There's a new group of travelers in town -- and it hardly matters which town you're talking about.
Russian travelers are increasingly booking trips abroad, and hotels and touring companies are working overtime to win their patronage.
In 2012, Russian tourists spent $43 billion abroad -- making them the fifth highest-spending segment of the travel industry.
Last year, nearly 40 million Russians traveled overseas (only 8 million journeyed in 2006).
The supercharged growth can be attributed to a steadily growing middle class (projected to rise 16% between now and 2020), and the fact that access to the world beyond the former Soviet borders is still fairly novel. "The Russian visitor explosion has been so fast that perhaps some hoteliers still haven't quite picked up on it," says Matt Walls, vice president of Hotels.com -- a booking site that recently released a global survey on Russian tourists.
"Now is the time (for them to do so), because unless you can cater to the needs of Russian customers, they'll go and stay somewhere else," he adds.
The InterContinental Hotel Group is one company that invested early and heavily in their Russian guests, introducing Russian-language websites, call centers and mobile apps.
"Russia is one of the largest outbound markets in the world -- equivalent to a country like France, but growing almost as fast as China," says Matt Luscombe, the InterContinental's senior vice president of sales and marketing.
Catering to new market
According to Visit Britain, hotel managers in London -- one of the top ten destinations Russians visit when on vacation -- have started introducing amenities to deal specifically with this segment. At the Jumeirah Carlton Towers, special menus cater to Russian tastes and Russian-language shopping guides help guests navigate the city's department stores. At the Corinthia Hotel, Russian-speaking butlers have been added to the staff. "If you asked me three years ago, I'd say we didn't have any Russian guests. Now, we have some every single weekend and weekday," notes Alvaro Rey, general manager of London's InterContinental Park Lane.
"This being a new market, you have to start adapting to them: What are their needs? How should we handle them? What types of room do they like? How do they like to be addressed?"
For the companies that do succeed in winning over this newest segment, the rewards can be sizable.
Russian guests tend to spend 20% to 30% above the average room rate, according to Hotels.com, and they can rack up a sizable food and beverage bill.
"On the plus side, Russians are seen as high-spending. They bring a lot of cash with them," says Walls, who adds that Russians tend to enjoy a drink or two. "The bar bill benefits quite significantly when Russians are traveling."