Russia’s World Cup has been successful by any barometer. Exciting games, unexpected results and smooth operations have offered a rose-coloured look into the world’s biggest country.
Sure, there was the odd bug swarm and warnings against sex with tourists, but this has been one flawless display to the outside world. It would appear the biggest ever budget of any World Cup has paid dividends for the resulting competition.
But with one week of the competition left it remains to be seen what its lasting impact will be. Will the success of the World Cup increase tourism to the former Soviet state? Will it change international perceptions? What about foreign investment? The answer to such questions depends on who you ask.
Generally speaking, experts believe that this World Cup will improve Russian coffers. Pundits are divided however in how much the figure will increase and how long it will last for.
Market researcher Euromonitor estimates that international arrivals in Russia will grow by 4 percent to 37.5 million trips by 2022. “From a conservative standpoint, Euromonitor’s Travel Forecast Model forecasts 1.4 percent increase in the number of total arrivals to Russia in 2018, directly caused by hosting a major sporting event,” said Alan Rownan, sports industry manager, in a statement.
But the realities of visiting Russia will not suddenly disappear post-Cup, Rownan said. “Negative factors, such as lack of mid-tier accommodation facilities, safety concerns, relatively high visiting costs and burdensome visa regulations for non-ticket holders will have an impact on the incoming tourist flows.”
“Furthermore, the recent political tension between Russia and the UK is also likely to undermine tourist flows from the latter,” Rownan said.
Figures from the Russian Travel Union show that European visitors stayed away in large numbers last year. While arrivals from China, South Korea and Thailand increased, numbers from Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK fell. Bringing European neighbours back as visitors should be a top priority for the nation’s tourism sector, experts say.
According to state media agency Tass, government officials are much more hopeful about any post-Cup boon. Association of European Business Chairman Johan Vanderplaetse said people who came to the World Cup see modern Russia, which is open for business.
“Those who will return home from the World Cup will tell their friends about a completely different Russia than about the one they know through the press. This, of course will influence business, on all foreigners who think, or are ready to make investments here. Our association … welcomes it,” he said.
Moody’s rating agency is more tempered in their World Cup projections. The agency warned before the tournament that a surge in tourism revenues over the course of the World Cup would only make a “short-lived” contribution to the economy and that many of the host regions would struggle to retain their tourism appeal as they are too hard to reach, too cold and competing with more attractive destinations.
Add to the fact that Russia forked out an estimated $14 billion (usd) for this year’s competition and overall economic benefits may not be as positive as once believed. Predictions from the Moscow State University show that the country should at least break even on its Cup investment.
As an aside: it should be noted that Brazil experienced very little visitor growth after hosting the last World Cup. In fact, visitor numbers fell from 6.4 million to 6.3 million in 2015, climbing to 6.6 million in 2016, in part thanks to hosting the Olympics.