Russia was the first country in the world to certify a COVID vaccine, with the development of its Sputnik V formula. But with low uptake rates domestically and Russia’s tourism sector crying out for business, the nation is working up plans to kill two birds with one stone. The Russian Union of Travel Industry is developing a complete holiday package for guests to visit, vaccinate and tour the best of Russia, hoping for launch by the end of the month.
From Russia with vaccines
Russia wants more tourists, and is willing to go the extra mile to get them. According to state news outlet TASS, the nation is preparing vaccine travel packages to entice more people to visit. Under current plans, visitors could be able to take a three-week trip to Russia and get their vaccine shot at the same time.
President of the Russian Union of Travel Industry (RUTI) Andrei Ignatyev told TASS that preparations to launch such packages were almost ready. However, he noted that there were still some issues with eligibility for entry to Russia. He said,
“Travel agencies were ready to organize vaccination tours at the beginning of the year since they regularly received such requests from all over the world. The product is ready, but the issues of visa support and legal entry for foreigners wishing to receive the Russian vaccine are yet to be resolved.”
The tour would include accommodation in Russia for the three-week period. Prices would range from $1,500 to $2,500 but would exclude the airfare cost. Ignatyev indicated that this would be more of a tour than just a holiday, saying that,
“This is a combination of vaccination with a cultural and excursion program, which can be arranged very interestingly, capturing different regions of Russia.”
Full details of what’s included in the packages are yet to be revealed. It’s also unknown whether the package will include just the first shot or both.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.
Slow uptake in Russia
Part of the reason for this initiative is the slow uptake of the Russian-made Sputnik V COVID vaccination, the first to be authorized for use in the world. Russia approved the medicine in August last year, but it has not been approved in many other countries and domestic uptake has been sluggish.
According to Our World In Data, only 9.3% of the local population has been fully vaccinated. Just over 12% have received at least one dose. That puts Russia behind nations like India, South Korea and Brazil, but ahead of Japan for percentage of population inoculated.
In terms of a target market for this Russian initiative, it’s unlikely the government will find much uptake from countries with high vaccination rates. As such, the UK, Europe, Israel and the United States are likely not key focuses for marketing such a package. Rather, the tour will be aimed towards countries such as India, Africa and parts of Latin America. Ignatyev noted,
“The countries of Africa and Latin America showed great interest in such a tourist product during the entire period of the vaccination campaign in Russia, the RUTI received such requests.”
If it launches, Russia won’t be the first country to hop on the vaccine tourism wagon. The Maldives has been open for visitors to stay and get vaccinated for several weeks, and Guam recently launched vaccine tours for American ex-pats living in East Asia and the Pacific. Indonesia is toying with the idea, Alaska is already doing it, and tiny San Marino is giving out vaccine shots to those willing to visit this summer.
For Russia, there are still some hurdles to clear to get its vaccine tour off the ground. However, the Moscow Times reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin is keen to get the scheme launched by the end of June. Speaking to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), he said,
“I would like to ask the government to analyze all aspects of this issue by the end of the month … to be able to organize the conditions for foreign citizens to come to Russia and get vaccinated on a commercial basis.”
Would you be willing to travel to Russia to get your shot? Let us know in the comments.