Founder/Director TMI Consultancy
Talks to Ian Mitchell
Photos Sergey Koshkin
How long have you been in Moscow?
I have been in Moscow for eight years. I came here to set up TMI in 1999, and stayed. I first visited Russia in the late 1980s. I spent a month in Novosibirsk practising Russian as part of my degree before moving to Moscow.
How did that come about?
I went to the University of Keele, in the English Midlands, to study Economics. They have a one-year foundation course, in which you could try different subjects. I thought psychology would be interesting, but it didn’t fit in with the time-table, so I took Russian Studies. I found that absolutely amazing, so while I was doing this dreary Economics degree, I thought I’d study Russian at the same time. I wanted something to inspire me, but never thought that I would ever use it. I was the only student in the University studying Russian and economics, but this was the late 1980s, so it proved to be a lucky break when everything changed here in 1991.
How was TMI born?
In the 1990s I worked for the British Tourism Authority as the marketing manager for Russia and the CIS. After the financial crash in Russia 1998, and some short-sighted policies by the British government, nearly all emerging market offices of Visit Britain were closed. However, a number of UK companies who were already active in the market asked me to join their companies. I decided that as I was more of a marketer than a salesperson, I would work with all of them by setting up my own marketing agency - hence TMI.
Who did you represent?
For the first couple of years we mainly focussed on representing Britain in Russia. Lately, we have represented Hong Kong, Singapore, Jordan and Malaysia. We also deal with small, high-end companies, such as Baglioni Hotels, and large groups like Kuoni, which is the fourth-largest tour operator in the world. We work for the Destination Management part of the company which is expanding rapidly throughout the world.
Is it all a question of selling the world to Russia? What about selling Russia to the world?
That is just what we have started to do. Last year we began promoting key regions and cities in Russia so that they can position themselves for visitors from Europe and the Middle East. Our first Russian project was St. Petersburg, and we are now completing the marketing strategy for Kazan. We are planning to work with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan in the near future.
This is obviously a life which involves a great deal of moving around, so where is home?
Home is on a plane, somewhere between Moscow, Rome and the UK.
Moscow and the UK I understand, but why Rome?
Rome has been my second home for the last three years as my husband is now based there. He was a Greek diplomat and was previously based in Moscow, but now is posted in Rome. We got married there late last year.
Congratulations! How do Moscow and Rome differ?
They are completely different worlds. The quality of life is much better in Rome. You can have the most fantastic cappuccino for less than a Euro. The food is brilliant, and a fraction of the cost of Moscow. But on the other hand, Rome can seem a little provincial after Moscow. Things close early in the evening, and on Sundays. There are very few places where you can eat international food such as sushi. Finally Moscow is much more dynamic, alive and exciting; in Rome nothing much changes from month to month.
Do the two cities have any similarities?
One thing that connects them is the terrible bureaucracy and inefficiency. In fact, I’d say Russia is actually better than Italy in that respect. I once wanted to post a letter in Italy and asked for help. But no one would touch it, so I said, “OK, tell me where the Post Office is, and I’ll do it myself.” The Post Office was this huge, dark, cavernous building full of people sitting with their sandwiches, knowing they’d be queuing for the whole day. And you can’t have parcels sent to you in Italy because they simply loot the packages before delivery.
Finally, where would you recommend visiting right now? What is hot in CIS tourism?
In general the Caucasus and Central Asia are very friendly, have spectacular scenery and are a nice contrast to the city culture of Moscow. Places like Baku are fascinating. There is a lot to see and do which you would never imagine unless you had been there. Tbilisi is beautiful, and surprisingly similar to Greece or other places in the Mediterranean. Within Russia, Kazan is a great weekend getaway destination, with an excellent over-night train connection to Moscow.