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Sochi still scrambling to sell Olympic tickets

Russia Putin
LONDON (AP) - What if they held an Olympics and nobody came?

The situation isn't that bleak, of course, for the Sochi Games. Yet, with less than three weeks to go until the opening ceremony, hundreds of thousands of tickets remain unsold, raising the prospect of empty seats and a lack of atmosphere at Russia's first Winter Olympics.

There are signs that many foreign fans are staying away, turned off by terrorist threats, expensive flights and hotels, long travel distances, a shortage of tourist attractions in the area, and the hassle of obtaining visas and spectator passes.

"Some people are scared it costs too much and other people are scared because of security," senior International Olympic Committee member Gerhard Heiberg of Norway told The Associated Press. "From my country, I know that several people and companies are not going for these two reasons. Of course, there will be Norwegians there but not as many as we are used to."

Sochi organizers announced last week that 70 percent of tickets have been sold for the games, which run from Feb. 7-23 and represent a symbol of pride and prestige for Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

So what about the remaining 30 percent?

"We are keeping a special quota for those who come for the games, so that they can indeed buy tickets for the competitions," organizing committee chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said.

Chernyshenko said about 213,000 spectators are expected at the games, with about 75 percent likely to be Russians.

"Tickets are being snapped up fast with the most popular events being hockey, biathlon, figure skating, freestyle and snowboard," the organizing committee said in a statement to the AP. "With 70 percent of tickets already sold and another ticketing office opening shortly, we are expecting strong last-minute ticket sales and do not envisage having empty seats."

Sochi officials have refused to divulge how many tickets in total were put up for sale, saying the figure would only be released after the games.

However, according to IOC marketing documents seen by the AP, Sochi had a total of 1.1 million tickets on offer. That would mean about 300,000 tickets remained available.

By comparison, 1.54 million tickets were available for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and 97 percent (1.49 million) were sold. For the 2012 Summer Games in London, organizers sold 97 percent (8.2 million) of their 8.5 million tickets.

Heiberg, who chairs the IOC marketing commission, said the Russians have cut down by 50 percent on the number of spectators originally planned for the mountain events for security reasons.

"That means there will be less people and probably less enthusiasm than we had, for instance, in Lillehammer," he said. "I hope the Russians will fill not only their indoor stadiums but there will be enough people in the stadiums for the Nordic events."

Heiberg organized the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, which stood out for the colorful atmosphere generated by passionate Norwegian fans.

Sochi's ticket sales began in February 2013, a year before the games. Tickets have been sold on Sochi's official website on a first-come, first-served basis. Box offices are now open in Moscow and Sochi.

The cheapest tickets go for 500 rubles ($15), the most expensive for 40,000 rubles ($1,200). More than half of all tickets cost less than 5,000 rubles ($150). The average monthly salary in Russia is 30,000 rubles ($890).

The one and only authorized ticket office in Sochi was busy on a recent afternoon, with three dozen people lining up at what once was a waiting room at the city's railway station. Many, however, complained that all the cheap tickets were already gone.

"Prices leave much to be desired, but what can you can do?" said Sochi resident Yana Ivolovskaya, who bought two tickets for bobsled for 2,000 rubles ($60). "We're not going to get another Olympics in Sochi so I thought I should go."

Fans outside Russia buy tickets from authorized dealers appointed by their national Olympic committees.

Attracting foreign visitors has been a challenge amid all the headlines about Russia's law banning gay "propaganda," human rights issues and - particularly - the risk of terrorism.

Back-to-back suicide bombings killed 34 people last month in Volgograd, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) from Sochi. On Sunday, an Islamic militant group in Russia's North Caucasus claimed responsibility for the bombings and posted a video threatening to strike the Sochi Games.

CoSport, the official ticket reseller in the United States and six other countries, said the Sochi Games generated "good demand" for tickets and packages.

"We experienced demand at expected levels," spokesman Michael Kontos said, without giving figures.

Flights to Sochi are expensive, and most international travelers have to go through Moscow, with direct flights to Sochi only available from Germany and Turkey.

Western travelers must navigate the time-consuming visa process and requirement to obtain a "spectator pass" along with their tickets. This requires providing passport details that allow authorities to screen all visitors.

"What we are hearing is that the bureaucratic complexity, with spectator passes and visa and so on, is what scares off fans, more than worries about security," Austrian Olympic Committee spokesman Wolfgang Eichler said.

Jan Serenander, managing director of Jet Set Sports in Norway, cited a lack of tourist attractions in the Black Sea resort.

"When Sochi was announced no one had even heard of the place," he said. "They had to get out their atlases."

Die-hard winter sports fans, however, will not be discouraged. Orange-clad speedskating fans from the Netherlands are always among the most visible spectators at any Winter Games.

"I expect it to be orange," Jeroen de Roever, manager of official Duch ticket seller ATPI, said of Sochi's speedskating venue. "We have been sold out for quite a while."

