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Sochi Risks Fumbling its Olympic Tourism Opportunity

Published: October 28, 2013 (Issue # 1783)



  • Sochi visitors are not expected to have any trouble finding a hotel room after the Olympic Games end.
    Photo: Courtesy of Rezidor Hotel Group

YAROSLAVL — With 100 days left until the Winter Olympic Games, tourism industry insiders fear that the country has missed its opportunity to capitalize on the event and promote the host city to domestic and international tourists.

Long a coveted holiday destination, Sochi has lost its prestige in the post-Soviet period as more Russians choose to travel abroad for the same amount of money. In this context, the Winter Olympics seemed to be the event that could erase the Soviet-era stereotypes and transform the resort town into a desirable playground for foreigners.

But speaking on the sidelines of the annual Visit Russia Forum, which took place from Oct. 24 to 25 in Yaroslavl, 150 kilometers northeast of Moscow, marketing and brand managers said Sochi has not been able to reverse its image ahead of the biggest tourism event in modern Russian history.

The government "is planning to use this opportunity only after people come to Sochi," said Miroslav Roncak, regional director for Eastern Europe at FVW Mediengruppe, which studies travel patterns among German tourists. "Athletes and fans will come to Sochi. The idea is that they will see what is there and tell others about it. But I have not seen any targeted promotion of the city."

Sochi's tourist numbers have declined or stagnated in recent years, in part due to extensive Olympics-related construction and traffic jams. The city hosted 900,000 tourists in the year to mid-July, according to the local administration. By comparison, 1.3 million tourists visited the city over the same period in 2012.

But while Russians can place Sochi on the map and, subsequently, consider going there, the lack of targeted marketing efforts has prevented the city from becoming a recognized destination for foreign travelers.

"The only thing people know about Sochi is that it will host the Olympics, but there are a lot of platforms that could have been used to say something else about it," Vasily Dubeikovsky, head of CityBranding agency said. "The games will pass and that is it. What next? Will we all go to Sochi because the Olympics have taken place there?"

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