Russians as tourists: search terms from abroad

Based on Yandex data

People use Yandex services both at home and abroad as tourists. They search the internet for reviews of local attractions, look for local food and cultural events, and translate foreign words. We studied data from search and Yandex’s other services to find out what countries were popular this summer with Russian tourists and how their interests change when they go about their day as a tourist. For our purposes, we defined “tourist” as someone who spends most of their time in Russia (according to data from Yandex’s mobile apps) but spent at least three days this past summer in another country.

In neighboring countries, such as Ukraine, people’s search terms were very similar to those they use at home. This is probably because many of these people travel to visit relatives or work and aren’t really engaged in tourism. That’s why we excluded these countries from our rating of popular tourist destinations and did not factor the search activity of these users into our study.

The number one tourist destination for Russians this summer was Turkey. Four times more Yandex users traveled to Turkey than visited the second-most-popular option, Greece. This figure amounted to six times more “Yandex tourists” than Cyprus and Spain received (the third- and fourth-most-popular options respectively). The most popular African country was Tunisia, and in East Asian Thailand was the winner. The top 15 also included one Latin American country, the Dominican Republic. The country ranking differed markedly from city to city.

For example, five times more tourists visited Finland from Saint Petersburg than from the other major cities we looked at. Muscovites were the most likely to vacation in Western Europe. Tourists from cities to the east of the Ural mountains were more likely than the average Russian to visit Vietnam, Thailand, and China. This is all pretty logical, but you might be surprised to learn that even residents as far away as Siberia were most likely to visit Turkey. We only started seeing East Asian resorts edge out Turkey among Russians coming from the area east of Krasnoyarsk all the way to Irkutsk.

What Russians do on vacation

We analyzed app data to track daily activities and search interests of tourists who vacationed in the countries included in the top-15 overall rating this summer.

There are some overall differences in behavior among Russians at home vs. abroad that we determined based on data from Yandex apps. Russians get up at about the same time as they do on workdays and head off to the beaches and museums instead of their usual jobs. They go to bed a little later than usual. Whereas in Russia people usually flip through material on their smartphones and tablets in the evenings, on vacation they seek out other entertainment. You can see on the following chart that there is no peak during evening hours among app users on vacations, whereas there is on normal weekdays at home. But there are two notable dips in activity when people are most likely eating lunch and dinner. The peaks in between these times most likely correspond to hours when people return from the beach and go back to their rooms to change.

User activity at home and on vacation

Active Yandex users by the hour as a percent of the daily average

BASED ON YANDEX DATA, JUNE-AUGUST 2018

To understand what people are interested in on vacation, our analysts compared how frequently certain words were used at home versus abroad.

The words most frequently associated with vacation were “rum” and “supermarket,” whereas those most frequently associated with home were “cinema” and “clinic.” Among food and beverages, the words most closely associated with vacation were “rum,” and “fruit” and those most closely associated with home were “cucumbers” and “pizza.” There are also words that are used with equal frequency at home and abroad (such as “Putin” and “sky”).

The things that tourists search for vary by county. For example, the five most frequent words that characterize searches made from the Dominican Republic are “rum,” “cocktail,” “cigar,” “seaweed,” and “larimar” (a light-blue stone native to the area).

Meanwhile, the top 5 words for France look completely different (there is no mention of food or shopping). Russian tourists seem to travel there more on cultural expeditions and therefore search for things like “museum,” “Louvre,” “Versailles,” “Disneyland,” and “Eiffel Tower.”

We divided up all the most characteristic words into four categories: attractions, food and drink, shopping, and cultural programs. The last category includes anything that relates to an interest in the country itself, including its residents, culture, history, nature, or traditions. Examples of these searches are [what time is siesta in Italy], [why are cicadas so loud], [how much did Napoleon Bonaparte weigh], and [differences between Vietnamese and Chinese]. The longest search terms for top attractions occur in European countries (with the exception of Finland, where the top searches are associated with fishing and nature reserves).

Searches made in Thailand and Vietnam contained the most gastronomic words among the countries included in the study. They also top the list for shopping-related words. Of course, shopping is also popular in Italy and Spain, but tourists in those countries are more interested in specific brands than just products of a given type.

People continue to watch movies and TV shows during the evenings on vacation. Judging by the searches, however, many people choose a classic film with a local flavor. The main film search associated with Greece is 300 Spartans, whereas The Godfather is especially popular in Italy, and The Gendarme of Saint-Tropez figures in searches from France. In Czechia, people search for a cartoon called The Mole. Additionally, tourists often search for information about films that were shot in the country they are visiting. In Thailand, for example, they search for The Beach, whereas in Tunisia they search for Gladiator and Star Wars, and in the Dominican Republic they enter Pirates of the Caribbean.

Of course, the problems that crop up on vacation are also reflected in people’s searches. In Turkey and Bulgaria, for example, a lot of people search for information about viral infections. In Thailand, people worry about food poisoning and plankton stings. In Vietnam, people are afraid of buying knock-off goods and apparently can’t figure out how the safes work in their hotel rooms. In Greece and Montenegro, tourists try to avoid sea urchins (and in Tunisia — jellyfish). Many searches reflect attempts to communicate with locals: [how to say please give me a good room in English], [how to say check in Italian], [you look very pretty without that jacket on in Bulgarian] etc.

Usually people searching for terms involving the words “translation” or “in English” are attempting to learn polite expressions like “thank you” and “please.” And then there are also words for items that any tourist needs, but may be hard to find without knowing the local equivalents. These terms include things like “wine,” “iron,” “fork,” “toothbrush,” and, of course, “towel.”

As we’ve see, Russians behave in some ways abroad that are universal to tourists everywhere (what traveler hasn’t needed to search for “toothbrush” in a foreign language?). However, their choices of destination and activities abroad are in some ways particular to Russians.