Russian Museums Suffer as Coronavirus Outbreak Shuts Door for Chinese Tourists

Russian museums were grappling with too many Chinese tourists last year, but now they are facing a shortage due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Art Newspaper writes.

The virus was already having an impact on Moscow and St Petersburg’s main cultural institutions this month, the report says.

Apart from a tiny group of European visitors, Cathedral Square at the Kremlin was empty on a grey afternoon in early February. There were none of the Chinese groups that had become a staple at Russian museums and a bane to some Russian tourists, who complained about the difficulty of getting in to the museum. In late January, China banned outbound tour groups, while in February, Russia banned entry for all Chinese citizens to the country in efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

For now, some major museums are putting a positive spin on the consequences of the recent outbreak. The full impact will only be known once the spring-summer high season gets underway, the Art Newspaper writes.

Elena Gagarina, the director of the Kremlin Museums, said at a press conference last month that the overall number of visitors is unlikely to change since demand for tickets has always outstripped supply. More than three million people visited the Kremlin in 2019.

However, Russian media reports suggest a grimmer overall picture. RBC, a business newspaper, reported in February that the number of payments made in January via the Chinese Alipay payment system was down by 31.2% compared with 2019 and by 73.4% in the first week of February. For transactions with the UnionPay card, the number of payments was down by 52% in January and by 68% in February.

Tour operator Intourist told RBC that the last Chinese group tourists left the country on 5 February. Rusland SP, an investment consulting company, predicted in February that hotels in St Petersburg will lose around 516 million rubles per month (around $8.1 million) as a result of the drop in Chinese visitors. At the same time, some analysts point out that most profits from Chinese tourists went to Chinese-owned tourist operators, so the losses for Russia will not necessarily be dramatic.

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