Tourism chief tells Russians they do not need beach holidays

AFP , Monday 7 Dec 2015

Tourists at the Sharm el-Sheikh resort take a dip in the Red Sea Dec. 2, 2010. (Photo:Reuters)

Russia's tourism chief prompted a wave of anger on Monday by claiming there is no need for people to go abroad on beach holidays, after Moscow barred travel to Turkey and Egypt.

In an interview with government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the head of Russia's tourism agency Oleg Safonov said that "the need for beaches and the sea is very much a stereotype of recent years, which we already accept as our own opinion."

"Our forefathers, even the wealthy, did not go en masse to foreign seas," he added.

Russians often prefer to go on holiday in winter to escape six long months of plunging temperatures, short gloomy days and snow.

This year, they are unable to visit the top two destinations: Turkey and Egypt, due to official travel warnings and bars on flights to Egypt and sales of package tours to Turkey.

These measures followed the explosion on a Russian passenger jet from Egypt and Turkey's shooting down of a Russian military plane over Syria.

Safonov's comments irritated many, particularly as his opponents pointed out that last year he himself officially declared two houses on the Seychelles.

The word Seychelles in Russian became one of the top Twitter trends.

"Yes, they think we are idiots," wrote anti-corruption campaigner Lyubov Sobol on Facebook, slamming Safonov for his "hypocrisy."

"From his house in the Seychelles, Safonov advises Russians to holiday at home," wrote opposition politician Alexei Navalny on his blog.

Safonov responded to the furore by saying that he has now sold his Seychelles property.

"Yes it's true I did have a villa and a house on the Seychelles. As of now, I have sold them, I no longer own them," Safonov told Dozhd independent television.

Safonov recommended holidaymakers switch to Russian-annexed peninsula of Crimea instead of going abroad, suggesting it should develop "all-inclusive" tourism.

But the temperatures there are hardly tropical, at 14 degrees centigrade in the resort of Yalta on Monday afternoon.

Before the Revolution many wealthy Russians flocked to sunny destinations such as the French Riviera, including writers Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev.

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