More Absurd Propagandistic Lies from Russia Beyond the Headlines

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.


Russia’s Expat Experience

HSBC has published the interesting results of its “Expat Explorer” survey, which purports to review 37 countries for how they treat their expatriate guests.

The survey focuses on three criteria: (1) raising children; (2) making money and (3) life experience.  Only 24 countries had a full set of data for all three criteria, and among those 24 Russia’s total score was surprisingly high, placing it in the top third of the group and coming it at #7. One glaring hole in HSBC’s data is that they don’t even try to compare each country for the number of expats who have chosen it beyond the baseline needed for a statistically significant comparison. Another is that HSBC has an axe to grind, it is in the business of providing international bank accounts to expatriates and therefore wants to encourage them to relocate, not discourage them.  With its large population and geography, Russia is a potentially huge market for HSBC that it might not want to offend too badly.

Beyond those two issues,  which call the whole survey into question, If you look at the details of the data the picture is not nearly so rosy for the land of Putin.

The survey’s web page is nicely interactive. It gives you the opportunity to focus on your own set of criteria by eliminating one or two of the three general criteria and also filtering each of the numerous subcategories within each criteria. When you begin to play with this feature, Russia’s result changes dramatically.

If for example you eliminate the raising children and life experience criteria and focus only on the making money subcategory of  economic satisfaction, Russia plummets to a shocking #33 on the list of 37 countries, nearly the very worst in the group.  This result is hardly surprising when you remember that Russia is one of the very most corrupt countries on the planet and that Moscow is one of the world’s most expensive cities.  So it’s to be expected that expats will feel very much cheated financially from their time in Russia.

What expats like about Russia from a financial perspective is that they are paid on a foreign wage scale while most people around them are paid on a Russian scale. This means that living in Russia is almost like living in a country where you can own slaves.  With an average wage of $3-4 per hour, it’s possible to hire lackeys like babysitters and housemaids at an amazingly cheap rate compared to back home, and therefore to have more money available for yourself.  Is this really something for Russia to take pride in? It’s what explains, after all, the fact that Russia ranks in the top 50 worst offenders in the world for human trafficking and slavery.

Isolate quality of accommodation in the life experience category and Russia is #19 out of 37. Isolate enjoying sports or shopping , and Russia is #24 of 37. Isolate enjoying the local cuisine and Russia is #29 out of 37. Isolate availability of a healthy diet and Russia is #36 out of 37, nearly the worst in the entire group.

What expats like about Russia from a life experience perspective is the work culture, where Russia is #1 in the group. In other words, expats are delighted to find out that Russians don’t work too hard compared to what they knew back home, and take long vacations and holidays every other minute. In Russia, they can slack way off and still appear to working much harder than almost everybody else in the office.  Again, is this really something for Russia to take pride in? It’s what explains, after all, the fact that Russia barely ranks in the top 50 of all world nations for per capita GDP.

Isolate child health in the raising children category, and Russia is #20.  Isolate learning a new language  (Russian) and Russia is #21 out of 24.

What expats like about Russia from a childcare perspective is Russia’s solid system of early education.  While Russia has only one university in the world’s top 400, its basic level of education is relatively good compared to many countries in the world, and it’s cheap because Russian teachers are paid slave wages.

Travel Advice on Russia: Don’t Go!


The graphic above shows the results of a survey of international cities among tourists who have visited them by TripAdvisor.  It shows the worst-performing cities across a series of eight criteria ranging from friendliness of the locals to quality of shopping.

The Russian capital city of Moscow was the very worst in the world in five of the eight categories, second from worst in a sixth and third from worst in a seventh.  The only one of the eight categories in which Moscow wasn’t among the three most wretched nations on the planet was clean streets.  Moscow’s antithesis is Tokyo, which dominates the list of best-performing cities in same way Moscow dominates the worst.

According to Mastercard, Russia doesn’t have a single one of  the top 20 cities of the world for for either tourist arrivals or receipt of tourist dollars.  According to Euromonitor, Moscow ranks #25 in the world for tourist arrivals with less than 4 million per year, while Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg ranks #47 with 2.5 million arrivals. Compare that with Istanbul’s 8 million and Bangkok’s 11 million to see how totally pathetic Russia’s performance really is.

The United States has not one but three cities ranking in the top 20 for international tourist spending:  New York with $20 billion, Los Angeles with $12 billion and Miami with $9 billion.    Russia doesn’t have a single city that is a member of this group.

There’s a simple explanation for all this miserable failure, of course:  Russians hate foreigners, and don’t want them in their country.  In fact, many Russians don’t really want to be there either. Vastly more Russians leave Russia to spend time in foreign countries than foreign tourists arrive in Russia to spend time there.  Russians reject foreign values and they have built a homogenized society that rejects foreign people.  Russians simply don’t care that vast sums of money are squandered in this way, just as they don’t care that their nation is one of the most corrupt on the planet, wasting untold billions more on this folly.

Russia is plagued by horrendous official corruption, which make the police even more dangerous than Russian’s virulent criminals to tourists.  Russia doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “customer service” and its cuisine is wretched.  Russia has terrifying risks of airline,  fire and highway disasters, and it is riddled with terrorist activity.  By contrast, Russia offers almost nothing in the way of blockbuster tourist attractions beyond a few museums loaded with looted art and a few unusual churches.

And by visiting Russia, tourists lend support to a venal, anti-democratic KGB regime that is obliterating basic Western values.

So the advice on travel to Russia is simple:  DON’T GO!