In typically dishonest and deeply misleading fashion, the Kremlin’s propaganda mouthpiece Russia Beyond the Headlines recently touted Russia as being ranked by the UN as a top-ten tourism destination. As usual, if you look critically at the actual facts, something RBTH almost never does, you find quite a different story than the one RBTH is telling.
RBTH quotes Taleb Rifai, the Secretary-General of the World Tourist Organisation (UNWTO), as follows: “Last year 26 million foreign tourists visited Russia. It is now the world’s number 9 most popular tourist destination. It is a result of hard work, including work on a political level.”
This uncritical, breathless quotation is wildly, hysterically, recklessly misleading.
It’s true that Russia ranks #9 in tourist arrivals for 2012 as measured by UNWTO. But Russia doesn’t rank in the top ten in the criteria that actually matters, receipts from tourists. Not even close. In 2012, Russia netted less than $12 billion from incoming tourists, while Australia, which ranks #10 on the receipts list, netted $30 billion, three times more than Russia. The USA, which leads all countries in tourism receipts, netted over $125 billion from tourism, ten times more than Russia, although it has only three times more arrivals. (The revenues generated by the USA from tourism alone are slightly more than Vietnam’s entire GDP.)
Russia’s tourism receipts are so puny because Russia does not have true international visitors the way Australia and the USA do. Instead, the people who enter Russia are mostly the impoverished people of former Soviet space and Africa, people who have very little to spend. For this reason, when evaluated for tourism competitiveness across the worldwide tourism market by the World Economic Forum, Russia places an appalling #63 out of 140 countries under review.
To ignore these facts precludes RBTH from being taken seriously. But that’s only the start of the problems with RBTH’s propaganda.
Amazingly, RBTH also totally ignores the issue of Russian and racism and homophobia. Recent footage of Russian skinheads torturing a young black student in the city of Belgorod, including forcing him to kiss a watermelon, gives vivid insight into the way Russians view those who are different from themselves. How is it possible that RBTH could fail to explore how racism and homophobia impair Russia’s tourism revenues? In fact, RBTH does not address any of the numerous extremely negative features of life in Russia, from corruption to violence to smoking and drinking to rudeness, which would cause Russia to be very unattractive to people from civilized countries.
RBTH does at least touch superficially upon one hot-button issue where tourism and Russia is concerned, namely xenophobia. RBTH admits that Russia has erected a horrific web of visa-related hurdles which actively prevent many tourists from even considering a trip to Russia, hurdles which are holdovers from the old Soviet era when xenophobia was official state policy and every foreign guest was considered a dangerous spy. It’s hardly a surprise, however, that RBTH doesn’t pause even for a second to ask whether having a proud KGB spy as president might be playing a negative role in promotion of tourism, much less to ask whether that spy, Vladimir Putin, even wants foreigners present in Russia. The recent announcement that Russia would ban the use of cell phone video and photography and would only permit recording by licensed journalists using professional equipment is a clear indication that Putin is a big part of the problem. To publish an article that doesn’t even try to explore this topic moves RBTH from the arena of journalism to the pit of state-sponsored propaganda.
The simple truth is this: RBTH knows it can’t report facts where Russia is concerned, because facts make Russia look horrible. It can only spin, distort, lie and mislead, because that’s the only hope Russia has.