DUBAI // The Russians are coming – in greater numbers and spending more money than ever.
About a million visitors from Russia are expected this year, up from 600,000 in the first nine months of 2012.
And Russians spent in the region of US$122 million (Dh450m), nearly a quarter of the total, at last year’s Dubai Shopping Festival. This year’s event began last Thursday, two days after the start of Russia’s two-week national holiday.
“The timing is perfect because schools are off and the weather is at its harshest in Russia whereas it is perfect in the UAE,” said Igor Egorov, chairman of the Russian Business Council in Dubai.
“We are seeing a year on year growth for the number of Russians visiting Dubai and the UAE and we expect that to continue this year. Last year we estimate that about $122 million was spent by Russians during the shopping festival in Dubai, which was a 300 per cent increase on the year before.”
Evgeniya Tabanakova, chief executive of Marutzzi Travel, said her company recorded its first increase in Russian bookings since 2008 last year.
“I’m getting phone calls every day from people asking about the shopping festival and what kind of discounts they can get,” she said. “I normally tell them that for top-end brands like Dior there isn’t much of a discount, but for other stuff there is.
“Most of the Russian tourists like coming to Dubai because they can spend the day at the beach and then go to the malls in the afternoons and out in the evenings.”
Mr Egorov said most major Russian cities now operated cheap direct flights to the UAE and the affordable all-inclusive deals at hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were a big attraction.
“Many hotels organise special packages from new year with Russian themes. This year Philipp Kirkorov, one of Russia’s best know singers, is performing at the Burj Al Arab,” he said.
A spokeswoman for flydubai said: “Many of our flights from Russia and the CIS region are full over the next couple of weeks. This is no doubt due in part to the Dubai Shopping Festival and other events in the UAE but passengers are also travelling for the festive season and choosing Dubai for the temperate climate we enjoy at this time of year.”
Maria Shamsonova, who has lived in the UAE for 15 years, said it was mostly wealthy Russians who visited Dubai before the economic crisis, “but now more and more ordinary people are coming here as well”.
Ms Shamsonova, who works in banking, said many of her friends preferred coming to the country during their holidays.
Russians traditionally visited Egypt during this holiday period but with the recent instability many are choosing to visit Dubai instead.
“The tour prices have become a lot more affordable in recent years and this means you see a lot more families coming to the country.
“My friends tell me that they are attracted by the nice weather this time of year and they also say the shopping is cheaper here.”
She said Russians could buy products in Dubai that were not available in their home country.
“Most of the people I know tend to stay here for two or three weeks and make the most of the holiday they get.
“The fact that you can get so many bargains and discounts during the festival means it’s the perfect time for them to come over.”
Many Russians will take a break from the beaches and malls today to celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas at St Philip the Apostle Russian Orthodox Church in Sharjah.
Orthodox Christians follow the Julian Calendar and celebrate Christmas on January 7 rather than December 25.
Alexandra Pisetskaya, who attended a mass at the Sharjah parish last night, said: “Since the fall of Communism Christianity is more widely promoted and many Russians have become religious.”
Ms Pisetskaya, who lives in Dubai and works in IT, said the Orthodox Christmas was an even more religious affair than the December 25 celebration, but does not involve gift giving.
“For Russians, the New Year is a bigger event and that is when we give presents to one another and have parties and celebrate more.”
Traditional Russian New Year, known as Old New Year, falls on January 14.