Russia is enjoying a tourism boom of Chinese visitors flocking there in ever increasing numbers.
The latest official statistics show they are now the largest group of foreign tourists to Russia with the numbers more than doubling last year compared with 2014.
In the first nine month of last year more than 400,000 visited Moscow alone. The total for the whole country was 1.2 million according to the Federal Agency for Tourism and they spend the equivalent of around one billion euros.
“More and more Chinese people are coming here because of the falling rouble,” explained tourist Ma Yang-Wei.
The slumping value of the rouble against the Chinese currency makes it a bargain for accommodation, meals and entertainment, and after Moscow the Far East regions that border China are the most popular destinations.
Svetlana Pyatikhatka executive director of the travel association ‘World Without Borders’ says visa free entry for groups of more than five people has boosted numbers: “Group tourism accounting for over 50 percent of that tourism flow increase.”
With more Chinese travelling abroad every year they are hugely important to Russia’s travel industry, especially as Western tourist numbers are falling.
Which accounts for the appearance of maps and guidebooks in Chinese at hotel receptions and Chinese menus in restaurants and the recruitment of staff with Chinese language skills.
That is part of the Chinese Friendly International initiative, which also includes Chinese-language newspapers and television channels in hotels.
So far around 30 tourism businesses in Russia including shops, hotels and restaurants are currently involved in the initiative
One problem for the Russians is finding Chinese speaking professional guides.
World Without Borders’s Svetlana Pyatikhatka told China Daily that currently there are only 96 officially accredited standard Chinese speaking guides in Moscow, and the number should increase to 200 by the end of 2016.