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Is Russia Really ‘Open to the World’?


This Just In

The World Cup showed the nation can host big events; here’s a look at what Moscow and St. Petersburg offer the meetings industry.

As football fans left Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium on July 15 energized by the thrill of watching France beat Croatia to become World Cup champions, Vladimir Putin knew he had scored a goal for Russia that was more powerful than any seen on the pitch. The nation’s president showed that Russia was capable of hosting large events and delivering hospitality to thousands. He demonstrated to the world that Russia — seen by some as a rogue state — could be a great place to visit.

Russian government figures say the country spent 683 billion rubles (€9.28 billion) on preparing for and hosting the World Cup. The deputy prime minister said she anticipated a 15 percent rise in tourism from overseas visitors next year. That would represent the beginning of a significant return on investment.

Some of that upturn is likely expected from business events. According to a report by R&C Market Research, promoted by the Russian convention bureau, meetings contribute just 0.02 percent of GDP to Russia, compared to more active events countries, such as the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, where the contribution is about 2 percent to 3 percent. It would seem the only way is up for meeting, conference, and events business in Russia.

Convention Bureau Russia began operating in 2017 declaring Russia “open to the world.”

According to R&C’s research, Russia ranks 22nd in the European rating of countries by the number of events held, with Germany at the top of the list. A total of 12,000 to 13,000 events are held annually in Russia— more than 5,000 in Moscow and 2,000 to 3,000 in St. Petersburg. The research states that both cities are in the top 50 most popular worldwide congress destinations — though neither made the top 50 of the ICCA rankings in 2017. There they are 78 and 86 respectively.

“One of the key goals of the organisation is to promote cities [and] regions … [in] foreign markets,” said Alexey Kalachev, head of the Convention Bureau Russia. “The goals also include setting up Russia’s national brand as a convenient and favourable destination for congress and exhibition events.”

Here’s a look at what Moscow and St. Petersburg have to offer events planners:

Moscow

Along with FIFA World Cup matches, major events the city has hosted in recent years include the Moscow Financial Forum, the Gaidar Forum, the World Cities Culture Forum summit, and the IASP World Conference on Science Parks and Areas of Innovation.

Moscow has two international airports, Sheremetyevo (SVO), 18 miles northwest of the city centre, and Domodedovo (DME), 26 miles south of the city. With high international passenger numbers, both are of almost equal importance to the city.

Moscow’s primary event venue is the All-Russian Convention Center. This venue has five main pavilions, the largest of which offers 24,500 square metres of space; a convertible conference hall with 720 seats; and meeting rooms. The venue also has several smaller pavilions and venues. It is set in park land next to a botanical garden. Moscow has two other large convention and exhibition venues: the Expocentre with almost 93,000 square metres of indoor space and ample outdoor space, and Sokolniki, with 27,870 square metres of space.

As capital of Russia, Moscow is an international city and its high standard hotel stock reflects this. Those able to host meetings include the 273-room Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya, with six meeting rooms and located in one of the Stalin Seven Sisters high-rises. The Swissotel Krasnye Holmy offers 20 meeting rooms, a 520-sqare-metre ballroom, and a 130-square-metre conference centre in addition to 233 guestrooms. The Hotel Baltschug Kempinski Moscow, with 230 guestrooms, offers stunning views of the Kremlin and seven meeting rooms. The 214-room Sheraton Palace Hotel offers nine meeting rooms and the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow offers 205 guestrooms, 10 meeting rooms, and a ballroom with 186 square metres of space.

Cultural venues in Moscow include the Tretyakov Gallery, dating from 1892 and housing priceless Russian art. The Manege Central Exhibition Hall is a former military riding school and offers 4,180 square metres of exhibition space and 2,500 pieces of art. The historic Arkhangelskoye country estate, the former home of Prince Yusupov, who was reputedly involved in the murder of Grigori Rasputin, offers a choice of indoor and outdoor space.

St. Petersburg

The beautiful city of St. Petersburg — with almost 7,000 cultural heritage sites it’s known as Russia’s “cultural capital” — is very much an up and coming business events destination. Over the past five years, more than 100 international events have taken place in St. Petersburg, one of the first being the G20 Summit in 2013. Additionally, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and the International Financial Congress are held in the city annually, while the United Nations World Tourism Organization meeting will be held in the city in 2019 and the World Congress of the World Association of Chefs’ Societies will take place in 2020.

The ExpoForum Convention and Exhibition Centre with 50,000 square metres of exhibition and event space is the city’s largest venue and also offers 40,000 square metres of outdoor space along with a smaller pavilion and rooms. The PetroCongress Congress Centre offers 3,150 square metres of space with a conference hall that can seat up to 300 people, alongside eight conference halls with seating for 10 to 150 delegates.

St. Petersburg is served by Pulkovo International Airport (LED), which is about 30 to 60 minutes by road from the city centre.

There is no doubt these cities can host major events and Russia is a fascinating county with a long history and huge cultural appeal. The question for organisers is whether Russia truly is “open to the world.” Despite the World Cup success, the fear of relations with Russia souring in a run-up to an event may, unfortunately, compel organisers to wait a while longer before taking events to the country. The World Cup, however, showed Russia service standards compare well with any others on the global stage.

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