Making vacations and recreation statutory
Natalya Kostenko
Deputy Head of the State Duma Committee on Tourism and Tourism Infrastructure Development

Making vacations and recreation statutory

Russia has a huge potential in the development of eco- and agri-tourism. In almost every region, there are national parks, natural reserves, a huge number of rural attractions and hotels, inns and guest houses that are eager to receive guests. However, there is practically no final product to be offered to tourists. Out of 4,000 tour operators, only 200 offer eco- and agri-tours, the share of ecotourism is 10 percent of the market, and rural tourism is only 1.5 percent. There are many reasons for this, they were discussed at the first conference on the development of ecological and agri-tourism in Russia. The event was organized by the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) with the support of the Norilsk Nickel company and the Rosa Khutor resort. The representatives of the government, tourism industry, agricultural producers and experts in the ecological, rural and natural tourism from more than 70 regions of the Russian Federation attended the conference. Among the main difficulties in the development of the tourism industry, the lack of necessary infrastructure and standards according to which it should be created, the difficulties with the land allocation as well as and the possibility of organizing travels in protected areas and the need for state support were noted. But the main problems lie in the field of legislation. There is no law in the country either on ecotourism or on agritourism. Needless to say, the general law that defines the travel industry is long outdated. Natalya Kostenko, Deputy Head of the State Duma Committee on Tourism and Tourism Infrastructure Development, speaks about when the law on travel industry will appear, whether tourist cashback is needed and why the regions need a ‘resort fee’.

- After the Covid-19 pandemic, outdoor recreation is becoming more popular. This trend exists all over the world. At the same time, Russia, having enormous natural wealth, lags behind other countries in this. How might the law affect this situation?

- First of all, it must be taken into account that for a long time, tourism was neglected. Many people spent their vacations abroad, where the eco-, agri-, beach tourism and alpine ski resorts were rather developed. The law, according to which the travel industry developed, was adopted back in the 1990s and, of course, has long been outdated. Actually, there is a complete confusion in terminology. Routes are confused with excursions; for some people, ecotourism is a modern hotel built in compliance with the latest environmental standards, and for others, it’s just a camping tent. For some reason, agritourism is singled out as a separate type of tourism, while all over the world, it is a variety of ecotourism. At the same time, the agritourism infrastructure is mostly very poor. There are no access roads to many protected areas, there are no parking lots, no one understands what can be built and what should not be built, what subsidies and grants can be received for, whether regional special protected natural areas can participate in tenders or not. In general, there are many questions, and a single law on tourism should answer all of them.

- For quite a long time, there have been talks that a special law is required, when can we expect its adoption? And what principles will be used for the new law?

- Given a number of instructions from the President of Russia and the Government, the bill will be introduced at the spring session. The law elaborated by the Rostourism (Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation) was not approved; taking into account all the procedures, the new bill will be brought in the summer of 2023, at the earliest. Nevertheless, the work is going on actively. Together with the RF Ministry of Economic Development, many aspects are being worked out, for example, the normative regulation of the formation of national routes are under consideration. Now, they are perceived just as excursions, although even in the Dictionary by Ozhigov, a ‘route’ is described as a ‘journey’. It means the organization of mass tourism flows from one point to another. Naturally, this requires certain tools to ensure the interaction of investors, regions, municipalities and the state, including the Ministry of Transport, since there is a transport component. Recently, medical care at ski resorts was discussed, this type of tourism industry is developing. For example, 90 hotels started their operation this season in Sheregesh, which can accommodate almost 5,000 additional tourists, and there is only a small village hospital to provide medical care to them. It is clear that systemic solutions are needed, as is the case with hotel accommodation. It is necessary to introduce the concept of a ‘tourism accommodation’. There are old peoples who would like to rent rooms to tourists and it is necessary to understand how to legalize this; and there are real hotels built within the framework of individual housing construction, their owners want to operate them and pay taxes. At the same time, people who stay in them must be sure of the epidemiological and fire safety, and their physical security. There were similar cases when 1,500 guest houses were classified and became hotels for the Sochi Winter Olympics. Today, this issue needs to be solved at the level of the country. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that the country also needs full-fledged hotels, with spacy parking lots, so that tourists do not park their cars in the neighbouring streets. Most likely, such changes will be made promptly, as the changes in the Code of Administrative Offenses were made, for example, when the document about the tourist tax was due to expire, all the decisions were taken promptly. Therefore, acute issues will be resolved, of course, but the main trend is to develop large “pieces of laws” together with the Ministry of Economic Development, which will later be included in the law.

- The Ministry of Economic Development has become responsible for the development of the tourist industry, how will this fact affect the situation?

- Today, the tourism industry is experiencing a kind of ‘resetting’. Rostourism played a role that allowed the state to focus on an area that had been developing independently for a long time. Nevertheless, having a separate department led to the ‘fragmentation’ of tourism. The Ministry of Agriculture was responsible for agritourism, and the Ministry of Natural Resources was responsible for ecotourism. Every year, we insist on having a children’s cashback programme, because the situation with the children’s tourism is uncertain. Therefore, we hope that the Ministry of Economic Development will succeed in ‘combining’ all these areas and look at the industry as a whole, organize processes that would allow businesses to have certain support measures, and ensure the development of this industry. The main goal is to create jobs, provide profits, taxes, this is important, because we do our best to do something in favourable conditions, but as soon as the situation changes, everything falls apart. Therefore, everything must develop in a unified manner. Tourism is a business, and approaches to it should be appropriate.

- The cashback programme was one of the Rostourism’s tools to support the tourism industry. Is there a need to continue this endeavor? Perhaps, the cashback will be increased?

- I think that the cashback size should be left at the same level. We allocate 10 bn roubles for children’s cashback programme and about the same sum for the general one. However, the approach that was applied to the programme is not correct. The children’s cashback programmes can remain unchanged. But other programmes must be used for their intended purpose as stimulating conditions for new areas of tourism business, such as agritourism, for example. Who would like to go to the village with certain stereotypes of perception of this type of vacation destinations? Cashback could fuel the interest expressed by families, and kids could get some kind of education. The same situation is with ecological tourism, cashback could help support the special protected natural areas (SPNAs) that are catastrophically underfunded. Also, thanks to the cashback programme, the tourist industry could solve the tourist flow issues in the off-season. It is not the right thing to finance people who stay in five-star hotels when we collect a bit of money to support certain types of tourism.

- The State Duma has recently approved the bill in the first reading to extend the period for an experiment on collecting the ‘resort fees’ in the Russian Federation until 2027. In what regions can it be implemented?

- To date, 20 regions would like to participate in the ‘resort fee’ programme. I consider it necessary to give every region the opportunity to introduce a ‘resort fee’. First of all, these are the regions that need funds for the tourism infrastructure development, and many of them need money. It is necessary to see where some large projects are planned in the tourism industry and where they are being developed by the Туризм.рф (Tourism.rf) Corporation, as well as the regions where national tourist routes are under development. The ‘national routes’ are not just a definition as they are intended to support the regions and require the construction of transport arteries. The decision on the introduction of the ‘resort tax’ is up to each region, each region should can make decisions taking into account its tasks. This tool is attractive as it can be adopted by a region on its own, it is very flexible, and it has proved to be an advantage for any region.

- A draft law on the safety of children in camps was approved in the first reading. Could you tell in detail, why was it brought in and what result can be achieved?

- Unfortunately, for a long time there was a situation in our country when children’s camps were just ‘driven out’ of the beaches. There was a case when a health centre for children suffering from tuberculosis lost its coastal area. And on the other hand, a number of organizations have benefits for leasing beaches like tour operators, travel agencies, public sports organizations and others, but not children’s camps. In addition, it is difficult today to ensure the children’s recreation on ordinary beaches. As you know from social networks, often people do not respect the rules of social behavior and do things on the beach that children should not see. In addition, there are security issues. Recently, I was at a children’s camp in Tuapse. Its beach is fenced with barriers around the perimeter, but a jeep with loud music once drove into it, and, in fact, no one could do anything to make them behave well as there was no leverage. Therefore, our committee has been working on the relevant bill for a long time. We proposed to make it easier for children’s recreation organizations and health centres to obtain some beach areas, and these organizations should establish a regime and rules of behavior for unauthorized persons on such beach areas. This does not mean that entry to the beach is completely prohibited, but when there are children on the beach according to the approved schedule (and this is a one- or two-hour period), nobody else should be on the beach. The rest of the time, people can come to relax and sunbathe. Children’s camps should post the information about the regime on such beaches on the website of municipal authorities, on their camp’s pages, everything should be transparent. So far, we have received several comments on clarifying the terminology, but I think that by the end of the year, the bill will be approved in all three readings.

- Speaking about the development of ecotourism, many fear that it will damage nature. What to do?

- As for the development of tourism in special protected natural areas, it is necessary that the scientific community should be involved able to assess the anthropogenic factor, form the standards of visiting the areas, assess the scope of providing the public amenities and landscaping required in these areas. It is worth saying that in regional SPNAs there are often improprieties. For example, there could be special protected natural areas where people have traditionally been engaged in agriculture or tourism, and then, some injurious insect or plant can be found in the area and restrictive regime is imposed. And the area cannot develop any more. What is the point of such a special protected natural area? If a region makes a SPNA, it must also provide for the costs of maintaining such an area, there must be some purpose for establishing a SPNA. Taking into account the President’s instructions, we plan to develop the legislation on eco-trails in places not associated with special protected natural areas. The law will relate to issues of land plots and establishing the easements. It is also necessary to ensure that recreation facilities in specially protected natural areas have a greater state support, we are trying to convey this idea to the Ministry of Economic Development.