Destination Russia

The MENA region has long since shared important cultural and historical ties with Russia and CIS. Mario Hajiloizis investigates how this has laid the foundations for an extremely bright touristic future.

 A vast land covering more than one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area, Russia – the largest country in the world – has always charmed tourists with an ever changing landscape hosting some beautiful natural wonders.

Spanning across nine time zones, the country shares land borders with many CIS nations naturally allowing for a consistent stream of trade, finance and travel across the region. With Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan making up the regional member states, and Turkmenistan and Ukraine participating as associate states, that represents a huge amount of diversity, history and culture which attracts a consistent stream of tourists from around the globe every year.

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Tourists from the MENA region are among the many that choose Russia and the CIS as their destination of choice.

With strong historical, cultural and religious ties between both regions, all the major airlines operate routes from MENA. Russia’s national carrier, Aeroflot, brings travellers into the country from Dubai, Cairo, Beirut and Tehran; Transaero Airlines flies tourists from Dubai, Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh; S7 Airlines connects Russia with Doha, Abu Dhabi and Amman; while Ural Airlines operates a route from Dubai, and Rossiya – Russian Airlines hosts travellers from Hurghada, Sharm El Sheikh and Taba.

Among the many airlines from MENA that operate routes to Russia and CIS, Emirates Airline has witnessed a huge increase in demand for its flights from Dubai to St Petersburg, forcing the carrier to increase capacity by 50 per cent by upgrading the aircraft servicing the route. Six weekly flights from Dubai are expected to be operated with a Boeing 777-300ER from October 25, 2015, instead of an Airbus 330-200. The up-gauge will be applied to a seventh flight per week on December 1, 2015.

“Since 2011, when Emirates Airline launched flights to and from St Petersburg, we have carried over 500,000 passengers on the route. Counting these figures alongside our double-daily flights to Moscow, takes the total to over 3.6 million passengers travelling on Emirates Airline to and from Russia,” outlined senior vice president, commercial operations – Europe and Russian Federation, Emirates Airline, Thierry Aucoc.

Kazakhstan’s national carrier, Air Astana, has also enhanced travel from Dubai by re-launching services on October 25, 2015. The non-stop flight will be operated four times a week. “With Kazakhstan and the UAE strengthening links in business, finance, tourism and culture, I’m confident that the new service will be extremely popular with passengers,” outlined president, Air Astana, Peter Foster.

Additionally, flydubai has also announced flights to the Kazakh capital, extending the airline’s route network in the country to three destinations joining Almaty and Shymkent. Operating four flights a week, due to start on October 26, 2015, the new launch means the airline will operate over 30 weekly flights from Dubai to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Air Kyrgyzstan is also welcoming flights from Dubai to Bishkek with a Boeing 737- 300 aircraft hosting 148 passengers, while Azerbaijan Airlines has revealed plans to establish a low-cost service from Baku to Dubai from October 2015.

Elsewhere across CIS, Uzbekistan Airways – operating three flights per week from Dubai, two per week from Sharjah and once per week from Jeddah – is welcoming many tourists from MENA mainly to visit the country’s famous Islamic sites. “As well as a homeland of great Islamic heritage, Uzbekistan is a very attractive destination for tourists from MENA countries. It is very popular to make a Hajj to Uzbekistan’s holy places before setting off to Makkah for the main pilgrimage,” chief, tourism division, Uzbekistan Airways, Rustam Kurganbaev told TTG.

Meanwhile, Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) is operating flights from Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, the UAE, Iran and Iraq. “These flights are very popular with our passengers. Ukraine traditionally welcomes travellers from MENA taking advantage of our geographical position by planning their transit trips via a stay in Kiev,” corporate press secretary, UIA, Evgeniya Satskaya told TTG.

Moving on, Etihad Airways has further enhanced its position across CIS after recently announcing an expanded codeshare partnership with Belarus national carrier, Belavia, to offer a daily service between Abu Dhabi and Kiev via Minsk. Under the agreement, Etihad Airways has placed its EY flight code on Belavia’s daily services between Minsk and Kiev.


Hosting many MENA guests upon their visit to the Ukrainian capital is one of the country’s most luxurious addresses, Fairmont Grand Hotel Kyiv. Featuring 258 guest rooms, including the popular Royal and Presidential suites, guests from the UAE, Egypt, Qatar, Iraq, Algeria, Morocco and Iran, regularly visit this five-star address.

“Very often guests from MENA choose us for a long stay, organising meetings, conferences and big celebrations,” marketing and communications manager, Fairmont Grand Hotel Kyiv, Maryna Kyshchynska stated.

Kempinski Hotels, with its well-known presence across MENA, is taking advantage of brand awareness for its Russia-based Hotel Baltschug Kempinski Moscow and Kempinski Hotel Moika 22 and Azerbaijan based Kempinski Hotel Badamdar Baku. “Our hotels work directly with key tour operators and wholesalers in MENA, while Kempinski awareness in the region provides us with additional support,” outlined area director of sales and marketing, Russia and CIS, Kempinski, Lada Samodumskaya exclusively to TTG.

Facilities that Kempinski’s MENA guests appreciate include a separate prayer room, halal dishes, Qibla pointers and prayer mats upon request, added Samodumskaya.

Additionally, Rixos Quba Azerbaijan and Naftalan Hotel by Rixos are welcoming an increasing number of guests from the Middle East, mainly due to both hotels’ promotional efforts across the region. “We organise familiarisation trips and build longterm relationships with MENA travel agencies,” regional director – Azerbaijan, Rixos Hotels, Sukru Kocak remarked to TTG, adding that further promotions will take place to attract more guests from Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

An increasing number of airlines and hotels across these prominent regions have undoubtedly resulted in the development of further travel between them. All indications are pointing towards a bright future building on the equally bright past between the two regional powerhouses.