More Tourists Choose to Arrive by Sea
Published: October 6, 2009 (Issue # 1515)
Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times
Cruise tourism to St. Petersburg has suffered less than the rest of the industry, with the port seeing an increase in visitors.
The number of tourist groups visiting St. Petersburg decreased by 15 to 25 percent this year. Cruise tourism has suffered the least during the economic crisis.
The city’s passenger seaport closed for the season late last month. This year, it welcomed 426,500 people — 7 percent more than the year before. During the last year, the number of passengers grew by 32 percent. Three hundred and twenty-three passenger vessels docked in the St. Petersburg port from May 4 through Sept. 25, compared to 317 last year. The Marine Facade terminal served as the gateway for 244,300 of the city’s tourists, said Nikolai Isayev, head of tourism infrastructure development at St. Petersburg’s committee for investment and strategic projects.
Ships filled up at pre-crisis levels of 99 to 100 percent, said Igor Glukhov, general director of Inflot Worldwide St. Petersburg cruise company. Stopping in St. Petersburg has become more profitable for cruise ships, since harbor dues — which make up 30 to 50 percent of ship-owners’ costs — have decreased by 25 to 30 percent due to the devaluation of the ruble, explained Glukhov. According to him, cruises last from three to 20 days, with an average cost of $150 per person per night. The manager of one American cruise operator confirmed that demand has not decreased, although filling up one vessel takes several times longer than it did in pre-crisis times. The majority of passengers are American and British retirees whose incomes have not suffered, he said.
When visiting ports, tourists generally spend little. Clients have become penny-pinchers and are more likely to choose inexpensive overview excursions that do not include museum visits, said Yelena Malchonok, general director of Arktour Travel. Demand among foreign tourists for river cruises from St. Petersburg to Moscow has decreased by 2 to 3 percent, said Anastasia Stepanova, the department manager of the Vodhod – St. Petersburg cruise line.
Yet the level of organized inbound tourism fell this year by 15 to 20 percent compared to the same period in 2008, said Sergey Korneyev, northwest division manager for the Russian Union of Tourist Industries. This year the hotel occupancy level was 55 percent, while the average for 2008 was 70 percent. Prices for accommodation have not gone up, said Vladimir Ivanov, general director of Hotel Oktyabrskaya. In summer, up to 80 percent of the guests are foreigners. Hotel occupancy has fallen on average by fifteen percent down to sixty percent — mostly on account of tourists, said Alexei Musakin, director of the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Hotel Association.
The flow of foreign tourists has decreased by 20 to 25 percent, estimates Valery Fridman, general director of Mir. Tourists reduced their spending by 20 to 25 percent compared to last year; for instance, 10 to 15 out of every 30 people will visit Peterhof, said Fridman. The excursion costs 22 euros. A year ago, clients spent $30 on additional tours; now, they think before spending $20, added the director of another tour company.
According to Korneyev, the reduced flow is compensated by individual tourists, both foreign and Russian. Fridman and Ivanov said they had not noticed such a trend.
By Malchonok’s estimates, the number of passenger vessels may fall by 10 to 15 percent in 2010.