Moscow welcomes GCC tourists

The Russian capital of Moscow is a fascinating destination within a short flight of the GCC

Head to Russia, the original winter’s playground, as the country offers $40 e-visas and waives the requirement for loads of paperwork. GCC countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman can apply for these easy visas while travellers from the UAE can go visa free. The only entry requirement is a negative PCR report and a direct flight.

“Winter is really a great experience in Moscow and we do want to interest the Middle East market during this season. They may fear the cold weather, but we have great festive markets during the winter,” Anastasia Popova, Head of International Division, Project Office for Tourism and Hospitality Development of Moscow, tells TTN. “In fact, we have festivals for all seasons called Moscow Seasons. In winter we have the festive fairs, for spring we have a cappella, where we have singers, musicians and other acts performing on the streets throughout Moscow. In the summer we have Moscow Flower Jam where streets are covered in landscaping and flower arrangements. All of these festivals show the spirit of Moscow, and they are all free to attend.”

From the history and majesty of the Kremlin and Red Square at the heart of the city to the beauty of a ballet performance at the Bolshoi, cosmopolitan Tservskaya Street with its stylish boutiques, or a cruise on the Moskva River, Moscow offers visitors surprises at every turn.

“We want to show that Moscow is not only about the Kremlin, which is wonderful, of course, but we as a tourism board want to develop the gastronomy aspect of the city. A lot of Europeans come to Moscow for the gastronomy. Moscow will be the first city in ex-soviet countries to have Michelin-star restaurants. In addition, even though Moscow is a Metropolitan city, 50 per cent of is green with several parks. So, this combination of cultural, gastronomy and green is really what we want to offer.

“For the Middle East traveller, we have several halal restaurants and two great mosques.”

The Russian capital is a fascinating destination within a short flight of the GCC, and with only a one- or two-hour time difference between Moscow and the Gulf countries, travellers don’t have to worry about jet-lag ruining their plans.

Moscow has been at the forefront of gastronomy in Russia, and the arrival of the Michelin Guide in the city next month will cement the city’s culinary credentials. Russia’s huge area and different climates means it produces exceptional ingredients which dazzle diners at many of the city’s restaurants.

For travellers with a love of culture, the Instagrammable domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church of the Holy Martyr Clement are Yelokhovsky Cathedral are must-sees, and it’s easy to spend hours wandering the Kremlin, Novospassky Monastery or Krutitsky farmstead, learning about the fascinating history of the state.

Those with a sense of adventure will find much to offer in Moscow and its surrounding areas. Budding astronauts should head to Zvezdny Gorodok, also known as Star Town, home of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre.

Visitors can see a model of the Mir space station used for training and SOYUZ spaceships and experience a Zero Gravity flight. The Cosmonautics and Aviation Centre in the renovated Cosmos pavilion at VDNH is another must-see for space-lovers.

For those who want to get an aerial view, helicopter tours over Moscow offer a bird’s eye view of the city and its architecture.

Moscow’s green surroundings offer opportunities for hiking in the forest or walking along eco-paths. Pick up some snacks from one of Moscow’s famous markets, such as DEPO food market or the Central market, and head out for a picnic.

For more thrills in the open air, cross the Moskva River by zipline, or navigate its turns via boat tours available year-round.

Moscow is home to exceptional hotels and hospitality, so whether visiting the city on leisure or as part of a MICE experience, there is sure to be something to suit every type of traveller. “We have around 172 five-star hotels and we have all the main international brand hotel chains from Four Seasons, The Ritz Carlton and other Marriott brands, etc and we also have some very special properties for those who like tradition and history like the Hotel Metropol Moscow. All these hotels look on to Red Square. We also have some Design Hotels . This month, a new Marriott will open, and they also have more openings next year,” she says.

“Europe is our largest market, but now we are looking at the Middle East since the borders opened. In the first half of 2021, there were approximately 28,000 visitors from the Middle East. These visitors mostly came from UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We have been very interested in the market for some time and wanted to try and attract more visitors, so these numbers are encouraging.

“We began in 2020 our efforts to reach this market. As we could not have any offline events, we launched digital road shows and the Middle East was the first market. We had 25 tour operators from Moscow and 107 operators from the Middle East. Here we of course had a presentation on Moscow; where you can go, what you can do, details on the Covid restrictions etc. and then these tour operators all had private meetings. We also had the same in August and we are planning a live, offline road show in November or December. We are also going to have a good programme during Expo 2020, not at the site specifically, but throughout Dubai both for business and culture.”

Apart from Mice travellers, Moscow is looking to attract Education Tourism. “We have a special project called City of Discoveries, this was piloted in January of 2020, and then unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this was postponed, but at the time, children from all the regions of Russia came to Moscow for many excursions. We also had one online road show where we had a lot of children from all over the world, but most of them were from China. We are waiting for more borders to open to expand on the Educational Tourism sector.”