booths of Russia and “Russia Visit” will present their offer for presence in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Given the popularity of football in Iran, I think it will be warmly welcomed. In the same period, some reforms will be made to the office of “Russia Visit” in order to get the objectives and programs realized."
What is your assessment of Russian tours to Iran? What steps has been taken to attract Russian tourists?
"Little work has been done in this regard. In fact, Russians have done nothing special and all programs have been restricted to advertising of Iranian companies and cultural programs of Iranian entities based in Russia. Among the large tour agencies, this year a company has mainly worked on Iran’s market and sending Russian tourists, which has been somewhat successful. However, statistics and figures are not so high. After the launch of S7 airlines, based on governmental documents and agreements signed by the two parties, conditions will probably become better. Because of the lack of advertising in the country, many people of Russia unfortunately take Iran and Iraq wrongly. This is a deterrent to travel to Iran.
"In my opinion, Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, in addition to participating in the annual fair, should extend the advertisement. Among the Middle East states, Iran has many historical and natural attractions which have remained unknown for the Russians. With the bombardment of Iraq and Syria, most of historical and cultural monuments in the Middle East have been destroyed, but Iran’s attractions have been preserved."
What is your next programs to expand Russian tourists' destinies for the Iranians?
"We intend to broaden the geography of Iran’s tourism. Currently, two cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg are on the agenda. From last year, charter flights have been launched in Sochi’s route. For the next year, we plan to launch Kazan’s route, as the tourism organization management of this city is very active. To develop this route, they are ready for comprehensive cooperation, including investment in advertising. The city also has many attractions."
As you might know, the South Caucasian states have worked with China on a project known as 'Silk Road' in order to expand Tourism industry in the regions. What is your plan for expanding tourism industry in the North Caucasus?
"We planned to send a promotional tour to this region through the office of “Russia Visit”. We had decided to gather the representatives of Chechnya, Dagestan, Astrakhan, Isfahan, Shiraz, Tehran, and Mashhad in a place. These cities have high potentials for tourism. However, realization of all these programs and plans is dependent on the future development of “Russia Visit” office and are postponed to future."
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