Russia's football World Cup could miss its tourism goal, writes Thomas Bywater.

The beginning of the year is a fantastic time, full of new resolutions, plans and promises and grand traditions.

One long-standing tradition is the great travel round up: The obligatory bucket list of places to visit over the year ahead and reasons why this year is the year to dance salsa in Havana and hike China's Great Wall.

Unlike that promise to renew your gym membership, the "must see" lists are far more likely to be revisited. They plant the seeds of where we will be booking our holidays and disposing of a considerable amount of income.


Like all traditions these lists have rules. One of the great unwritten guides of the "must-see" list is that it follow sporting events.

In an Olympic year the travel guides and journalists start chasing the torch like they want a place on the podium. Next year's Rugby World Cup in Japan, is forecast to raise tourist numbers up to 2.6 million visitors.

Which is why when Russia — host of the 2018 Fifa Football World Cup — made only a handful of the top destination lists this year, travel journalist Robert Reid called "foul!"

Russia is a country that makes headlines, just not always in the travel pages.

"There's just too much of a drop," he said. "My theory is that we have a bit of a blind spot to this bias."

Reid, who has been compiling Lonely Planet travel guides for 15 years and has covered the Trans-Siberian Express for the New York Times, has plenty of experience in these areas. He blogs at

"If those editors had said the reason we didn't pick Russia was because of their record against LGBT travellers, because of interference in elections, okay — but they didn't give me any reasons."

The Fifa World Cup is one of the world's most viewed and closely followed sporting events. Surveying the top US travel publications, Reid sees the World Cup as a "missed opportunity".


Even the Winter Olympics in Sochi, four years ago, was more feted in the travel press. Though this was possibly for the schadenfreude of complaining about the state of the Olympic village, and the twitter feeds full of pictures which were half construction site, half social experiment.

Compared with the rapturous reporting ahead of the recent Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Sochi was cold fish.

Russia 2018 seems to have been all but written off.

"It's beginning to feel like a growing Cold War redux," said Reid, speaking to This Week in Travel. In the light of Russian interference in elections and trouble with neighbouring states, travel to the country is increasingly seen as a political act. It's nowhere near as blatant as the infamous 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics, but the lack of support for Russian tourism can't be accidental.

Russia is an awkward inclusion — not necessarily for political reasons — but for practical ones.

All but the more adventurous publications may have just given up. Of the publications surveyed, only National Geographic Traveler had pinned Russia on its roadmap.

The difficulty and expense of navigating — and its sheer size — for anyone who doesn't speak the native language, it seems like a tough investment. It loses its appeal to the average tourist, who would rather use up valuable leave days on the beach of an English-speaking resort than navigate a passage to Vladivostok.

Then there is the difficulty for journalists (even travel journalists) in getting a visa. In an industry powered by the contribution of freelancers, it is increasingly difficult to get stories from the country.

Russia doesn't do free trips, and its national airline and tourism board aren't really geared towards non-Russian speaking markets, but there is so much to be gained by venturing there.

If only there was some way to break through country's insular perspective or the Western unwillingness to acknowledge it as a viable holiday destination.

Reid told the Herald that Western countries are missing an open goal.

"I've been a part of the coverage for the past 20 years," he told the Herald. "We have a responsibility to take politics out of it and that's something the travel press has the unique power to do. Russia 2018 is looking like a missed opportunity. It's the largest country in the world, hosting one of the biggest sporting events."

It's a very big blind spot that risks blocking a lot of progress.

Relations between Russia and Europe are icy in the extreme, but no amount of chill will keep dedicated English and European fans away.

There are many reasons why a Russian holiday is a hard sell. Perhaps there's a simpler, less nefarious solution to this apparent boycott by the American travel press. Could it be that American tourists just don't get soccer?

Skift surveyed The New York Times, Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure,National Geographic Traveler, CNN, Afar and Frommer's