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27,000 Russians stranded abroad after tour operator fails

More than 27,000 Russian tourists have been stranded abroad, a tour operators association said on Monday (4 August), as the latest in a series of travel companies failed amid strains over the Ukrainian crisis.

MOSCOW: More than 27,000 Russian tourists have been stranded abroad, a tour operators association said on Monday (4 August), as the latest in a series of travel companies failed amid strains over the Ukrainian crisis.

"All the tourists are abroad without return tickets" after the Labirint (Labyrinth) company announced on Saturday it halted operations, said the Tourhelp service of Russian foreign tour agencies which is trying to help those stranded find seats on flights chartered by other travel firms. Labirint is the fourth Russian tour operator to go bust in the past three weeks as jitters over the conflict in Ukraine have led to a slide in bookings for Russians to travel abroad.

A deterioration in the value of the ruble has also cut into the margins of operators. "The negative political and economic situation has influenced the number of bookings" and a drop in the value of the ruble "has hit buying power" of Russians, Labirint said in a statement explaining the reasons for a halt in its operations.

While Western sanctions have yet to have a significant direct impact on the Russian economy, the crisis has hit the value of the ruble, which has slid by 11 percent from a peak last September. A spokeswoman for Russia's Federal Tourism Agency, Irina Shchegolkova, said on Echo of Moscow radio that "we worry that this is only the beginning and that there will be a domino effect."

However Russia's federal investigative service said Monday it was probing Labirint and another tour operator which failed last month, Neva, for possible fraud.

EU sanctions have so far forced the Aeroflot national flag carrier's low-cost airline Dobrolet to suspend operations due to its flights to Crimea, seized from Ukraine by Russia in March. The controversial flights to the strategic Black Sea peninsula prompted Western leasing companies to cancel contracts for the carrier's Boeing aircraft.