The development of the nature tourism in the country is one of the priorities of the national ‘Ecology’ project. The interest in hiking and recreation on the landscape is growing from year to year. Today, the share of such tourism in the total number of trips reaches 25 percent, and in 2017, over eight million people visited the country's national parks. However, visiting the Russia’s natural areas of protection is most often prohibited. Although, a successful practice has long existed all over the world: the money from visiting the nature reserves and national parks is used to maintain and develop them. “In order for people to learn to value the nature, they must see it,” experts say. The speakers talked about how to make tourism safe for the environment in the framework of the 2nd International Conference ‘Sustainable Tourism: Global Challenges and Discovering Russia’ held at the Rosa Khutor resort in Sochi. The venue was not chosen by chance. For several years now, the largest mountain resort in the country has been successfully offering its guests hiking and rambling in the mountains. Sergey Bachin, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Rosa Khutor resort, told our correspondent about the challenges facing the development of the ecotourism in Russia and what can be done to solve them.
– The Rosa Khutor Resort has hosted the international conference on the development of the ecotourism for the second year in a row. Why did you decide to become the venue for such an event?
– At present, the ecotourism is among the major lines of the tourism development in Russia. The ecotourism was widely developed in the USSR – much was achieved then, there were millions of tourists who travelled and admired the beauty of nature. Later on, there has been a downturn for 20-30 years. And suddenly, we have returned to this again. Why was it ‘suddenly’? The society simply ‘matured’, after a difficult period, when first, urgent problems were solved: how to survive, what to eat, – and we moved things forward. We realized there is a beautiful nature in the places where we live. And it is necessary not only to save it, but to enjoy it and get to know it better. Therefore, the demand for ecological nature tourism is enormous today.
And we, the Rosa Khutor, as a place where many visitors come to and where the aspirations of tourists accumulate, were among the first to understand how important and desirable it was. We are faced with the task of developing tourism not only in winter, but also year-round. Taking into account that we are in such a beautiful place like the Caucasus, this can be done not only in our area, but also around it. Therefore, we began to offer our guests hiking trails in the mountains. While these are one-day trips now, as the necessary infrastructure develops, there will be several-day camping. For several years, we have been asking those many questions about the development of the ecotourism that are raised today at the conference. We have realized all the related problems, both the organizational and infrastructural issues, as well as the legislative ones. Therefore, at some point, we took the decision to initiate a discussion in the society and become the venue for an environmental conference.
– Boris Erg, the Director of the Regional Office for the Eastern Europe and the Central Asia of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), proposed to make a presentation of the Rosa Khutor resort initiatives for the development of the ecological tourism at the World Congress to be held in 2020. What are they?
– Naturally, it is an error to say that we will represent all Russia at the World Congress. We do not even pretend to do this. I think that, first of all, it is necessary to work out clear steps within the country. The initiatives should come not from the Rosa Khutor, but from the tourist and environmental communities and the nature protection institutions. What are we up to? The specially protected natural areas intended for tourism need to be clearly classified and subdivided into protected areas – both closed areas and those accessible to tourists, with various visiting regimes. This separation should be enshrined in law.
Now the protected areas – the Special protection natural area (SPNA) – in Russia almost immediately equated to the term ‘reserve’. If you ask a hundred people, most of them will answer that the SPNA is a nature reserve. Although our law defines various categories of specially protected areas, several of them are of the federal significance, and quite a lot of them are regional ones. Each of them can develop and be accessible. But now this is not the case. Today, the Special protection natural area in Russia means that it is inaccessible. Even if formally in the law, it is written that this is not a conservation area, there are no by-laws, rules at all that govern what and how can be done in this area. That is why, our idea is that the protected areas should be clearly classified with the exception of those rare cases when they should be really closed, in all the rest cases, it is necessary to make them accessible at least for seeing and admiring them.
– What prospects do you see for the development of the nature tourism in the country?
– Russia has two special features. First, – this is a wonderful feature – our country is very large and has a variety of landscapes, wildlife, beauties of nature. The second feature is an advantage and a problem at the same time - our country is very large. It is so huge that to embrace all its territory or even comprehend in terms of what we have is difficult. Perhaps, I will express an almost provocative thought. Today, Russia has a programme to create new SPNAs. It seems to me that now it’s more important not to create new ones, but to understand what we already have, and first of all, in the legislation. Maybe it makes sense to introduce a moratorium for a year, not to create any nature protection areas, but to introduce proper order in the laws, determine how to use already existing protected areas. An as soon as these areas are in order, the regimes of their functioning, the possibilities of access are determined, then it will be possible to begin creating new ones. Otherwise, it seems that we are creating new nature protection areas, withdrawing the land from the utilization, but we are not introducing any regulations or determining the land use. There is still a prohibitive trend in our country with regard to protected natural areas, but we hope the situation will change soon.
– A year ago, you announced the plans for the development of tourist trails in the Caucasus mountains, which of the plans were implemented and what is planned to be done?
– The programme for the development of the ecotourism involves the creation of hundreds of kilometers of touring paths and several camps in the mountains of the Black Sea region. Next summer, we plan to open the first Nakhazo tourist camp. It will be located about ten kilometers from the Rosa Khutor resort. I want to note at once that we are not talking about any construction in the protected areas. The camp should correspond to the place and the regime that is intended for the area. The Nakhazo camp will host about 60 to 80 persons. There will be wooden houses with a shower, toilet, emergency communications. Such a camp will make it possible to carry out not one day hiking that we offer at the Rosa Khutor today, but it will be a sleep-away camp enabling to arrange the most beautiful two-day programmes in the Sochi National Park.
– How long will it take to implement the programme for the development of the ecological tourism in the Caucasus mountains, and what tourist flow will it cover?
– It will take ten years to develop a network of trails and create 8 to 10 camps. Talking about tourist flow is too early now. So far, all our offers for the ecological tourism are very much in demand. Now, the question is not how many people want to go camping, but how many we can host. If we talk about the real ecotourism, and not just ‘you give them a backpack and let them go and spend the night in the forest, fight off a bear on their own’, - we need the infrastructure. This raises the question of how quickly we can create it, and when the environmental ministry can give us the permission. And again, much depends on the laws. For example, to equip a path, you need an easement. According to the legislation, it is issued only for an infrastructure facility. It turns out that the path can be made, but the construction of a simple shelter is not allowed.
– Recently, you announced your plans for the development of the tourism clusters in Kamchatka and Sakhalin. Will these facilities, like the Rosa Khutor, be developed based on the principle of the nature tourism?
– So far, the Three Volcanoes project in Kamchatka are the most developed ones. The matter is that Kamchatka is a unique place on the Earth, there is no other place like this. But the biggest problem in this region – it is difficult to get there. Suppose you arrive in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, and if suddenly, there is a non-flying weather, you will not be able to see anything, you just can’t leave the city by air. Our task is to make it possible to see ‘a lot’ of Kamchatka and get experiences without helicopters and airplanes. We want to have a chance to see the unique landscapes going by car, bicycle, hiking - without expensive flights. Therefore, for the implementation of the project, we found a place near the airport – about 80 kilometers away. We are creating a core, centre, attractive place, where tourists could live. Having done it, we will have the opportunity to develop the rest – hiking, fishing, and other services. Naturally, all offers will be environmentally friendly.
Our mission is to create a centre, a growth area, reboot the system, and then, in co-operation with the Kamchatka community and the eco-community of the whole country, we can develop specific services that will not damage the Kamchatka nature and its heritage. We are sometimes told “Will you not trample Kamchatka?” I emphasize that as for our project, we will not move further than 80 kilometers from the airport and, naturally, it will not pose any threat to the environment.
– And what about the project relating to Sakhalin?
– The Sakhalin project is not given its form as in case with the Kamchatka project. Today, we are at the stage of conceptualizing it. We are thinking hard about the development of the Kuril Islands, discussing the possibility of the reconstruction of the existing narrow-gauge railway. It will be a kind of the ‘Sakhalin Express’ like the ‘Glaser Express’ in Norway or the ‘Skyway’ in Alaska. This is an interesting heritage 84-km railway offering the chance to see beautiful landscapes. It goes through several tunnels, mountain passes, and can become the core of the development of the travel industry in the region.