The plunging value of the ruble has had one positive effect for the recession-wracked Russian economy — bargain-hunting international tourists are coming to Russia in numbers not seen since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008.
The Russian business newspaper Kommersant, citing new figures from the Russian Tourism Industry Union (RTIU), reported Wednesday that the number of international visitors to Russia was up 13 percent in the first nine months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. The 2.54 million tourists trips counted so far in 2015 is the highest since 2008.
Laboring under U.S. and European trade sanctions dating to the 2013 Ukraine crisis, the Russian economy has been shrinking in recent quarters, contracting at an annual rate of 4.1 percent for the third quarter of 2015. But the resulting damage to the value of the ruble, which has fallen by more than 40 percent against the dollar since the end of 2014, has made the country a relative bargain for foreign travelers.
The largest group of tourists came from China, according to the RTIU numbers, making up 22.9 percent of the total number of foreign visitors, followed by Germany (12.6 percent) and the U.S. (6 percent).
Turkey was the source of the fourth largest contingent of Russian tourists, but the survey was done before bilateral relations plunged after a Russian fighter jet was shot down on the Turkey-Syria border by Turkish forces, who said the plane had violated Turkish airspace.
The weak ruble has also kept many Russians from traveling abroad, which is suddenly a much more expensive proposition. Foreign trips by Russians have fallen by nearly a third in 2015 compared to 2014.