Locked out of their traditional favourite European destinations due to sanctions imposed following the invasion of Ukraine, Russian visitors will instead be flocking to the MENA and Turkey this summer.

Forward ticket bookings data from travel trends company ForwardKeys shows an 84-percent increase in the number of people who will arrive in the UAE from Russia between June 1 and August 31, 2022, compared to the same period in 2019, which is considered the last “normal” travel year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Turkey, the increase is even higher at 96 percent, and Bahrain’s is higher still at 122 percent. Saudi Arabia can expect a modest bump of 16 percent, but Egypt will see a 30 percent increase in Russian visitors. 

By contrast, other markets in the wider MENA region, including Lebanon, Jordan, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, will all see a decline in Russian visitors this summer compared with 2019. 

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, said: “From a tourism perspective, Turkey, the UAE and Egypt have benefitted from the invasion of Ukraine as Russians are still welcome there, while other favourite destinations, having imposed sanctions, are effectively off-limits.”

Besides sanctions and the lack of available flights to other favourite destinations for Russian tourists, the fall of the Turkish lira has made the country more affordable as a destination. Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to attract more global tourists through strategic investments in the tourism industry, Ponti said.

“In addition to the relative lack of choice owing to sanctions, the UAE offers numerous visitor attractions, world-class shopping, a plethora of luxury hotels and copious air conditioning,” he added.

A number of sanctions have been imposed on Russia since the start of the war, which has been raging in Ukraine for more than 100 days.

They include financial sanctions on more than 1,000 individuals, the exclusion of Russian banks from key UK financial systems, the removal of Russia banks from the SWIFT international financial messaging system and the freezing of Russia’s central bank assets. Russian flights have also been banned from the airspace of the UK, US and EU.

In the weeks after the war started, reports emerged of Russian nationals in Asian holiday destinations such as Thailand and Bali stranded without cash and struggling with foreign currency and payment issues and cancelled flights. 

There were also anecdotal reports of a “flood” of Russian arrivals to the UAE and other Middle Eastern destinations in the days and weeks after the war began. While arrivals to the UAE have only seen a moderate increase, other destinations have seen huge increases, according to actual air ticket data from ForwardKeys.

Arrivals to the UAE from Russia were up just 4 percent from February 24 to May 31, compared with the same period in 2019; however, Qatar saw a 144 percent increase; Egypt, a 66 percent increase; Bahrain, a 43 percent increase; and Saudi Arabia, a 12 percent increase.

(Reporting by Imogen Lillywhite; editing by Seban Scaria)