World Tourism Day: How Moscow became a tourism hot spot
Day after day, the Russian capital’s unique history, its rich culture and the hospitality of Muscovites attract more and more travellers from other cities and countries. Each year, Moscow’s tourist industry sets new records, with 17.2 million people visiting this city in 2015. And 17.5 million people came here in 2016, followed by 21.6 million tourists in 2017, including five million foreigners.
It goes without saying that Moscow will set new records after the 2018 FIFA World Cup stole the limelight this past summer. The number of tourists is to increase by at least 10 percent before the year is out, totalling 22.9 million people. Almost 4.5 million tourists, including about 2.3 million foreigners, came to Moscow during the World Cup.
By the way, many of them used the football fever as an excuse to see the Russian capital. China sent the largest number of guests, 223,000, although the Chinese team did not play in the World Cup.
The city is taking advantage of this sky-high popularity to boost its economy. In 2018, the local budget scooped up an extra 14.8 billion roubles in revenues, or almost 50 percent of 2010 tourist industry earnings, from the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The Russian capital has consolidated its positions among global tourism hot spots, with local hotels developing rapidly as a result. Today, Moscow boasts over 1,500 hotels, inns and hostels handling as many guests each year as those in Paris, London and Amsterdam.
The tourist infrastructure also continues to develop. Today, tourists can use five permanent tourist centres and one temporary centre. They can contact a call centre with staffers fluent in Russian, English, German, French and Chinese, and find out everything about local sights, cultural landmarks and how to get there. Live Help desks consultants and metro ticket office cashiers also speak English.
Today, people working in the tourist, cultural and transport sectors need to be fluent in foreign languages because people from many countries are fascinated by Russian history and culture. Each year, Moscow receives more and more guests from Asian countries, including China, the Republic of Korea and Japan. Tourists from Germany, the Netherlands, the United States and France showed tremendous interest in the capital during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Several major international rankings confirm Moscow’s steadily rising popularity among foreign travellers. In late 2017, Instagram gave the Russian capital second place among the most photographed cities (Editor’s Note: This is based on photos posted online with the Moscow geo-tag). In 12 months, the city rose from third to second place, outstripping London and giving way only to New York City. Moscow is also among the top five European capitals mentioned on Instagram with a unique hashtag. In all, social media users have published over 40 million posts with the hashtag #Moscow.
Not only outer space
This past August, Moscow and all of Russia debuted in another major international ranking. Time magazine listed 100 of the world’s greatest places, including Zaryadye Park that opened last year. The list’s authors note that Zaryadye is completely different from Soviet-era public spaces, and they appreciate various elements of its infrastructure, including the Ice Cave, the Philharmonic and the River Overlook footbridge.
Zaryadye Park: The future is here today
The city is now trying hard to preserve its historical heritage and to boost its tourist appeal. For example, painstaking restoration projects have allowed the National Exhibition of Economic Achievements (VDNKh) to become one of the most important tourist attractions. The renovated pavilions of Russia’s main exhibition now look exactly like they did in 1954; chaotic marketplaces have been removed from the vicinity, and the entire park has been improved. VDNKh and adjacent areas attract tourists from all over the world with their cosmic grandeur. The legendary Space pavilion has reopened, housing the Cosmonautics and Aviation centre, one of the best thematic exhibitions in the world. A convenient and improved passage links VDNKh, Cosmonauts’ Alley and the Cosmonautics Museum, turning their territories into an integrated “celestial” complex.
It is impossible to overestimate the interest of tourists in space travel. During the World Cup, the Cosmonautics Museum became the most popular museum with football fans. And tourists preferring to visit parks rather than museum exhibitions admit that most other cities do not offer such diversity. In the past few years, the city has renovated Gorky, Sokolniki and Ostankino parks, also reconstructing and opening district parks and improving boulevards and public gardens. Dozens of local streets are reserved for pedestrians alone.