___

Associated Press writers Nataliya Vasilyeva in Sochi, Eric Willemsen in Vienna, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki, Mike Corder in The Hague and Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
ga7smi January 21 2014 at 11:41 AM

Russia is no longer a good tourist destination

Flag Reply +4 rate up
bobjimflys January 22 2014 at 1:33 AM

I would go, but it is financially out of the picture. To fly there and back and stay for two weeks would easily cost $10,000 to $20,000. I cannot go anyway have a surgery appointment on 12 Feb. Putin is much easier to understand than our Barack Hussein Obama. ;-)

Flag Reply +2 rate up
christie1wilson January 21 2014 at 3:07 PM

I was in Sochi last August. It was the 4th time I've been in Russia and the most difficult time getting in of all 4. It was worse than when it was the USSR. The customs people were down right nasty and made things very difficult both coming and going and we were expected, coming in off a cruise ship. There is NOTHING of a major interest here other than a Dacha of Stalin's that has any historic interest. Prices are high, the people rude, traffic is almost as bad as Rome - I cannot understand why the IOC picked this place for the Olympics.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
olh74 christie1wilson January 21 2014 at 4:30 PM

The IOC should have checked location, ease of travel, accomodations ( Far sub standard to the rest of the world ). If I'm not mistaken the russian visa is $500.00 US for two weeks and same amount for each 2 weeks afterwards. Food is horrible ( you will be in your glory if you like ground Pork every day ). Mongolian food is more palitable if they are there. My first time to Russia we had planned on a 1 month visit and the second day I wanted to leave. I hope they managed to find toilet seats, they were non existant on my visits. They are short on creature comforts as known to the rest of the world.
The problem w/ Russia is the people are oppressed and the government is trying to be as other foreign
countries, but are not near top notch in compare. to the outside world. I hope for the Olympic participants and all others that they do not need a high level of medical treatment, because the training of medical pers. comes from other s who were trained by Russians. They were closed off to the rest of the free world and could not afford top medical minds who were advanced to teach them. They are about 25 years behind us.
Do not go down any side streets or dimmly lite areas because you will most likely be mugged. Security in numbers.
In my pers. opinion they shoul bull doze most of those backward countries of into the ocean and start over again and this time do it right.
We can also thank the russians for selling arms to all these rogue countries ( funneled through Chinese counter parts so they look innocent. ) If i"m not mistaken the US gave USSR millions or perhaps Billions to put into their economy so they would not supply their weapons to rogue countries.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
netron1956 christie1wilson January 21 2014 at 4:34 PM

THESE OBSERVATIONS SHOULD BE A W A K E-U P C A L L TO THOSE PLANNING TO GO ANY WHERE NEAR THAT PLACE.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
hi newpatch1951 January 21 2014 at 11:55 AM

hey testtube I guess being born in one is your excuse for being an ass

Flag Reply +2 rate up
flyingfortresb17 January 21 2014 at 10:26 AM

Why did he have this venue built in Sochi? It is way too close to the conflicts in the area. Do they want another Munich?

Flag Reply +3 rate up
Fred January 21 2014 at 3:35 PM

This Olympics will die on the vine if the propaganda continues.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
olh74 Fred January 21 2014 at 4:03 PM

Wait until after the games and then reality will set in. Remember these words.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
geddy37 January 21 2014 at 10:19 AM

Just out of curiosity, I checked on airfare and hotels to Sochi for the Olympics. The lowest airfare I found round-trip from New York City was $1,638. Orbitz and Travelocity showed no availability for hotels. With that situation, it's no surprise that they're having trouble selling tickets.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
andrewofkcmo January 21 2014 at 2:28 PM

would would have thought that they would have realized these
factors ahead of time.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Bigcat January 21 2014 at 1:18 PM

With 100k troops in the area of the games, give them a ticket to go, and take the ticket price from their pay. Pays for the games and people will be safer. We has 10k police looking for 1 Boston Bomer, that they could not find, it took a resident to find him. Only residents can protect one another. So vistors and terrorist are on their own, so they both should stand out! Today anywhere you go in the world safety is the same on mater who you are! But Knowning the Olympics in Sochi 4 years ago, why are we talking about terrorist 3 weeks away, is it about putting down Russia, because our Leader Ship can not get along and funding a gay team to make a point. Remember everyone entrying any Country is a guest, Learn their rules, and history before you go, and known that America doesn,t have your back covered, when you leave, and sometimes here too!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
Danny and Kathie January 21 2014 at 3:53 PM

HOPE THAT THE OLYMPICS WILL BE WHAT IT SHOULD..A GATHERING OF PEOPLES WITH GOODWILL . MAY GOD BLESS THE OLYMPICS WITH THIS SPIRIT AND MAY ALL BE SAFE AND RETURN HOME WITH THAT MESSAGE.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
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