On Feb. 4, when the world spotlight turns toward Sochi, Russia, the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, expect some of that spotlight to shine on Moscow, too. Like Sochi, the capital city is more than ready to showcase itself as the “new Russia,” says Ksenya Boykova, director general of the Moscow Convention Bureau.
“American travelers should understand that we live in a new Russia, which is only 20 years old,” she explains. “The government has changed, the new generation has grown up, and the infrastructure of the city has become new. We have many business-class hotels, all built during the past 20 years, and more are on the way as Moscow prepares for a serious increase in tourists coinciding with global events such as the Winter Olympics in 2014 and the FIFA World Cup in 2018.”
A world-class tourism infrastructure, combined with rich cultural heritage, makes Moscow an enticing incentive travel destination, especially for U.S.-based groups. Boykova says, “The city’s rich cultural heritage has laid the ground for some of the finest museums and theater in the world … when you couple that with some of the finest restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels found anywhere, you have the makings of a perfect incentive program.”
In 2015, Moscow will welcome a new 160-room Delano hotel, and the historic Central’naya (Central) hotel will reopen in 2015 and be operated by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. Boykova adds that any concerns regarding a lengthy visa application process should not deter U.S.-based groups from coming to Moscow. “The country’s minister of tourism is considering adding a third type of visa — a conference visa — in which application process will be streamlined,” she notes.
Only in Moscow
Unique, one-of-a-kind activities abound in Moscow. Only an hour’s drive from Moscow, the Cosmonaut Training Center, also known as “Space City,” is where incentive groups can try out the special Zero G Program. This program, carried out in a flying laboratory modeled after the Aerobus Il-76 MDK, lets you reach a state of Zero G and feel what it’s really like to move around in space.
“Miracle City,” also known as “Chudo Grad,” in the Izmaylovo District of Moscow, is famous for its open-air souvenir market, says Boykova. “The complex includes a trade town and traditional crafts workshops where you can see the process of creation of handicraft items.” Activities here include learning how to paint Matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), learning how to play wooden spoons, or even indulging in a vodka tasting.
Groups can apply for special access to see some of the royal family’s private rooms at the Grand Kremlin Palace, as well as ceremonial rooms, the Hall of St. Catherine, St. George’s Hall, and St. Vladimir Hall. Two other places that welcome groups for backstage tours are the world-famous Bolshoi Theatre (built in 1824 and restored in November 2011), and the historic Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre, which opened in 1941.
With so much history and culture, there’s never been a better time for incentive groups to come to Moscow, says Boykova. “Moscow has become a large cosmopolitan city that should not be ignored by incentive planners. If you have never been to Russia, come to Moscow and see with your own eyes the country’s treasures: wonderful architectural edifices, outstanding works of art, beautiful parks, and, of course, a glimpse of the mysterious Russian soul.”