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Moscow still a key destination for Middle East tourists

Tourists and residents in Red Square, Moscow, Russia - St Basil's Cathedral is visible Unsplash/Random Institute
Middle East tourists made 136,000 visits to Moscow during 2022
  • 139,600 visits to Moscow in 2022
  • Majority were men aged 25-44
  • Overall Russian visitor numbers down 49% on pre-pandemic

Moscow remains popular for tourists from the Middle East despite the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia launched a war against its neighbour in February last year, yet tourists from the Middle East made 139,600 trips to Moscow throughout 2022, according to statistics from the Moscow City Tourism Committee (MCTC).

At the end of the first quarter of this year, visitors from the region made up more than 30 percent of the total tourist flow from outside of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the group of nine countries that includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“Middle Eastern countries are among the most promising markets for inbound tourism,” according to the MCTC.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the most common origin countries for visitors from the GCC.

The data revealed men aged between 25 and 44 were the most prominent visitors to the city. They largely travelled alone or with friends or colleagues as part of business trips.

“The majority of tourists from the Gulf countries prefer to stay in hotels of 4-5 stars category and also, on average, spend more in the capital than tourists from other countries,” the MCTC added.

The tourism committee recently organised a webinar for Moscow’s hotel industry on halal standards as part of its strategy to cater to tourists from Islamic countries.

According to statistics from the Border Service of Russia, 3.26 million foreigners entered Russia in the first quarter of 2023, a 17.6 percent increase on the same period last year, but 49 percent down on pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

From the start of August, tourists from 55 countries, including several Middle Eastern nations, can apply for an electronic visa to enter the country.

The UAE has remained neutral in the Ukraine conflict, keeping open dialogue and business links with both Moscow and Kyiv.

There are 91 direct flights each week – 13 a day – from Dubai to Moscow, according to travel website MakeMyTrip.

Figures from Dubai Tourism in December showed Russia was the fifth-largest source market for visitors. The number rose 73 percent year on year to 938,000 between January and November 2022.

The emirate received 8.55 million global tourist travellers between January and June 2023, with tourists from Russia, CIS and Eastern Europe combined making up 14 percent of the total.