Sheremetyevo Looking to Capitalize on Increased Chinese Tourism to Russia

Sheremetyevo Airport is looking to capitalize on increased Chinese tourism to the country, The Financial Times informed. More than 2.3m Chinese tourists flew into Sheremetyevo in 2019, including 1.26m who transferred via the airport. Sheremetyevo, which offers flights to 29 Chinese cities served by eight Chinese airlines, expects their number to grow by 30 percent a year in the years to come.

“We think that we’re only just getting started growing Chinese passenger flows,” Alexander Ponomarenko, Sheremetyevo chairman, told the FT in an interview.

Ponomarenko and his business partner Alexander Skorobogatko own a 65 percent stake in Sheremetyevo’s holding company, which owns about two-thirds of the airport.

Since taking over Sheremetyevo, Ponomarenko has overseen a $2.5bn infrastructure upgrade that includes two new passenger terminals, a cargo terminal and a train under the runway linking them to the existing terminals.

In addition to Chinese tourism, Ponomarenko sees transfer traffic between Europe and China as key to growing Sheremetyevo’s passenger flows, FT adds.

Russian national carrier Aeroflot, which is based in Sheremetyevo, controls 7.8 percent of transfer traffic between Europe and China — second only to Air China, which accounts for 18 percent. The airport has doubled its share of transfer traffic between Europe and China to 10 percent in the last half-decade and intends to compete with more established hubs.

“Passenger traffic is going up both because of direct flights out of Moscow and because of transfer passengers. That’s from Asia to Europe and back, where Moscow competes with Doha, Istanbul, and Dubai,” Ponomarenko said.

Moscow’s attractiveness as a transfer hub and tourist destination has seen several foreign companies take shares in Russian airports in recent years. Qatar Airways is in talks to conclude the purchase of a 25 percent stake in Moscow’s Vnukovo by the end of 2019, while the Qatar Investment Authority and Germany’s Fraport are part of a syndicate that owns Pulkovo airport in St Petersburg, FT adds.

Ponomarenko said he and his partners were considering selling a 30 percent stake in Sheremetyevo in order to raise funds to buy out the government’s stake should Russia exercise a put option. “We don’t think [Chinese tourism has] peaked yet,” he said. “Even if [China’s growth slows down], it’ll only go up, because it’s cheaper for Chinese tourists to go to Russia than anywhere else.”