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Tourism bosses to lure rich Russians with direct flights

THEY lured the Chinese and now tourist bosses are hunting the wealthy Russians.

Tourism Ireland is pushing for year-round direct Moscow to Dublin flights to help attract wealthy Russians here.

The body, which promotes the island of Ireland overseas, is hoping to woo some of Russia's wealthiest people to Ireland by setting up in Russia next year.

A sales agent based in Moscow will try to boost awareness of Ireland as a holiday destination among Russia's wealthy middle classes.

Russian billionaires like Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich and Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov are typical of the wealthy Russians who could soon be seen kissing the Blarney stone or downing a pint of Guinness.

Last year China was one of the big tourism targets, with radio DJ Zhao Ruo Hong and her crime writer husband, Zhao Yan, spending their honeymoon in Ireland.

The newlyweds saw some of our most iconic sights, including St Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity College and the Books of Kells, before heading to the Cliffs of Moher and Killarney.



The visit of the pair, who have more than 1.2 million followers on China's equivalent of Twitter, was seen as a major boost for the bid to attract tourists from "new" markets like China.

Now tourism chiefs hope to gain similar publicity in Russia.

Already one of the country's richest woman, Yelena Baturina, has made her presence felt here.

Her Austria-based company, Beneco Privatstiftung, bought Dublin's Morrision Hotel for €22m last year and spent €7m renovating it.

Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons described the Russian tourism market as "an important one for Ireland".

"This market has the potential to grow considerably, especially given Russia's estimated 136,000 'high net worth' individuals," Mr Gibbons said.

Last year, about 227,000 Russians visited Britain where they spent €283m.

Ireland has found it difficult to attract Russians here because of the shortage of direct flights.

"As an island destination, direct access is critical to growth," Mr Gibbons said.

Tourism Ireland has talked to a number of airlines about improving access between Russia and Ireland, including the Russian carrier, S7.