Maria Panina –
Restaurant staff are taking crash language courses and landlords are jacking up prices as the capital of Russia’s Olympic dreams prepares to host the World Cup.
For the 1.2 million inhabitants of Kazan, a city some 700 km east of Moscow, the tournament is a chance to show itself off to the world.
“Hospitality is in our blood,” said Daria Sannikova, who heads the Kazan tourism committee.
Kazan Arena will host four group-stage matches, a Round of 16 game and a quarterfinal game.
The futuristic stadium is a linchpin in President Vladimir Putin’s quest to restore Russia to the sporting superpower status of its Soviet past.
Locals are revelling in the attention and eager to please, with subways and buses planning to announce stops in English and hotel and restaurant staff undergoing intensive language training.
Some, like 35-year-old taxi driver Marat, are ahead of the game.
“I learned (French) in school. I don’t have much practice but I hope they are okay with it,” he said.
But all the preparations have left one problem: mind-boggling prices for an airless, claustrophobic room with a creaky bed.
The World Cup “has seen real estate prices soar,” the local Business Online news website said, adding all hotel rooms have been already booked for the six matches in Kazan.
It quoted an unassuming flat near the stadium renting for $2,400 a night — about the price of a luxurious room in Moscow’s lush Savoy Hotel. None of the hotels accredited with the world football governing body Fifa were available through its official website.
“I’ve heard about the huge rental prices,” the tourism committee’s Sannikova said.
“We will try to resolve this and not allow prices to get too out of hand,” she added.
The problem is affecting not only Kazan but also smaller cities undergoing their first major post-Soviet upgrades.
Sannikova said prices were peaking and likely to drop because national team delegations and Fifa had overbooked in advance just in case. Yet the sums demanded by some have caught the attention of Russia’s Rosturism state tourism agency, which is publishing monthly lists of booking agencies overcharging for hotels.
Hotel rates will be regulated by the government and the consumer rights watchdog has already fined more than two dozen establishments nearly 1,000 euros each for price gouging.
But it is unclear how the government will act if prices stay this high. —AFP