Russia sees more foreign tourists despite Ukraine crisis: official

russia mapThe number of foreign tourists visiting Russia grew by 16 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, helped by a devalued ruble amid Western sanctions, a tourism official told AFP on Tuesday.

“Almost five million foreign tourists have visited Russia in the first quarter of this year,” representing a 16 percent increase from the same period in 2014, said Irina Shchegolkova, the spokeswoman for Rosturizm, the government’s tourism agency.

Most tourists came from China, Poland and Finland, she added.

“Sanctions did not affect the influx of tourists, on the contrary,” she said. “Foreign tourists still take an interest in Russia and come to get to know the country.”

Russia has been under punishing economic sanctions over its suspected support of separatists battling government forces in eastern Ukraine by the United States and the European Union, which just extended its sanctions against Moscow on Monday.

Tourist arrivals have been boosted by the weakening of the Russian ruble currency, which now trades at around 60 rubles against the euro and 55 against the dollar.

Last summer the exchange rate was around 47 and 34, respectively.

Following an agreement with China, Russia waived visa requirements for Chinese tourists travelling as part of an organised group.

The “China Friendly” programme launched last year seeks to create a comfortable environment for Chinese tourists by giving them language support, among other perks, with Chinese credit cards also accepted in Russia.

As a result, the number of Chinese tourists has tripled since last year, according to Rosturizm.

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