How China took over tourism
The Chinese are running a “shadow hospitality industry” inside Russia, said Marina Bocharova. Some 1.25 million Chinese visited here last year and they outspent every other nationality, dropping more than $500 million in the first three months of 2018 alone. But only 40 percent of that money is declared to the Russian state, because most Chinese tourists buy their nesting dolls and other souvenirs from secretive, Chinese-owned shops that are closed to the public. They pay for their tchotchkes using Chinese apps like WeChat Pay and Alipay, so the transactions bypass Russian taxes. The system works like this: Cut-price, unregistered Chinese guides ferry busloads of Chinese tourists to specific sites in Moscow and St. Petersburg, showing them the ballet, the Hermitage, Red Square, and so on, and crowding out Russian tourists. Then they take them to unlicensed Chinese shops, where the unsuspecting tourists overpay for purportedly Russian jewelry. The shops give the guides a cut of the profits. Some tour operators control their customers’ entire stay in Russia, ensuring that the hotels they sleep in and the restaurants they eat at are also Chinese-owned. Our country ought to profit from China’s interest in it. But how can it, when “there are almost no Russian players in the industry”?