Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg is often referred to as the Russian Versailles. // © 2014 Maria Lisella
Feature image (above): The newly opened Faberge Museum displays hundreds of objects from American publishing magnate Malcolm Forbes’ collection. // © 2014 Faberge Museum
Despite a sharp decrease in incoming visitors from the U.S., St. Petersburg, Russia, has made progress on its long-range tourism strategies that began in 2005. That’s the message Inna Shalyto, chairman of the Committee on Tourism Development of St. Petersburg, shared at a press conference held at the city’s newly opened Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace. Following are her comments regarding the latest tourism developments in St. Petersburg, including why she thinks Americans should come back to the destination.
Can you give us an overview of developments in tourism infrastructure in St. Petersburg?
The first phase covered 2005 to 2010, and we are nearing the end of the second phase, which ends in 2016. Pulkova Airport’s new passenger terminal — that sees 13 million passengers annually — opened in February. It is already expanding to accommodate an anticipated 18 million passengers by 2018.
Cruise lines are crowding the new Passenger Port called Marine Facade that opened in 2011, so three more passenger halls have been added; 2013 saw 300 calls and 1.2 million cruise passengers.
St. Petersburg’s hotel inventory has boomed: from five-star properties – such as Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace, Indigo St. Petersburg Tchaikovskogo and W St. Petersburg — to Crowne Plaza St. Petersburg Airport, Hotel Indigo St. Petersburg Downtown, Radisson Royal Hotel, St. Petersburg, , St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater, Hotel Novotel Saint Petersburg Centre, Ibis St Petersburg Centre, the Rinaldi and the former Sheraton that is now Corinthia Nevskij Palace. Coming soon are a Hyatt and a Mandarin Oriental.
Among the latest attractions is Faberge Museum in the Shuvalov Palace on the Moyka River; the centerpiece is the Faberge collection of American publishing magnate Malcolm Forbes. Several theaters and palace museums have been refurbished.
Also, a new congress complex is under construction at the southern part of the city near Pushkin Town and Catherine’s Palace. The vast complex includes congress and exhibition halls and two Hilton hotels. Phase one will be completed later this year.
Are there any updates to products targeted at tourists?
[Tourism] products such as hop-on, hop-off tourist buses; a tourist card for access to more than 200 museums and attractions; and tourist help lines are being established in 113 venues.
What has been the biggest challenge for St. Petersburg?
Attracting visitors during the off-season from November through April has been the biggest challenge for the city.
What are the largest markets visiting St. Petersburg as a leisure destination?
We hosted 6.2 million [total international] visitors in 2013, but this year, we have seen a drop of 15 to 20 percent from the U.S. and Canada. However, visitors from China make up about 12 percent of incoming travelers, followed by the Germans at 8 percent and the French at 7 percent. The U.S. and Great Britain each comprise about 5 percent of all visitors to St. Petersburg.
What leisure markets is St. Petersburg pursuing?
In light of the recent drop in tourism from the West of 15 to 20 percent, the office is redirecting its attention to local markets within the Commonwealth of Independent States (the former Soviet Union) and to emerging markets such as Brazil, China and India.
What will Russia do to expand its outreach to Western markets?
In 2014, St. Petersburg was represented at 25 international and national travel fairs and exhibitions. We will be attending 32 similar events in 2015 from Las Vegas to Madrid.
What advice do you have for American travel agents?
St. Petersburg is peaceful, and culture and tourism transcend politics.