NEW DELHI: Russia is set to be the summer destination of the year for Indians.

Travel portals and booking platforms are witnessing a surge in bookings by Indians looking to head to Russia for the FIFA World Cup, the biggest and most-watched sports tournament in the world.

Cleartrip, Paytm Travel and BigBreaks said year-on-year bookings for Russia had gone up by between 50% and fourfold on their platforms, while Travkart said it had exhausted all its inventory and was out of stock for Russia. Hotels in Russia are witnessing almost 100% occupancy ahead of the World Cup, tour operators said.

“Pre-bookings for Russia started from January and we were sold out by March-end… All the inventory of every premium hotel is completely sold out,” said Travkart cofounder Manheer Singh Sethi.

From June 14, thirty-two nations will vie for the World Cup in the month-long tournament that will be held in a dozen venues in 11Russian cities.

India may have never qualified for the Football World Cup and are ranked a low 97 on FIFA’s ranking of footballing nations. But Indians are up there among the top when it comes to watching the extravaganza.

Kapil Goswamy, chairman and managing director of BigBreaks-.com, said about 15 lakh people were expected to visit Russia around the World Cup with Indians accounting for more than 20% of the number.

“We are observing a more than 50% hike in flight bookings for Russia and hotel occupancy in the country is almost 100%. With air ticket sales going up day by day, the 20% Indian arrivals figure may be revised upwards in a few days,” he said.

Tour operators and travel portals said Indians were looking at detailed itineraries while clubbing their vacations with the football phenomenon.

The Russian cities of Moscow, St Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg and Sochi will host the matches. Big-Breaks has an itinerary covering each of these cities.

Cox & Kings has designed tours that touch cities such as Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi, and will arrange for stadium tours for those who want a glimpse of the venues around the World Cup.

“There has been a steady increase in Indian arrivals to Russia with multiple direct air links from Delhi and other points. As the excitement builds up for the World Cup, we expect the numbers to go up by at least 15% (from this time last year),” said Karan Anand, head of relationships at Cox & Kings.

“Obtaining a visa for travel to Russia is also not difficult. You can get a visa in 10 working days.”

Yatra has packages like a six-nights Russian Discovery Summer Special from Rs 69,990 onwards, down from the earlier price of Rs 78,990.

The package includes free days at both Moscow and St Petersburg for tourists to plan out for themselves. “We are definitely seeing a lot of movement to Russia. Queries have more than doubled over last year,” said Sharat Dhall, the chief operating officer (B2C) at Yatra.com.

Goomo is featuring special offers from FlyDubai, called ‘FIFA Fever’. “With the World Cup madness and our special offers in place, we are expecting to see some more encouraging signs in the coming days. The trends that we have seen till now have confirmed our beliefs that Indians are not only crazy about cricket but are also devoted to the game of soccer. The FIFA madness is definitely visible among travellers as we are seeing a 15-20% rise in flight bookings to Russia for next month,” said chief executive Varun Gupta.

Cleartrip said Russia-related bookings on the portal had jumped fourfold for June 10-July 18. “We also note a 12% higher couple bookings to Russia compared to last year,” said Balu Ramachandran, head of air and distribution at the portal.

A spokesperson for Make-MyTrip said travellers were including cities like Volgograd, Saransk and Sochi in their plans, besides Moscow and St Petersburg. On Paytm, almost half the bookings for Russia next month are by people between the age of 26 and 34, said vicepresident Abhishek Rajan.

Expedia is seeing heavy bookings for destinations such as Samara, Sochi, St Petersburg and Moscow. “The under-17 FIFA World Cup in India added fuel to this craze of watching live football,” marketing head Manmeet Ahluwalia said.

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