Devalued Ruble Unlikely to Affect Travelers

NEW YORK -- Tour operators and the Moscow City Tourist Office said the devaluation of Russia's currency by 50% was not likely to have an immediate effect on travelers because tour and hotel rates are quoted in U.S. dollars by Russian suppliers.

Earlier this week, the value of the ruble took a precipitous dip, from 6.3 rubles to the dollar to 9.5.

Tourism officials and operators said visitors should not expect any changes in the prices of local services or at restaurants because costs will float up quickly. All goods in Russia must be purchased in rubles, but restaurants and hotels frequently post their prices in dollars and then convert the price into rubles for payment.

Olga Egoshina, director of the Moscow City Tourist Office in Parsippany, N.J., said, "Since inflation makes things more expensive, it's possible that suppliers might charge slightly more to account for potential losses in the future. One thing is sure: Nobody wants rubles right now, and everyone wants dollars."

Bob Drumm, president of General Tours in Keene, N.H., and Caroline Cavali, president of Russian Travel Bureau in New York, said the devaluation would have no impact on tour prices because services are purchased in dollars.

But Drumm added, "Prices may come down depending on what happens with tourism overall. If business travel is reduced because of the economic climate, hoteliers may try to attract more leisure business with lower rates."

Moscow has some of the highest hotel rates in the world, and its lodgings industry is dependent on business travel.

Drumm also noted that air fares to Russia might go down if business travel lags. "After the crisis in Asia, it took at least six months for hotels and local operators to reduce their prices. They had to see a reduction in traffic first," he said.

Drumm said his concern was more with the social instability that devaluation could provoke, but he added, "The devaluation is far less serious than the transition to a market economy in the early 1990s, which left large sections of the Russian population with reduced resources."

General Tours' manager of client services in Moscow, Jennifer Buttenheim, advised American visitors, "Street vendors and tourist flea markets will definitely prefer dollars," so come prepared.

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