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Sunday 21.01.2018 | Name days: Agne, Agnese, Agnija
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Russians on edge amid ruble meltdown, Palanga vexed over Russians’ loss

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULinas Jegelevičius for the BNN

A pre-Christmas Palanga, the Lithuanian resort on the Baltic coast, dazzling with the festively embellished alley of Christmas trees, is usually bustling with hordes of Russian tourists a week before the major holidays. But this December, the promenade has been spookily quiet, with few Russian couples sauntering along it.

A free-fall of the ruble and the drought of hard currency has held up the panicky Russians at home.  Not only Palanga, but entire Lithuania feels the drought of Russians ahead of a joyful holiday season.

Russians are Palanga’s breadwinner

Posh stores and boutiques, usually swarmed up by high-end pre-Christmas shoppers from the East at this time of year, are nearly empty this season, and the New Year bids nothing good for the sales.

Russians, Lithuania‘s big-spenders, are gone.

«The rate of the ruble and the euro has become so big that our trip to Palanga now costs us a fortune, really unbearable for a middle Russian family. We usually come to the Lithuanian seaside in summer, too, but we’re afraid we won’t afford it next summer,» Lidija, one of Russian nationals met in Palanga, admitted.

The Russians’ unease reverberates across Lithuania, and Palanga, Russian tourism-wise, is taking the brunt.

«As of now, the tumble of Russian visitors is about 20-30 percent. Generally speaking, for quite some years, there are fewer Russians coming for New Year to Palanga. Five years ago, for example, Russian guests would take up around 30 percent of the rooms, but they are gone now –Lithuanians are replacing them,» Kristina Telpokaitė, sales and marketing head at Gabija Hotel, told.

She says Russians are exceptional tourists, who tend to stay in the resort for two or three weeks. Furthermore, go around splurging money.

«Russians have always been the chief source of the Palanga’s revenues,» the senior hotel staffer noted.

Time to, forget it now.

Stream dwindled to a trickle

The interim director of the Palanga Tourism Information Center (PTIC), Egidija Smilingienė, told BNN that the robust stream of Russians has waned to a tepid trickle.

«Last November, for example, we logged in 110 Russians’ walk-ins, and this past November only 27,» she said, warning the statistics may not reflect the real situation.

“Many visitors just pass by the center, but, sure, the trend of decline is tangible,» she agreed.

On the other hand, the PTIC official emphasized, all Palanga tourism cannot be hinged only on Russians.

«As Palanga is about to launch an air route to London from 2015, we expect that we will see a more diverse spectrum of Palanga visitors,» she said.

But for most Palanga entrepreneurs, namely Russians are the golden eggs and with the hatcher barren, the business prospects are worse than ever.

«C’mon, just don’t count too much on other tourists. Many of the Belarusians who dropped by Palanga last summer would buy shashliks in local supermarkets and grill them in the backyards of rental rooms instead of checking in a hotel and savoring at a local restaurant,» Gintaras Siciunas, a Palanga hotelier told BNN.

The worst plight in seven years

«Indeed, we have seen Russian tourists’ decrease since the spring, and our estimate is that the dip will account for 30 percent this year. We are observing a really slow hotel fill-up this holiday season. This has been the worst hit over the last six or seven years,» Evalda Šiškauskienė, president of Lithuania’s Hotel and Restaurant Association (LHRA) told.

And with New Year around the corner, the outlook for seeing Russian tourists in the country in 2015 is bleak.

«When a country is preoccupied with war and economic tensions, travelling is not a priority. I reckon that the smearing campaign against Lithuania also produces certain results. Besides, part of travel agencies have gone bankrupt in Russia, and people tend to be relying less on them,» the president pointed out.

She says that the Association will compile exact information on the number of Russian visitors in early January.

«Now it‘s pretty hard to tell it, as many inquiries in Russian comes from other Russian speakers, Belarusians, for example,» the LHRA head noted.

German tourists outnumber Russians

The broader picture of Lithuanian tourism looks pretty encouraging though.

The country‘s Tourism Department estimates that by the end of the year the Baltic country will have been visited by more than 2 million tourists in 2014.

Notably, the domestic share of the growth makes nearly 10 percent and that of out-going tourism stands at 8 percent.

«But the flows of Russians have been edging down. To our estimate, the decrease will be up to 10.5 percent. As quite a few segments of the Slavic guests fall off, only a mere share, still capable of affording the trip, remains,» said Raimonda Balniene, the former director of the Lithuanian Tourism Department.

Interestingly, the arrivals of Polish visitors are also declining, but the Department expects to make up the loss with visitors from other countries.

On top of Lithuania’s most  tourist-producing countries sits Germany- 77.900 Germans showed up in Lithuania over the year‘s nine months, an increase of 5,000, year-on-year. The runner up in the standings is Russia with 64,800 visitors. Russia slipped from the first place last year, when 76,800 Russian citizens swung by Lithuania. Belarus is third (54,300 and 43,100 visitors, respectively), Poland is fourth (41,300 against 44,800 visitors last year), followed by Latvia (33.100 and 27,100), Estonia (16,800 and 15,500), United Kingdom (16,200 and 15,700) and Italy (15,100 and 13,600).

Russians prefer staying at home this holiday season

Relattively to the news, Russian media note that, this Christmas season, Russians preffer spending their holidays in local resorts and do not venture taking longer and more expensive trips.

The nose-dive of the ruble is not the only culprit- many Russians are wary of the recent scandalous meltdown of some major Russian travel organizers and the susequent 25 percent spike in air-fares.

According to a poll by Intelligent Research for Growth, only a mere 8 percent of Russian consumers had complaints of an adverse economic impact on their lives. But now the number steeped up to 49 percent, according to the poll. Interestingly, a whopping 47 percent of the surveyees responded they were going to scrap their holiday plans as a result of the economic crunch.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.2020


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