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Moscow, a paradise on earth?

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'If there is a paradise on earth, it is here’. Some cities on our planet use this slogan to distinguish themselves from others. A rather arrogant and bombastic claim, in my opinion. And honestly speaking, in my experience it is always besides the truth. So far nobody came up with such a pretentious phrase for Moscow. As far as I can recall, Moscow does not have a slogan at all. Perhaps because nobody in Moscow dares to really start promoting the city? Or perhaps because nobody really seems to care about promotion?

But why not? The image of overcrowded, big, grey, ugly, dangerous city, cursed with a horrible climate and full of unsmiling and unhappy people needs to be changed. Especially because of the ambitious goal to attract seven million foreign tourists to Moscow by 2018. Approximately three million more than last year. Yes, coincidentally (or not), in 2018 the World Championship Football will be held in Russia and Moscow. This will definitely attract loads of westerners who, normally, would not even think of Russia as a possible holiday destination. But after 2018, soon 2019 will arrive. And would it not be a bit silly when the number of foreigners would go down drastically straight after this football event?

By the way, the numbers four and seven million are communicated by the ‘Moscow Committee for Tourism and Hospitality’. In fact, not necessarily the most neutral committee in the world. It is therefore questionable whether there really were four million foreigners really trying to have a glimpse at Lenin, attempting to meet and greet with Putin in his Kremlin or wandering around the Red Square. In a country where nothing is as it seems, it is tempting to put a big question mark behind these numbers. Even more tempting it is to forecast that, in 2018, the Committee will announce that indeed seven million foreigners were visiting Moscow. I would even say that these chances are higher than the re-election of Putin in that same year.

An important question is what Moscow is actually doing to realize this growth. Ask the marketers of the bigger hotels or the owners of travel agencies. Even before they answer, it is clear that they are not positive at all. Their eyes are indicating this. First and foremost, they start to complain about the letters of invitations and visa regulations. Both required for (almost) all foreign tourists, before being allowed to enter Russia. Many of them strongly believe in Moscow being a new weekend destination for Europeans. And it is true, it is only three hours by plane. But due to this visa hassle, tourists will think twice before actually going. Too complicated, too much work and too much stress.

Then there are the actions of the authorities, responsible for tourism and its policy. Often completely not in line with what they claim. The latest example is the entrance fee for the Kremlin. Most probably the most beloved and best known attraction in town. Since January 2012 two people have to pay € 70 each to get inside the Kremlin, including the Armoury and the Diamond Fund. Seventy euros! Well, included in the price are the services of a guide. But a guide is absolutely required because without one any tourist will just smell the rich history. Without knowing what it is all about. Why it was decided to raise the entrance fee that drastically? The most obvious explanation is that the authorities believe that tourists will come and visit the Kremlin anyway. Whether they have to pay € 25 or € 70. And they are probably right. So in the short term it might be profitable. But in the longer term? Most probably rather the contrary. Because investing in or developing new touristic attractions is clearly not a priority.

Let me take you to the Red Square and surroundings on a sunny day in spring or summer. Loads of tourists are sitting somewhere in the grass or on a wall, eating a Russian ice cream from Mc Donald’s. They look a bit unhappy and lost. Simply because they are wondering what is next. Wondering what else Moscow has to offer but the Red Square and the Kremlin. Of course, a lot! And more! But for foreigners, who most probably do not speak or read Cyrillic it is not that easy to figure this out. And much assistance in their search they do not receive. Yes, it is true, there are plenty of men and women, armed with a megaphone, to announce various excursions in and around Moscow. But it is all in Russian. Like there are no four million foreigners around, all looking for something more to discover. A missed opportunity to make some more money. A missed opportunity to highlight other attractions in Moscow. A missed opportunity to broaden the horizon of the tourists and the diversity of Moscow.

But who knows? Maybe once upon a time, one could have found paradise here? Why not in fact? Let me be clear, nowadays there is nothing heavenly to find on the surface. Any tourist, both Russian and foreign, has to work hard to discover the beauty of this fantastic city. Perhaps, Moscow, it is time to help all these lost foreigners a bit? And why not, as a kick-off, create an attractive slogan. Do not mention anything heavenly in it, though. Overconfident and too much untrue. But what about this one: Moscow Matters.

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