The World Tourist Organization released its official figures for the year 2000 yesterday during the Fitur meeting in Madrid. To note is the meteoric rise of foreign tourism into the Russian Federation. Last year there were 22.8 million foreign visitors, an increase of 23.2%. This figure earns the Russian Federation fifth place in the ranking of the most visited countries in Europe. Other eastern European countries also saw the number of foreign visitors rise: Hungary received 15.5 million visitors and the rate of visits rose by 8.1%. The number of visits to Estonia rose 16%. One country which is disappointed at the figures released is Portugal: tourism grew a mere 3.2% last year, one of the lowest rates in Europe. With mass tourism now available for practically all family budgets, since tourism by credit is a common occurrence in western European countries, markets change. Those who sought the sun, sand, sea package twenty years ago would come to southern Europe but due to the decrease in unit package costs, these tourists can now afford to go to more exotic venues, such as the Caribbean, South Pacific and eastern European coastlines (Turkey’s visitor rate shot up by 39.6%). For the medium-high socio-economic group, looking for a more cultural package, it is obvious that the great cities of Eastern Europe pose a fascinating destination, as people see for themselves behind the “Iron Curtain”. The forbidden fruit is always more tasty. Those who have been to Eastern Europe in general and Russia in particular, have been generally extremely satisfied with their holidays and express the desire to return. In Portugal, for example, the price of holidays in Russia is decreasing all the time. One year ago, one was quoted 1150 USD for a return flight to Moscow. Today, one is quoted 290 USD. This is an indication that more and more tourists are going and this increase is due to the fact that people are enjoying their holidays. TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY, PRAVDA.RU