To russia, with love

Updated: 2015-10-12 07:58

By Yang Feiyue(China Daily USA)

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China's northern neighbor is cashing in on 'red routes' as the Middle Kingdom becomes central to its inbound tourism. Yang Feiyue reports.

Russia is turning red into gold, as its revolutionary-tourism pitch tapping Chinese nostalgia for the former Soviet Union has proven its Midas touch.

In the recent past, Chinese visitors have surged making it the top source of inbound tourism to Russia.

That's following the recent development of "red routes" catering to Chinese, relaxed visa policies and the yuan's surge against the rouble.

Bookings via China's biggest online travel agency, Ctrip, to Russia over the weeklong National Day holiday more than doubled over the same period last year.

More Chinese booked earlier than in previous years, Ctrip's publicity manager Yan Xin says.

Over 200,000 visited Russia in the first six months of this year, the Agence France-Presse reports.

About 410,000 arrived in 2014, according to Russia's tourism authority.

Tour groups with more than five members don't need travel visas. Russia is planning to decrease the minimum numbers of people to three, say media reports.

Visitors must merely submit a copy of their passport's first page before departure, Yan says.

Also, more Russian hotels and restaurants are enabling Chinese tourists to use UnionPay - China's only domestic banking-card industry network - and provide such Chinese-language materials as maps and newspapers, Russian media reports say.

Russia's currency has plunged nearly 50 percent against China's compared to its strongest period last year. This makes consumer products at least 30 percent cheaper, according to Ctrip.

Liu Dan went on a shopping spree during her eight-day trip to Russia in July.

The 40-year-old from Hunan province's capital, Changsha, bought beeswax, gold and chocolates in Russia.

"They were really cheap," she says.

Liu's trip was organized by China's national red tourism coordination office and the Hunan tourism bureau.

Russian tourism officials say most Chinese come to visit sites related to revolutionary history, especially in St Petersburg. Other draws include shopping, ballets and natural landscapes.

Over 40,000 Chinese may visit St Petersburg by the year's end, the Russian tourism industry union estimates.

Many Chinese feel particularly sentimental about the Soviet Union this year when the 70th anniversary of victory in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) is being celebrated, Yan says.

While such wistfulness has traditionally been ardent among older generations, Chinese visitors are getting younger.

Most Chinese visiting Russia were older than 60 until last year, but travelers in the age group 30-50 have overtaken them as a "major force", Yan says.

Russia hopes to draw 1 million Chinese over the next two years, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets told media earlier.

One of the best-developed red tourism routes stretches from Moscow to Vladimir Lenin's hometown Ulyanovsk and Kazan, ending in St Petersburg.

The journey enables Chinese to learn about the Soviet Union while experiencing contemporary Russia, Ulyanovsk's government says.

Lenin's body is preserved in a mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square, while St Petersburg hosts the Winter Palace, the opulent abode of the czars before the revolution.

Nearly all Ctrip packages include St Petersburg, Yan says.

To russia, with love

Items Lenin used when he studied in Kazan have been preserved and are worth viewing, says the Russian tourism agency's head, Safonov Oleg Petrovich.

"Revolution and the people's fight for independence, and even the Great Patriotic War (World War II as fought by the Soviets from 1941), are important themes for the Chinese, just as they are for us," the AFP quotes Ulyanovsk's tourism department head, Sergei Lakovsky, as saying.

The China National Tourism Administration and Russia's tourism authority have signed an agreement to jointly promote red tourism for the 2015-17 period.

Liu's tour was part of such an exchange program between the two countries.

Travel agencies on both sides are developing routes, says Hunan tourism bureau's deputy director Wang Chaoxiang.

Russia will design five popular revolutionary itineraries, according to Luo Dihui, deputy director of China's coordination office for red tourism.

The country may also construct leisure zones around Soviet-themed museum clusters.

Classic routes take about a week. Trips from Beijing cost roughly 5,000 yuan ($790) off-season - from November to April - and are usually just shy of 10,000 yuan in the peak season, Yan says.

Liu says she made the trip because she's fascinated by Soviet history, and other dimensions of Russia also impress her.

She adored the "extravagant" old churches festooned with real gold. Gifts from other countries displayed at the Winter and Summer palaces also intrigued her, and ballet performances delighted her.

She describes St Petersburg's Novodevichy Cemetery as "breathtaking". The abode of the dead in Russia reminded her of life at home.

"It was spectacular to see the tombs of 26,000 historical figures," she says. "Including some Chinese."

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 To russia, with love

Chinese visitors pose for a group photo inMoscow's Red Square. The Chinese have become the No 1 source of inbound tourismto Russia. Photos Provided To China Daily

 To russia, with love

Clockwise from above: Staff members of the tourism department in Lenin’s hometown of Ulyanovsk welcome Chinese travelers. Visitors wait in lines to enter the Kremlin in the heart of Moscow. Among the top tourist destinations is Moscow State University.

(China Daily USA 10/12/2015 page8)