Thousands of Russians Stranded as Tour Companies Go Bankrupt

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Hordes of vacationing Russian tourists are stranded all along the trodden summer venues of Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Spain and Bulgaria. They are stuck without tickets to return home, sidelined by the thousands, and all victims of bankruptcies forced on Russian travel agencies by the falling ruble and a mash-up of imposed sanctions.

Orenburg Airlines, a domestic and charter operator out of Russia, canceled agreements with several tour operators over the last two months, citing longstanding debts and slow payments.

This week, tour operator Labirint became the fourth Russian travel company shuttered over the past three weeks. Labirint alone has left as many as 27,000 Russians in the lurch.

The Russia State Tourism Agency said some of the stranded are eligible for a free holiday in Sochi, but that’s cold comfort to travelers who can’t even get home.

“We worry that this is only the beginning and that there will be a domino effect,” a spokeswoman for Russia’s Federal Agency for Tourism told Echo of Moscow, a radio station and news site.

Maybe there’s more to it, or maybe they’re just looking to blame someone, but Russian prosecutors have launched an investigation into possible fraud, examining the closure of Labirint and another major tour operator, Neva, which failed last month.

Contributing to the fiasco is the ruble’s devalue — down 11 percent against the dollar since September. EU sanctions also cancelled the Boeing leasing agreement with Aeroflot’s low-cost airline, Dobrolet, and forced it to suspend operations. The bare-bones airline flew cheap flights to Crimea after Russia seized the peninsula from Ukraine in March.

Crimean Minister of Resorts and Tourism Yelena Yurchenko estimated last month that more more than one million tourists had visited the peninsula this year.

Even Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko had to ground his Gulfstream jet because the manufacturer, based in the United States, would not service the executive aircraft and Russian pilots were not allowed to use its navigation system.

The government agency Turpomoshch (Tour Help) is noodling for ways to get stranded vacationers onto return flights in various countries, including Bulgaria, Egypt and Tunisia. They have been looking for seats on flights chartered by other travel firms.

Angry Labirint customers continue to bombard Turpomoshch with calls at a rate of five per minute, the agency told the BBC. They said managers are “working flat-out” to help the stranded travelers.

“The negative political and economic situation has influenced the number of bookings,” Labirint said in a statement. That, combined with the drop of the ruble’s value, “has hit buying power” of Russians and resulted in the company’s halt of operations.

For the time being, there don’t appear to be any quick fixes available.

[Photo: Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

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