How the Soviet Union lured tourists, and why foreigners were unhappy with the trip

Intourist posters and slogans: what was promised to foreign travelers in the USSR

 Intourist Poster

Intourist branches were opened in 17 countries abroad and in 33 cities of the USSR, which fully served foreign citizens wishing to visit Russia: organized tours, made routes, developed guides and conversation dictionaries.

The main task of Intourist was to create a tourist brand from the Soviet Union. Guests from abroad were enticed by pretentious slogans: «this is not just a trip, it is a trip to a new world.» And people who personally wanted to see how socialism is being built began to actively visit the USSR from the end of the 1920s. The first tourists of the Country of Soviets were public figures and representatives of the creative intelligentsia.

To create advertising posters, Intourist attracted well-known Soviet artists who were supposed to show that the Soviet Union was a developed country of “victorious socialism” and had something to surprise its guests with.

Foreign citizens were offered to visit interesting places in Moscow and Leningrad, ride the Trans-Siberian express or go on a cruise along the Volga and the Black Sea.

Active attempts were made to promote the «Soviet Riviera» — resorts of the Black Sea coast from Crimea to Adzharia. The Black Sea region was positioned as an ideal place for treatment and relaxation amid picturesque mountain landscapes and a subtropical climate.

What criteria were selected guides

 Tour of Leningrad, 1960.

Colorful posters of Intourist showed a variety of interesting places, traditions and cultures in the USSR. But traveling around the country was only possible under the strict supervision of guide-translators who showed tourists the achievements of the socialist state.

The guide should have been able to correctly speak about the advantages of socialism and politically correctly answer sharp questions about Soviet life. To help the guides, a card index was compiled, listing the most provocative questions and answer templates for them.

For example, when asked by a foreign tourist, “Why can’t you come to us?” The guide should answer in this vein: “We have such a big country! «I don’t have enough life to watch it all, especially not enough for traveling abroad.»

The guides provided strict adherence to the route, prevented the contacts of tourists with ordinary Soviet citizens, forbade photographing strategically important objects — factories, factories, bridges and airfields.

The guide position was considered at that time one of the most prestigious and well-paid. Employees were carefully selected, checking their knowledge of foreign languages, political correctness and literacy. Higher education was not a fundamentally important factor, since until 1935 there were no universities with such a specialty in the USSR.

What places did foreign citizens visit in the USSR

 Foreign tourists during a demonstration on Red Square.

As a rule, the trip began in Moscow or Leningrad, where foreigners were given sightseeing tours. The further route depended on the permit.

In the summer, routes along the Black Sea coast were popular. According to TASS, in the late 60s, the number of tourists in the resorts of Crimea amounted to more than 4 million people, of which about 30 thousand were foreign citizens. The leaders in the visit were residents of Germany, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Italy.

First of all, the USSR tried to advertise as a center of industrialization and progress, where you can travel as you like: on land, water or air.

Cruises along the Volga presented to foreigners as something akin to traveling along the Rhine or Main.

Particularly popular with foreigners were trips along the Trans-Siberian Railway — in 12 days they crossed all of Russia from West to East.

If the tour fell in May or October, travelers must be taken to the demonstration.

Despite all the problems and shortcomings of the tourism industry in the USSR, «Intourist» still managed to form a favorable opinion on the Land of Soviets among a significant mass of tourists. This result was obtained mainly due to the combination of spectacular landscapes (the nature of Crimea, the Caucasus Range) and unusual places for foreigners (the Arctic and Elbrus) with a demonstration of “new objects of construction of socialism”.

How foreigners spoke about the Soviet service

 Foreigners try Soviet ice cream

The first years after the opening of Intourist, business with Soviet tourism went well, but gradually the contingent of travelers began to change. If earlier it was simple working delegations from similar states, then over time, representatives of the bourgeoisie began to come here more and more, accustomed to high-quality service, which was not in the USSR.

According to Intourist reports, more than 90% of foreigners were dissatisfied with the service. And in order to rectify the situation, in 1933, party leaders decided to create a new tourism infrastructure. In the «Metropol», «National», «Astoria» and other hotels that still had a pre-revolutionary appearance, repairs were made. Updated not only the design of hotels, but also the staff. All hotel employees before receiving foreign guests received detailed instructions and were trained.

In the mid 30-ies the level of hotel service has grown significantly. The writer Andre Gide, in a book about his trip to the USSR, wrote that the Soviet Sinop hotel in Sukhum could be compared with the most beautiful and comfortable hotels in Europe.

Outside the hotel, things were not so rosy. For example, science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, who visited the Soviet Union in 1959, was indignant at the extortionate exchange rate and over-control of guides: “we saw only what they wanted, heard only what they wanted us to hear.”

International camp to strengthen the ideology of Soviet youth

 Residential building of Sputnik international camp

A special direction in the development of Soviet tourism was working with students and workers from different countries, especially from the states of the socialist camp. To this end, in 1959, the Sputnik youth camp was opened in Gurzuf, where Soviet and foreign citizens from 18 to 35 years old could spend a joint holiday. For vacationers, they held meetings with Soviet athletes, arranged disputes, organized trips and excursions. An obligatory point of the entertainment program was the “bonfires of the world”.

Only “ideologically stable” youth and production leaders were allowed to rest in Sputnik. But the camp staff still noted that Soviet citizens often showed apoliticalism and the desire for free informal communication.