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Alexander Kurnosov: “The time of the crisis is not merely the source of problems for business, but also new opportunities”


Alexander Kurnosov: “The time of the crisis is not merely the source of problems for business, but also new opportunities”

The Deputy General Director of tour operator "Academservice" Alexander Kurnosov described what could make Russia an attractive tourism destination, which technologies will stimulate the development of business, expressed his opinion on whether there is a boom of inbound tourism and why it is not going to be easy for Chinese tourists in Sochi.

-«Academservice» celebrated its 25-th anniversary in 2015. What was the year of the anniversary like for the company?

 - In spite of the fact that it was a year of the crisis, for us it turned out to be rather stable. We remain to be the leading hotel consolidator at the Russian market of business tourism and the main booking system of hotel accommodation for TMC (Travel Management Company), which provide service for corporate clients. Moreover, we managed to avoid staff reduction and keep all of our management team and all of our staff that equals to 300 people.

Currently, “Academservice” has a very wide contracting – about 3500 hotels in Russia and a significant number of hotels at the territory of the CIS, that is our main product. In 2015 we actively developed and promoted our agency network across Russia, including more than 3,000 travel agencies and TMC, including suchleading large companies that specialize in corporate services, as Aero Club, ATH, CWT, Vipservice, Continent Express, Fest, Demlink, UTS and other.

What trends in the development of business tourism market have you noted?

– First of all, the consolidation of volumes of the largest market players that I mentioned above. They are very active on regional markets. Another trend is the reduction of the duration of business trips and the duration of stay at the hotels. All corporate clients are now significantly focusingon budget accommodation, transport and transfers. The companies started counting the money.

How will these trends affect your business in 2016?

– We plan on the extension of hotel contracting. Our customers tend to insistentlyask to contract small and tiny hotels, located in different corners of Russia and CIS.

Another important task is to begin work with hotels via Channel Manager. Due to the increasing of automation most of the orders will go online, allowing us to send the order instantly to the hotel.

Now the share of online bookings is about 65% of the total amount of orders. The other orders are the work "on demand", when our staff interact directly with the hotel. We plan to increase the share of online bookings to 80-85%. This will result in higher quality of our work.

We believe that the crisis brings not only problems for business, but also new opportunities, you need to properly allocate the resources and to choose efficient direction of the development. So, on the whole, we are looking at 2016 with optimism.

There is much talk about the boom of inbound tourism in 2015. Is that right? What changes in this segment of the market have you noticed?

– Rapid drop in entry of foreign tourists from Europe and North America has stopped, the volume has stabilized. At the same time, the decline of tourism flow from Great Britain and France continued – more than 15-20% in each direction. Yet, the flow of tourists from Asia, especially from China, has increased. Speaking about Russia, the volume of tourism flow from China has increased almost 1.5 times, while the inbound travel market increased by only 4-5%.

The main markets note that the number of Chinese tourists is increasing every year. There are 1 billion 368 million residents in China, it is virtually an inexhaustible source. Are there any peculiarities of the reception of Chinese tourists?

– Of course, the reception of Chinese tourists has its own specifics. First, the margins in this market segment are lower than the margins of market segments that work with European and North American tourists. But things change, tourists from China are also developing. They get richer, they prefer to spend more money on high-quality tourism product, not just on cheap segments. Therefore, the situation can change.

Secondly, the reception of tourists from China has its own featuresand problems: for instance, special requirements on nutrition and the problem of the lack of qualified guide-interpreters. As for the food, a special program China Friendly has been developed, many hotels decided to join this program. They take the responsibility to provide tourists with familiar food and to have the experts who can speak Chinese at the hotel.

What is the determining factor, which may further attract foreign tourists to Russia?

– First of all, it is a positive image of the country, which should be actively formed and supported by internal and foreign policy of the country. Unfortunately, due to various factors the image of Russia in the eyes of many tourists is currently not the best.

Secondly, it is important that foreign tourists should have the opportunity to learn more about the state of the infrastructure, hotels, ways to travel around the country. While 90% of all foreign tourists travel only to Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Golden ring.

Thirdly, it is the ratio of quality and price of our tour product. The companies engaged in inbound tourism play a significant role in this subject.

Fourthly, it is the possibility of facilitation of the visa policy for foreign citizens. Now, in general, there is nothing to complain about the work of consulates and visa centers, but we are very concerned about the problem of introduction of biometrics data collection in order to obtain a Russian visa for European tourists – this can lead to reduced flow of tourists from Europe.

So far the share of repeat visits to Russia of foreign tourists is very low. Let's hope that some steps which are being undertaken by the authorities, including “Visit Russia” project support, the establishment of the Council on tourism development under the government of the Russian Federation, the fact that regional authorities are beginning to pay more attention to the tourism industry, will lead to a recovery in domestic tourism. And infrastructure development will entail the development of inbound tourism.

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