Russia has some serious catching up to do to win confidence of business travellers, says a corporate travel company
Addressing the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) in Munich this morning, (22 October), Zelenski Corporate Travel Solutions general director, Vadim Zelenski, was nonetheless cautiously optimistic.
We have problems related to our Russian bureaucratic heritage and you have to know the right people,” he said, ”but we keep fighting and we are becoming more successful.”
Zelenski highlighted two chronic areas of difficulty in particular ” the lack of hotel rooms in Moscow and the interminably complicated processes that both inbound and exbound business travellers have to go through in obtaining visas.
”Visas are a nightmare and are the biggest problem for TMCs,” he noted, adding: ”Russians need visas practically everywhere in the world, but it can take up to two or three weeks to obtain one.
”This is the worst part of our work, but there is an agreement between Russian and the European Union that is supposed to facilitate this visa issue on both sides. The access to multiple entry visas could be eased.”
The paucity of hotel lodging in Moscow has led to the twin pressures of sky-high prices ” the Russian capital was recently voted the most expensive city in the world in which to stay ” and the loss of prestigious events such as the 2012 Olympic Games.
”There are 215 hotels in Moscow ” ten times less than in Paris,” said Zelenski, ”but there was a decree that said by 2010 the total number of rooms should increase to 200,000 ” this is not realistic.
”Occupancy rates are around 75% and are often 100% -we are losing the ability to host events such as the Olympics.”
One brighter spot however, was the development of Domodedovo Airport, which is increasingly becoming the airport of choice for airlines wanting to avoid Sheremetyevo's suffocatingly bureaucratic congestion and what Zelenski referred to as ”gangster taxi drivers.”
Domodedovo has a fast train service linking it to downtown Moscow, while its immigration procedures ”once the visa has been obtained” are smoothness itself compared to its less illustrious cousin.
Russia is an evolving market noted Zelenski, but one that is becoming increasingly important and influential as the country's oil and gas boom continues to power the economy. There is some way to go however, before this financial power translates into the travel management world.
”There is a limited understanding of TMCs and we have to tell people why we add value,” he said. ”There is a low penetration of travel policy and we face some problems with airlines [there are 200 in Russia alone] in getting them to understand the corporate traveller. Aeroflot is more advanced in this case and implements corporate agreements."