Car Travel in Russia – What Is and What Will Be

Adriana Smirnova, 09.12.2013 15:31
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According to experts, car travel may well become one of the most popular types of domestic tourism in Russia. TRN magazine set out to explore the current market situation, while also getting expert opinion on the demand for the car tourism product, its peculiarities and the prospects for developing the segment.

As of today, car tour offers in Russia are few and far between, since market players consider it to be part of individual tourism segment, hence unprofitable. TRN magazine went to the companies that are developing the segment to get first-hand opinions on the matter.

What about demand?

Russian travel business insiders observe the growth of interest in car travel. Its yearly domestic index is 10-15%, while it is a bit higher for foreign destinations – 15-20%. Still, car travel takes up as little as 1% of Russia’s domestic tourism. But there is a silver lining in the form of some positive developments that have been occurring lately.

For instance, under the Federal program ‘Development of domestic and incoming tourism in the Russian Federation (2011-2018)’ car travel clusters are going to be created in four regions of the country: ‘Golden Gate’ in Altai Krai, ‘Kyakhta’, ‘Baykalsky’ and ‘Tunka Valley’ in the Republic of Buryatia, ‘Vsplesk’ in Rostov Oblast and ‘Zadonshchina’ in Lipetsk Oblast. Also, modern camping-sites are going to be built in five municipal districts of Penza Oblast, which are situated near the federal highway M5 ‘Moscow – Chelyabinsk’. The new project is described in detail on TRN’s travel news site.

According to
Victoria Tsygankova, the brand manager at ARTEKS TRAVEL (a division of the ‘Arteks’ company – the official dealer of Jaguar Land Rover), the interest in car travel is constantly growing and it is now enjoying good demand in Russia. The company organizes tours to both Russian and foreign destinations. For example, in July ‘Arteks’ organized a 15-day car trip from Moscow to Austria. There were several types of entertainment – educational, gastronomical and active.

‘Thirty cars (65 people) took part in a car trip to Suzdal that we organized not too long ago. Normally it is two adults and a child per car. Lately we have been noticing that people are getting tired of ordinary holiday options, so we are trying to create unique trips that would be interesting for the whole family,’ says Victoria Tsygankova.


Julia Shirshina, the company’s interactive tour expert, added in an exclusive interview for TRN travel news magazine that the company has many loyal customers who undertake trips twice a year, during the winter and summer seasons. The ‘client portfolio’ is also reinforced with newcomers, who only now are starting to discover this type of travel and come back for new impressions.
 

She also said that the tour operator organized car trips for groups from 15 to 35 people, ensuring utmost comfort with night stay at recreation centers.
 

People in the Astravel company say that the interest in car tours is quite stable and does not change much from year to year.
 

In order for the segment to become relevant we need to make such trips popular. For instance, not long ago many Russians discovered Altai and started going there in droves,’ says the tour operator’s domestic travel expert Elena Balabanova.

According to her, Altai, the Kola Peninsula, Kamchatka and Karelia prove to be the most interesting car travel destinations for the Russian tourist. The price of such tours starts at 30 thousand rubles. Elena Balabanova says that the price includes board, transfer, equipment, technical maintenance and excursion services. The expert states that were it not for the expensive flight, the tour package could have been cheaper.

Market insiders say that car tours are popular among active upper middle-class travelers from 35 years of age and older who are looking for something new. Also, the segment is especially popular among families. Average length of car trips is around 7-10 days.

Autoquests are in vogue
 

Aside from standard car trips, some creative offers are starting to crop up on the market. For instance, Yaroslavl tour operator ‘Volga-tour’ has launched an interactive car tourism product – autoquests.
 

Families with children like to travel by car. Not only is it cheaper, it also gives full freedom in terms of moving around and choosing the places for stay and rest,’ they say.
 

For the clients who prefer traveling in their own cars the company came up with a whimsical autoquest, whereby only dates and cities of the trip are known. The itinerary is presented in the form of riddles, upon solving which tourists progress from one place to another. Along the way they come across fairy-tale characters, theatrical performances, games and workshops. The tour operator’s job is to come up with a well-thought-out route that will be interesting both for children and adults.
 

In order to give tourists more leeway we send them a list of menus of the local restaurants and a list of hotels along the route, and suggest that they make their own choice,’ says manager of excursion and corporate travel department of ‘Volga-tour’ Olga Lobanova.
 

According to her, such tours are of interest not only to individual tourists, but to corporate clients as well.
 

Fairy-tale family autoquest is just the beginning. New autoquests are being created for corporate tourists. Teams in their own cars, or on minivans provided by us, will compete against each other by way of completing various tasks. The whole Golden Ring will be utilized,’ she added.

Business challenges
 

Still, there are companies whose exclusive focus is car travel. For instance, auto travel agency ‘Avtoturist’ devises individual trip plans and itineraries across Russia and Europe, picks and books hotels, provides visa support.
 

According to the company’s CEO Pavel Korchagin, demand for car trips is growing by 10-15% a year. He says, however, that further growth of car travel in Russia is impeded by weak infrastructure, inferior road quality, lack of roadside service and signs pointing to sights, and also by the shortage of camping sites, tourist-information centers and cheaper hotels.
 

Another problem is the lack of quality guidebooks, roadmaps and atlases of Russia, with all the historical or cultural objects of this or that region marked. It would benefit not only travelers – travel companies will have a much easier job planning the route. The majority of European maps have these markings. The lack of qualified personnel in the field is also an issue,’ he said.
 

The expert also said that opening a camping in Russia was no easy task, since there are many legislative hoops a private business has to go through, which is why many entrepreneurs end up abandoning the idea. According to Pavel Korchagin, some tourists reject car travel due to the safety issue of the Russian roads, which also stops potential investors from launching the project.
 

Experts concur that car travel is a promising market segment, but it still has a long way to go to become popular in Russia.

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