World Cup 2018: Saransk

World Cup 2018 has unveiled some deep pitfalls in the customer service industry across the Russian province. Some host cities, which have never faced such a massive tourism flow before, are far from being ready to host major international events.

I’ve been recalling the hype that was going around about Sochi before and after the Olympics 2014: the facilities were indeed being finished at the very last moment, but let’s face it – it’s a common story for any Olympics. Eventually, everything was complete – and my impression was that the final result was excellent (despite a few problems such as the ceiling fall in Marriott, or wherever that happened). However, Sochi had always been a resort, which might explain why it was easier to accommodate the city for hosting international guests during a global sports tournament.

 

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It’s been a totally different story with the locations selected for FIFA World Cup 2018. Quite a few of 11 host cities chosen for the event had never welcomed an international sports tournament before. The whole infrastructure had to be built from scratch, and the whole customer service  system – which, frankly, had never been a particularly strong point about Russia – had to be grown from its grassroots. This isn’t something that can be done in a couple of years – yet I’ve had a feeling that this is exactly how the local authorities have approached the matter.

 

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The city of Saransk has given us quite a controversial impression so far. As much as we appreciated the friendliness of the local people, particularly hotel and restaurant staff, we had to spend a fair amount of our time and nerves fixing all the problems we have encountered. We have been staying in the Tavla complex right next to the stadium. Tavla is a set of buildings accommodating some LOC, HBS and Media staff during the tournament. Supposedly, they will be rented/sold as regular apartments once World Cup finishes. I sincerely hope they don’t keep them as hotel rooms, as it has been a fairly disheartening experience living in them as guests. The facilities are simply not ready, and the staff is barely coping with the number of people flowing into the accommodation each day. All restaurants and services across Saransk seem to have one and the same issue – they can’t handle the crowds coming in, barely anyone has the slightest idea of what’s going on, and it takes ages to get things done.

The Stadium itself, as well as all the living complexes around, has been built on the land that once used to be covered with swamps. Maybe that’s what explains the fact that occasionally the air around smells really badly. Still, there are families inhabiting these houses, there is a school, a kindergarden and a number of shops around, and hopefully this is now forming a genuine part of the city.

 

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On the bright side, the center is small, clean and lovely. Many new buildings have been built in the past few years leading up to the tournament. There are a few picturesque spots such as the main Cathedral and the view on Insar River. People are very friendly and eager to help. The transport system does not seem to have improved much, but it is easy to walk pretty much everywhere.

Just for a general reference – Saransk is the capital of the Republic of Mordovia, an autonomous region within the Russian Federation. Its population, which consists of ethnic Mordovians, Tatars, Erzyans, Mokshans and Russians, reaches somewhat about 315,000 people.

 

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We are approaching the day of Japan vs Colombia match, the one we’ve come here for. The previous clash held in Mordovia Arena transformed Saransk into the capital of Peru for a couple of days: there was somewhat between 30,000 and 50,000 Peruvians wandering along the streets. They were here to cheer on their national team playing their first World Cup match in 36 years – imagine their disappointment when they lost 0:1 to the Danish!

 

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At the moment, we are expecting another flow from Colombia and Japan. Although it’s been reported that there would be fewer fans from both of these countries then from Peru alone, we’ll see about that tomorrow, though. Stay tuned!

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