With the FIFA Soccer World Cup Finals having now entered the knock-out stage and big names such as Argentina, Portugal, Spain and of course the holders Germany already back home following surprise elimination, among the highlights of the matches has been listening to commentators extolling the virtues of cities they perhaps had never heard of ahead of the tournament and certainly would never have visited otherwise.
- It is a couple of weeks until we will discover the winners of the FIFA World Cup, but it will be some time before we know the lasting legacy of the tournament for the host nation Russia;
- Like all big sporting events, whether the Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics or World Cups, they provide a rare platform for cities and airports to promote themselves to the outside world;
- A CAPA – Centre for Aviation report says that while some destinations are “no-hopers – hidden by swarms of midges or relics of a post-industrial past, and their airports are not really ‘open’ to foreign business,” several of them “if they can attract the right sort of airline and if economic/political events go in their favour, are in a position to reap a World Cup dividend.”
Like all big sporting events, whether the Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics or World Cups, they provide a rare platform for cities and airports to promote themselves to the outside world. A recently published CAPA – Centre for Aviation insight ‘Russian tourism and airports: World Cup spin-off benefits’ provides some views with the opinion that some cities and their airports will be wondering if and how they can reap the benefit in the future. Some will benefit more than others in the medium and long term.
It says that while some destinations are “no-hopers – hidden by swarms of midges or relics of a post-industrial past, and their airports are not really ‘open’ to foreign business,” several of them “if they can attract the right sort of airline and if economic/political events go in their favour, are in a position to reap a World Cup dividend.”
With the Russian Federation spreading across eleven time zones there could have been a massive area for team and fans to cover, but no games are being played further east than Yekaterinburg, which is two hours ahead of Moscow. As the CAPA story notes, that arrangement “probably supports TV schedules but it can conveniently hide less attractive parts of a country from public view”.
But despite the close proximity of venues, by Russian standards travel between them can be difficult. There are reports of Australian fans taking over 17 hours to travel the 250 km between Kazan and Samara. There are three direct flights a week, there is no direct rail line, and the direct road was closed. So which cities and airports are likely to gain most from the publicity they are receiving as a result of the football, according to CAPA?
It says that while “Volgograd suffered from midges and PR blunders and unlikely to gain visitors… St Petersburg and its Baltic coastline have something for everyone.” It believes the closed city of Nizhny Novgorod “is now very much open, to travel innovators,” while Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave in the Baltics “has many attractions but is being outshone by neighbouring Lithuania”.
Perhaps the most interesting is the most easterly of the cities, Yekaterinburg, located east of the Ural Mountains. Known as ‘the third capital of Russia’, the fourth largest Russian city acts as a gateway between Europe and Asia in a similar way to Istanbul. It is the fifth most visited city by Russians themselves, though much of that traffic is business tourism, especially for conferences. However, it has also recently ranked as the third most popular city with foreign visitors. Confused? So probably are most of the visitors trying to pronounce the city correctly.
Much like the football, it is unclear just who will be winners and losers from the World Cup. While just one country will lift the famous Jules Rimet Trophy (and it could still be Russia after they surprised Spain this week), more than one Russian city may gain from hosting the tournament. As the CAPA report concludes: “Whether or not they do will depend on some factors that are under their control and some that are not”. This could include how easy or difficult it is to get a visa to Russia when restrictions are reintroduced after the World Cup.
READ MORE: The full CAPA – Centre for Aviation insight ‘Russian tourism and airports: World Cup spin-off benefits’ includes more detailed material on each of the Russian cities hosting World Cup matches and the airports that serve them.