Conflict in Ukraine has more Russians staycationing, going to Crimea

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  • Russians review holiday plans as prices increase
  • Number of direct flights abroad has shrivelled
  • Fears of anti-Russian sentiment abroad also weigh

May 23 (Reuters) - Like many Russians, Andrei had planned to spend his summer holiday on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. But this July, he, his wife and their two children will be in Russia's Black Sea resort of Anapa, hoping to avoid the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine.

Tours to Turkey, one of Russia's top foreign holiday destinations, jumped in price after Russia sent its troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, triggering Western sanctions that have complicated everyday life for ordinary Russians.

MasterCard and Visa credit cards issued in Russia stopped working abroad, while the number of flights from Russia shrank because Russian airlines' leasing contracts were terminated and airspace was closed to Russian planes.

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"Air tickets are the No.1 problem," said Andrei, a 35-year-old IT specialist from Moscow. "So, now I'm preparing to shove my way through algae in the Black Sea."

Anapa is in the Krasnodar region, 240 km (150 miles) south of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol that was pummelled by Russian forces for nearly two months.

Since planes cannot fly there as a precaution because of the conflict, the family will a take a 24-hour journey by train. Including accommodation, the trip will still cost more than half of what they were ready to spend on a holiday in Turkey.

Travel to Europe is no longer an option for many Russians because of a lack of direct flights, which can turn a straightforward 2.5-hour trip to Germany into a 20-hour odyssey via Istanbul.

Then there are visa problems. On May 13, the Foreign Ministry said it was recommending Russians not to travel to Britain because it was "virtually impossible" to get a visa.

Over Russia's long May holidays, Russians spent some 50% more on train tickets than over the New Year holidays, before the latest restrictions, according to data from the bank VTB.

Early bookings and European package tours have become almost non-existent, said Anna Rodionova, who runs a small tour firm in the city of Tula.


More expensive, far-flung destinations such as the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are still available, with direct flights.

But the less wealthy seeking a package have a less exotic list of choices, besides Russia itself.

There is the Russian-annexed Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, close to the conflict zone; Abkhazia, a Russian-backed breakaway territory on Georgia's Black Sea coast; and Russia's allies Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and the countries of central Asia.

"Companies have lost between 30% and 80% percent of their revenue," said Artur Muradyan, who runs a travel firm and is also vice-president of the Association of Russian Tour Operators.

"Operators working with cruises and European destinations are in the worst condition ... and we don't see any reason for things to change for the better in the summer."

Natalia Boldyreva, head of a small travel firm in Moscow, said demand for the tours she was offering abroad was down by a third since the conflict began, due to "fears about tour operators going bankrupt ... and negative sentiment towards Russians in some countries".

Russian TV channels and other media have been telling Russians for months that they face hostility in the West, adding to concerns about inflated prices and increased travel times.

Marina Podvigina-Gruber, who runs a PR agency in Moscow, cancelled a trip to London in May, citing increased prices, difficulties with booking and a feeling that she might be confronted with "Russophobia".

Tatiana Astrakhantseva, 68, said she and her fiance had wanted to spend their honeymoon in Kemer, Turkey, which they know well.

"But a tour agent who we know said that ... sentiment towards Russians there is not the best now, people return unhappy, particularly due to ethnic conflicts," she said, meaning possible tensions between Russians and Ukrainians at Turkish hotels.

"We decided we don't want to spoil our holidays so we bought seeds, grew some seedlings, and we're going eat our own fruit and vegetables ... But we're still planning to drive to Crimea for a few weeks to remember the times we had when we were young."

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Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alex Richardson

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