The latest air ticketing data from ForwardKeys reveals that Russian outbound tourism, already severely handicapped by pandemic travel restrictions, has fallen even further, because of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. But affluent travellers are still flying, just not to Europe.
Russian Outbound Tourism falls
In the week before the outbreak of war (w/c 18th Feb), outbound international air tickets from Russia stood at 42% of pre-pandemic levels; but in the week immediately after the invasion (w/c 25th Feb), issued air tickets fell to just 19%. Since then, flight bookings have sunk deeper still and have been hovering at around 15%.
Owing to war-related sanctions on civil aviation, Russians cannot book flights to many of their favourite destinations in the West; so, they are instead booking trips to Asia and the Middle East.
New alternative destinations for affluent Russians
An analysis of flight bookings by ForwardKeys made between 24th February, the start of the invasion, and 27th April, the latest data, reveals that the top five destinations for travel between May and August, in order of resilience, are Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and the UAE.
Bookings to Sri Lanka are currently 85% ahead of pre-pandemic levels, the Maldives 1% behind, Kyrgyzstan 11% behind, Turkey 36% behind and the UAE, 49% behind.
“Something to note though is that Sri Lanka’s position at the head of the list is not a true reflection of the island’s attractiveness as a destination, it’s more about safety. Rather, it is a consequence of terrorist bombings, which scared away visitors in 2019, the pre-pandemic benchmark year,” says Olivier Ponti, VP of Insights at ForwardKeys.
A deeper analysis of the recently issued tickets to Turkey and the UAE suggests that a substantial proportion are affluent Russians going on holiday. Premium cabin travel is making a comeback. The number of seats sold in premium cabins has tripled, compared to 2019.
Moreover, the average trip duration for premium travellers is now 12 nights in Turkey and 7 nights in the UAE.
Changes to flight schedules and flight paths
Changes to flight schedules, following Russian hostilities in Ukraine, have been as follows:
- 24th Feb: Air space in southern Russia was closed and Aeroflot was banned from flying to the UK
- 25th Feb: Russia banned British airlines from its airspace
- 27th Feb: The EU closed its airspace to Russian planes
- 1st Mar: The US banned Russian flights from entering its airspace
- 5th Mar: Russian airlines (Aeroflot, Ural Airlines, Azur Air and Nordwind Airlines and others) suspended international flights
- 25th Mar: Rosaviatsiya, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, extended a ban on flight operations at 11 airports in southern and central parts of Russia
- 25th Mar: Vietnam Airlines suspended regular flights to Russia
- 14th Apr: AirBaltic stopped flights to Russia – but will return to Ukraine ASAP
- 22nd Apr: EgyptAir resumed daily direct flights between Cairo and Moscow. Interesting to observe ahead of the popular Red Sea summer season.
“The war with Ukraine, and the consequent sanctions on flying, have effectively caused Russia’s outbound tourism market to dry up. Those people who are still flying comprise an elite, affluent niche, who are forced to holiday in Asia and the Middle East rather than in Europe. Let’s see how this plays out over the summer season,” adds Ponti.