Press play to listen to this article
Voiced by artificial intelligence.
Even as war rages in Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of Russians are eyeing popular holiday destinations for a summer break — or even a safe haven to wait out the conflict.
While a weaker ruble and growing economic woes means many ordinary families will be spending the warmer months on their dachas or taking a break inside Russia, those with enough cash to travel are wasting little time jetting off to sunny spots across Europe and Asia.
That means countries still willing to take their money are tapping into a lucrative market. But that can come at a cost, and the politics of taking tens of thousands of tourists from a pariah state is already creating trouble in paradise for some popular destinations.
Here are six of the top places Russians are spending their vacations.
As lazy travel writers so often put it, Turkey is a nation that straddles East and West. That old cliché has taken on new meaning since the start of the war in Ukraine, with the NATO member state offering support to Kyiv while at the same time refusing to impose sanctions on Moscow.
Ankara, as a result, has seen much-needed foreign cash flood into the country as Russians look to move their assets abroad. It’s also one of the only European destinations not to have banned flights from Russia: While the EU’s skies are closed, Turkish operators are offering flights from Moscow to sunny destinations like Antalya and Bodrum for as little as €130.
In the first half of the year, Turkey’s tourism revenues grew by more than a quarter, hitting $21.7 billion, statistics released this week show, with as many as 7 million Russians expected to visit the country this year.
Some have even decided to stay — as many as 145,000 Russians currently have residency permits. But while they’ve escaped political instability and the risk of conscription, they are sharing their new home country with tens of thousands of Ukrainians who’ve fled Russia’s war.
That’s created tensions in resort towns like Antalya, which is popular with both Russians and Ukrainians. And given Turkey’s growing anti-migrant sentiment in the wake of May’s presidential elections, both groups could be at risk of being sent home.
The South Caucasus country holds an almost mythical status in the minds of Russians — and its reputation for having some of the best nature, food and hospitality in the former Soviet Union has made it a go-to destination for middle-class holidaymakers, who flock to its Black Sea beaches and snow-capped mountains or kick back in trendy Tbilisi.
In 2022 alone, more than 1.1 million Russians visited Georgia, up from just 200,000 the year before. That number is on the rise after Moscow in May relaxed rules banning direct flights.
Under the ruling Georgian Dream party, Tbilisi has sought closer relations with the Kremlin since the start of the war and aimed to profit off Russian wanderlust. But many locals are less sure.
In a poll conducted in March, only 4 percent of the 1,500 people surveyed said Russians are welcome in Georgia, while a quarter said Russians were tolerated because of the cash they spend when they visit. More than one in three insisted Russian visitors should be banned until Moscow relinquishes control of the occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia — accounting for around a fifth of Georgia’s territory.
Tensions are on the rise, with local Georgian and Ukrainian activists staging protests against Russian cruise ships docking in the port city of Batumi over the weekend. Clips shared by local media show Russian holidaymakers defending Russia’s 2008 war against Georgia and taunting the demonstrators from their balconies.
It’s not only about the gleaming luxury resorts and party beaches. For Russians, the appeal of traveling to Thailand has a lot to do with the month of visa-free travel they’re granted.
The number of Russians visiting Thailand has shot up by more than 1,000 percent over the past year, according to a Bloomberg report. Official statistics show 791,574 Russians traveling to the country in the first half of this year alone.
The party city of Phuket has seen a particular influx, with close to half of all villas sold there since January being bought up by Russians — either as holiday homes or as party pads where they can wait out the war.
That rise in tourism comes as Moscow has also sought to forge closer ties with the kingdom. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov — one of the most committed supporters of the war in Ukraine — flew into Bangkok in July to hail “the importance of boosting cooperation in trade and investment.”
United Arab Emirates
Dubai isn’t to everyone’s taste. But the billionaires’ playground and its pristine beaches have become a sought-after destination for many wealthy Russians looking for a friendly welcome — and a place to spend huge sums in opulent malls.
The number of Russians jetting to the Gulf nation shot up by 63 percent last year, making them the second largest tourism market. The UAE has also seen a surge in Russian expats, who report feeling more at ease in the desert city than in Western countries because there are no public displays of support for war-ravaged Ukraine.
The influx comes as ties between Russia and the UAE are also booming, with Russian firms relocating to the Gulf nation and the Kremlin selling vast volumes of discounted oil to the country.
But analysts warn that pressure from the U.S., U.K. and EU is making it increasingly difficult to the UAE to profit from sanctions evasion, meaning Russian tourists may find their welcome doesn’t last forever.
The island of Cyprus has long been known as Moscow on the Med — a homage to the country’s largest tourist market.
Those beach holidays are now largely out of reach for ordinary Russians, after Cyprus followed other EU member states in banning commercial flights from Russia and last year imposed an €80 fee for visas. The decision, officials say, has cost the country €600 million worth of income.
But, for those who can stump up the costs, flights from Russia with a brief stop in Istanbul or Yerevan cost around €250. Cyprus has also been one of the most prolific issuers of so-called “golden passports,” which offer EU citizenship in exchange for as little as €2.5 million in investment.
While no statistics exist on how many Russians have taken advantage of the scheme, the country has been under pressure to cancel travel documents for sanctioned oligarchs. As many as 222 passports have already been withdrawn, including those belonging to several Russian billionaires.
For Russians with regular jobs and limited cash to spend abroad, country houses and holiday parks are still the most popular option.
Until recently, many of them would be headed to Ukraine’s occupied Crimean peninsula. An iconic spot for vacations and sanatorium breaks since the days of the Soviet Union, many Russians have bought second homes or paid for package holidays to the region’s Black Sea coast since it was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Now, a spate of explosions at military facilities and Kyiv’s insistence that Crimea will come back under its control when it wins the war has worried many Russians.
With air traffic close to the border diverted, one of the only remaining routes into the peninsula is across the car and railway bridge opened by President Vladimir Putin in 2018. That bridge has repeatedly been struck by Ukrainian forces looking to disrupt Russian military convoys.
As a result, officials say, hotels are on average more than half empty — despite heavy promotions and discounts. Local proprietors say the situation is even more dire than the government is prepared to admit.