In 2016 a total of 107,000 Chinese citizens visited St. Petersburg for business and leisure, according to the Committee for the Development of Tourism of St.Petersburg. The flow of Chinese tourists entering the city on a visa-free system as part of tourist groups increased 2.4 times in the first half of 2017.  For the third year in a row the Chinese have been leading among foreign tourists entering St.Petersburg.

The boost is being attributed to both the low exchange and to new friendly visa policies: now, Chinese tourists travelling as part of a group of five to fifty people are no longer required to obtain a Russian visa. 

The tourist flow contains a growing ratio of VIP travelers. These are usually just couples or small parties of family members, or close friends. The VIPs even travel by private planes and prefer accommodation in Four Seasons Lion Palace or Belmond Grand Europe, i.e. they pick best city hotels. Unlike the apologists of so called ‘red tourism’ (tours to the sites related to Communist era and famous leaders of the period) they are not very interested in visiting Smolny Institute or Aurora Cruiser. The sophisticated travelers explore Russian history and arts, they are eager to visit Treasure Gallery of the Hermitage and Yusupovs Palace. Among exclusive activities the Chinese pick interactive ‘Russian wedding ceremony’ (which includes guising, singing and dancing) and master classes in cooking borsch  or painting matrioshka. They enjoy сarriage riding in the center of St.Petersburg and driving golf cars in Peterhof Parks.

Shopping is the second most popular activity for the wealthy Chinese visitors after sightseeing. DLT Department store in St.Petersburg has a special perk for those who come for the VIP shopping: foreign tourists can use their UnionPay cards which are linked to China’s national payment system. Buying high-end goods in Russia is not only a way of saving money, but also a method of supposedly ensuring purchases are of high quality. The Chinese travelers believe that Russian stores do not sell knock-offs. While average tourists usually buy Russian nesting dolls, ushanka hats, handcrafted wooden items and Alyonka chocolate bars, affluent customers look for clothing and accessories by famous brands (Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Armani, Omega), cosmetics by Chanel, Dior and Givenchy, as well as Russian furs and jewelry ― especially Russian-made gold and amber.

When it comes to food, the above guests are not so much addicted to their native cuisine. Most often they choose fine dining places like Russian & European cuisine restaurants ‘Mansarda’ and ‘Tsar’ managed by Ginza Project who joined China Friendly program some time ago. The major concern when selecting the lunch or dinner place is a panoramic view and a separate room existing. The VIPs don’t disregard Pan Asian restaurants either, as against average Chinese tourists: ‘Sintoho’ in Four Seasons and ‘Azia’ in Grand Europe are among their favorites. To try Chinese cuisine in St.Petersburg the Chinese pick a popular ‘Tse Fung’, ‘Veter Kitaya’ (Chinese Wind) and newly opened restaurants ‘Kitayskaya Gramota’ (Chinese Puzzle) and ‘Moskva-Pekin’.

in 2018, a healthy increase in the number of VIP travelers from China to Russia is expected due to FIFA World Cup. According to the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism the Chinese citizens express a great interest to VIP packages to RF for the period. China is home to 300 million football fans, and this is a huge potential audience.