Two Russian travel agents are in town hoping to set up tours for business groups and vacationers interested in touring parts of the former Soviet Union.
Crime is up and political turmoil rules, so why go to Russia?
For starters, it's a chance to see history in the making, and it's relatively inexpensive, two Russian travel agents visiting Lawrence said.
"The problems in Russia are over exaggerated," said Tatyana Kovalenko, an interpreter and tour guide from Moscow.
Another tour guide, Mila Bolgak, said, "We have guides that will take care of people."
The two were in Lawrence on Monday and today hoping to make contacts with a local travel agency. They were trying to set up possible group tour packages.
Their host, Lawrence resident and Kansas University graduate Wes Crenshaw, was showing them around town. He visited Russia in October.
The Soviet system had only one tour agency, "Intourist," which allowed people to see only what the government wanted them to see, the travel agents said.
Now, emerging Russian travel agencies and tour companies are helping open previously closed parts of Russia and other former Soviet republics.
For example, Crenshaw, a Topeka psychologist, said he and a group of other American counselors touring Russia were allowed to see the medical wing of the Russian cosmonaut program.
"People who come from the states are really interested in Russia," Kovalenko said. "For many years, it's been a closed country."
And how do they arrange for visitors to gain access to previously restricted areas?
"We have many contacts," Bolgak said. "When people find out there are Americans who have come to see the country, they are very hospitable."
Crenshaw met the travel agents through People to People, a Kansas City-based cultural exchange program started by President Eisenhower.
Kovalenko and Bolgak were to be in Lawrence through Wednesday.