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Sea coast ever attractive

Despite the concerns of tourist agencies, Belarusians are booking holidays to the coast for the coming summer, regardless of higher prices
Despite the concerns of tourist agencies, Belarusians are booking holidays to the coast for the coming summer, regardless of higher prices (due to the exchange rate). Since March, all payments have been required to be made in Belarusian Roubles but some agencies are, nevertheless, registering increased demand.

Exotic beaches attract holidaymakers

Early booking trends began last autumn, with demand stagnating over the winter months but, by February, Belarusian thoughts had returned to holiday plans, perhaps inspired by rumours of an expected ban on foreign currency payments and a further price rise.

Time Voyage Agency has registered incredibly ‘active’ bookings, explains Director Ruslan Segenyuk. He tells us, “Some clients are still coming with Dollars and Euros but we send them to bank exchange offices. To simplify payments, we’re fixing our prices in Belarusian Roubles and foreign currency on our site. Some effort was needed to adjust the programme, and it takes some calculation, but it’ll become easier. Those in Russia are now used to Rouble settlements. In honesty, we should have shifted to payments in our national currency some time back.”

Colleagues support Ruslan, admitting that dedollarisation has not negatively impacted bookings (with some using the National Bank’s rate alone). Among them is Top-Tour, whose Deputy General Director for Marketing, Yelena Martynova, comments, “We’ve conducted dedollarisation and slightly increased our fees, but our number of clients has risen.”

Tourists seem to appreciate such bonuses as free excursions (offered by agencies’ foreign partners). Those in Montenegro have cut hotel accommodation prices by 30 percent while Belavia has reduced its prices, resulting in many early bookings.  Top-Tour staff recollect that, last year, their company had many last-minute deals to Montenegro but, these days, only certain resorts in Bulgaria are cheaper — such as Sunny Beach. “We’re also registering falling prices in Kusadasi and Greece,” adds AlatanTour’s Nikita Lash. “This does not mean that accommodation will always be cheap, as discounts come and go at a moment’s notice. However, existing prices are lower than they would be in mid-season.”

Holiday season at Minsk airport

Time Voyage specialists add that discounts of no more than 10-15 percent — as proposed by partners — would not significantly influence demand. Moreover, not all hotels are ready to compromise, failing yet to realise that the Russian market has lost ground. Only when they see booking figures lagging are they likely to try attracting foreign tourists with better offers. Of course, since charter flights from Belarus only run when sufficient demand is registered in a timely manner, the system may not accommodate such late deals.

“Flights to Sardinia, the Greek islands and, even, Montenegro have been reduced in price and flights are being cut on destinations which lack demand. Accordingly, clients need to choose from current offers: for example, leaving on June 15th rather than the originally planned June 10th. Tourist companies will soon recalculate ‘sold’ tours, uniting tourists under single flights and cancelling some charters,” comments Mr. Segenyuk.

Igor Cherginets, Belavia’s Deputy General Director, agrees, while noting that there are 18 percent more charter flights today than in 2014. However, their list is being daily cut. To support tour operators, Belavia is trying to compromise. The Director of Rosting tourist company, Oleg Malashenko, hopes that citizens will soon come to their senses and make their bookings, before the available flights are fully booked. As experience shows, there are never too many departures from Minsk. Following Russian air carriers’ bankruptcy, Belarusians no longer trust departures from Moscow, so flights directly from Belarus are preferable (and save time and money in the long run).

Companies admit that Belarusians mostly choose ‘affordable’ breaks and are used to ‘bargain’ holidays with a certain level of service. Few will settle for three star hotels when they are used to five, but may accept bookings to four star accommodation. Mr. Segenyuk recalls that, last March, the average holiday was priced at $2,500-$3,000 per person, against $1,500-$2,000 at present. Among the most popular destinations are Turkey and Egypt, followed by Montenegro and Georgia. Bulgaria, Greece, Spain and Italy are next in line, having lost some of their previous popularity.

By Maria Dorokhova

Top-5 of popular destinations

The most widespread directions for overseas holidays

1. Turkey. The most popular destination for Belarusians, it is offered by dozens of travel agencies, with hundreds of hotel deals, in such towns as Alanya, Kuşadası, Kemer, Belek, Side and Antalya. The ‘all inclusive’ package is most common.

2. Bulgaria. It is necessary to note that offers ‘all inclusive’ are not frequent in Bulgarian hotels. Basic offers of tourist agencies -- breakfasts in a hotel or half board. There are variants of tours without food included into the cost. People fly to Bulgaria basically from Minsk.

3. Egypt. Most flights to Egypt transit Moscow or Kiev, with few departing from Minsk. Belarusians need a visa, which can be gained at the airport on arrival, for $25.

4. Italy. Beach recreation can be combined with fantastic Italian sightseeing. Choose from resorts on the Adriatic, Tyrrhenian or Ionian seas, continental Italy, Sicily or Sardinia. Most Belarusian tour operators specialise in the Rimini area: a huge resort in the northeast of Italy.

5. Greece. With its long coastline, hundreds of islands and low prices, it continues to attract tourists, with its opportunities for swimming, sunbathing and tasty food. Rhodes, Crete and Corfu are the most popular destinations.
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