In December 2012-January 2013, Moscow hosted the Strasbourg Christmas Fair, the first new-generation festival fair. Muscovites and tourists liked its format so much that the city started holding several annual festivals from 2015. Each festival deals with a specific theme and boasts its own special programme. Historical, musical, theatrical, literary, charitable and other festivals are all part of the Moscow Seasons brand. Festival venues host concerts, readings of literary works, theatrical performances and even reenactments of historical battles. Local streets and squares hold workshops, meetings with actors and sport events, with markets offering the best seasonal and festive treats, snacks, souvenirs and gifts.
Moscow Seasons attract a record-breaking number of guests, with 62 million city residents and tourists attending local festivals in 2017. Many people pay attention to the Moscow Seasons calendar while planning their vacations today, given the high popularity of the city’s hotels during the festivals.
Football galore in Moscow
Many pedestrian streets host open-air celebrations, promenades, festivals and fairs, but only one of them, Nikolskaya Street, has gained worldwide fame. Located not far from the Kremlin, this improved street turned into a pedestrian zone in 2013, and it became truly legendary during the World Cup. Fans started looking for this street, first and foremost. Most often, they asked the following two questions to staffers at Live Help desk: “Where is Nikolskaya Street” and “Which way is Red Square?” It appears that once there the fans never left Nikolskaya Street. They posed for photos all the time, made merry and ate there. Indeed, retail and public catering outlets on Nikolskaya Street boosted their sales by 75-85 percent, with Chinese tourists alone spending 50 million roubles here.
Free walking tours and bus trips for English-speaking tourists, as well as for German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and Chinese speakers, also started from Nikolskaya Street. In all, six thematic routes were available for football fans, who also went on 600 free walking tours of Moscow’s main landmarks. Local museums proved highly popular with tourists, and nine million people attended large cultural events during the World Cup.
Speaking of tourism, one cannot overlook the metro, an architectural landmark visited by fans and ordinary travellers, as well as world-class cinema stars, athletes and singers alike. Muscovites primarily see the metro as a transport artery, while tourists look at it as a memorable place where dreams come true. During the World Cup, tourists often asked for directions on how to get to Ploshchad Revoluytsii metro station, where the famous sculptures of lucky dogs are.
“The Moscow Metro’s stations are something wonderful and extraordinary; this masterpiece is located deep underground and is a far cry from any other metro system in the world,” Vassilis Morellas from Greece wrote on his Twitter account.
“The multi-optional Moscow transport system is very convenient,” Adrian from Argentina added. “After arriving in Moscow, I boarded an Aeroexpress train, later changed to the metro and quickly reached my hostel. Obviously, the metro was built long ago, but it is very convenient.”
“It is hard to explain this by using just four photos, but the Moscow Metro is an eye-riveting experience. I bought one 45-pence ticket and spent two hours studying a dozen stations, without paying a penny more,” Michael Webster from Scotland noted.
During the World Cup, 3.8 million fans rode metro, Moscow Central Circle (MCC) and monorail trains.
Tourism and the digital transformation
Tourists are amazed to be able to gain Wi-Fi access in the metro. Wi-Fi is available on surface transport, as well as at bus, tram and trolleybus stops, and on commuter trains, Aeroexpress trains and trains on the MCC belt railway. Other Wi-Fi sites are located on central streets, in some parks, houses of culture, libraries, Moskino cinemas, museums and student dormitories, forming Europe’s largest Wi-Fi infrastructure.
Other countries are only starting to use this modern approach to digitalisation and to creating comfortable conditions for city residents and tourists, while heeding the Russian capital’s experience. Each year, the organisers of World Tourism Day choose the motto of such celebrations in the run-up to the event. Such mottos reflect specific trends and tasks set by tourist industry representatives and travellers all over the world. This year’s motto is Tourism and the Digital Transformation, confirming Moscow’s role as a tourism hot spot that has embodied these truly advanced ideas ahead of all others.