Simon Calder: Russia must open up to avoid a 2018 own goal

Goodness, what's been going on? I spent most of the week sweltering in Suez (well, comfortable in Cairo), and returned from Egypt to find a country in gridlock. In the space of a few days, Britain's railway-excuses spectrum had shifted from "leaves on the line" to "the wrong kind of snow" .

The passengers on Wednesday night's 8.17 from London Victoria to Littlehampton were, it seems, close to cannibalism until they were rescued from their involuntary bout of "cool camping" in carriages that were stranded just outside Crawley.

Stranger still, I learned at teatime on Thursday that football's not coming home, and that the host country for the World Cup is now decided according to the voting rules of the Eurovision Song Contest – the first of which, of course, is that we come last.

The interesting logic whereby Qatar – a slab of desert half the size of, yes, Wales – is deemed a better venue for the 2022 tournament than Australia, Japan or the US is a subject for another day. Right now, the selection of the world's biggest country to host the world's biggest sporting event in 2018 raises some intriguing travel possibilities.

Until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, I reckon it was cheaper to buy a month-long package holiday from a heavily subsidised (and ideologically sympathetic) holiday company such as Progressive Tours than to exist through a harsh winter in Britain: for around £300 you were guaranteed overheated hotels, three meals a day and free tours of tractor factories. With a little judicious illicit trading along the way, some adventurous travellers showed a profit on the exercise – and, with luck, Minsk would drop off the itinerary.



*** Since first I toppled off on a Tupolev to Moscow in 1985, I have visited many of the cities that will host World Cup matches. Yekaterinburg, the first station in Asia if you take the Trans-Siberian (a railway just like the Trans-Sussex to Littlehampton, only more reliable) impressed me more than it did Anton Chekhov. He found the city full of "big-jawed, broad-shouldered fellows with tiny eyes", which some may take as a reasonable description of travelling supporters of Crawley Town (or Dynamo Crawley, as they will henceforth be known).

Kazan is my favourite of the host cities: Catherine the Great declared it to be Russia's third most beautiful city, after St Petersburg and Moscow. The Opera (built by German prisoners of war) is the finest auditorium east of the capital. The city market is known locally by the, I suppose, gastronomic name of "the intestine of Kazan". The beer made at the Krasnaya Vostok ("Beautiful East") brewery is the finest in the land. And when Lenin was kicked out the university, he was so piqued he created the USSR in a fit of revenge.

*** "Russia is an exciting, mysterious and diverse country," proclaims the publicity for the nation's bid. All true – unlike, for example, "warm, languid and easy-going". Nearly two decades on, enlightened former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia opened up to tourists. But the mother ship remains defiantly hostile, with visa regulations that make it almost as difficult to take a holiday in Russia as it is to make a successful bid for the World Cup.

Individually, the Russians are as welcoming and hospitable as people anywhere on the planet. The authorities in Moscow have eight years to address the image that visitors – whether attracted by sport, culture or the vast Siberian steppe – are regarded neither as welcome guests nor as valuable sources of foreign exchange. Russia's leaders have the chance in 2018 to do what they have never done in 1,000 years of history: look at how they present themselves to the world.

Roll out the red carpet for tourists

"If the Kremlin wants to make the most of the travel potential of hosting the 2018 World Cup, they should learn from the Germans in 2006," says Neil Taylor – the man who pioneered tourism in much of the communist world, and remains the wisest commentator in the business.

"Germany seized the chance to break down many of the old stereotypes and got thousands to have a holiday in a country that they previously would never have contemplated. The benefits to Germany continue now."

He sees no problem getting the infrastructure ready by 2018: "A regime such as Russia's, like China's, is flush with money and non-accountable so what is needed can be quickly built. But China suffered a slump in visitors around the Olympics because they were greedy in their prices, worsened the visa regime, and did nothing to sell the country as a whole. Russia could so easily make the same mistakes."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: International Project Coordinator / Account Coordinator

    Circa £26,500 DOE: Guru Careers: An International Project Coordinator / Accoun...

    Guru Careers: Plumber / Maintenance Operator

    £25k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Plumber / Mainten...

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen