Russia spent $50 billion to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, and now — nearly four years later — that investment might actually be paying off.
“Sochi, prized for its subtropical climate and the thermal springs where Joseph Stalin treated his arthritis, was traditionally Russia’s most popular summer destination,” The Washington Postrecently explained. “But it was neither a popular, nor particularly accessible, winter holiday spot before the 2014 Olympics.”
Now it’s a year-round resort — something few other Olympic citiescan boast.
More than Sochi-area 20 hotels and medical centers that provide treatment, spa and relaxation programs are offering big off-season deals this winter, according to the Russian news agency TASS.
“Our guests from northern regions come to Sochi to prolong summer,” Ellina Akinshina, head of the Sochi Planet tourist association, told TASS. “The sea is already cold but we can have some warm days for sunbathing at the beach.”
According to The Washington Post’s report:
City officials say Sochi, home to about 500,000 year-round residents, is on track to receive 6.5 million visitors in 2017, the same as in 2016. Hotels along the Black Sea coastline sell out in the summer, and the overflow is picked up by the hotels in the mountains, which provide shuttles to the beaches. The reverse happens in winter, when shoreline hotels offer bargain rates and transportation to the mountains for skiers. Dmitry Bogdanov, a Sochi travel consultant, says some hotels in high season are booked more than two years in advance.
Between seasons, the city hosts hundreds of events, including Formula One racing, singing competitions, festivals and conferences, said Sergei Domorat, head of Sochi’s Department of Resorts and Tourism. A recently opened casino just held a poker tournament. The Fisht Stadium, used for the Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, will host matches when the FIFA World Cup is held in Russia next year.
Domorat told reporter David Filipov that resort-related activities have pumped $55 million in tax revenue to the regional government.“The expenditures on Olympic construction have been justified,” he said.
That said, the justification could be even greater were Russia’s international reputation not currently so tarnished. Not only is the country embroiled in allegations of meddling in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, but the International Olympic Committee earlier this month also bannedRussia from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of “systemic” doping violations. (As The New York Timesreports, “Any athletes from Russia who receive special dispensation to compete will do so as individuals wearing a neutral uniform, and the official record books will forever show that Russia won zero medals.”)
Russia’s political realities have impacted local tourism. Sochi used to see 30 or so foreign cruise ships per year, according to one Sochi business leader. But, as The Post reports, “most of the cruises also featured stops in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine. Now, because of sanctions, European carriers skip Crimea, and that makes the entire cruise route less attractive to tourists. So instead of the expected boom, Sochi sees at most five ships per year.”
For more on Sochi’s post-Olympics renaissance, watch this video.