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Russian crisis on display at tourist spots

People walk past a board showing currency exchange rates in Moscow.
Maxim Zmeyev | Reuters
People walk past a board showing currency exchange rates in Moscow.

Last February, my family went to Austria for a week. It was the height of the ski season, and there were Russian tourists everywhere.The local businesses loved them, as they spent up big on everything from luxurious fur-lined ski suits to schnitzel and schnapps. The hills were literally alive with the sound of Russian, and some restaurants even had menus in Cyrillic.

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What a difference a year makes! I was in the same Alpine town in Austria this past week. The count of Russian families I came across in seven days: two. The exchange rate illustrates the story well: last February, it cost about 48 Ruble for one Euro. This February, it costs about 72 Ruble. So suddenly, your round of peach schnapps went up by 50%.

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The flip side? A quick check on Expedia shows that I can fly for as little as $383 non-stop to Moscow from NYC. That's less than my last flight to Detroit! Will that translate into more Western tourists for Russia? Some prospective visitors may be put off by the ongoing political crisis with Ukraine…others may say, "hello cheap Russian holiday!" But my American dollar is on the former.