Suzdal is a real pearl of the Golden Ring of Russia, a museum town that miraculously survived as a unique reserve of the medieval Russian architecture. Once the cultural and political centre of Vladimir’s Russia with the population of 10,000 people only, Suzdal is annually visited by about 1.5 mn tourists.
While the Covid-19 quarantine continues, the picturesque streets of the ancient town that has become a large filming location where films on the Russian classical novels and historical films were created miss their welcome guests. Sergey Sakharov, head of the municipal administration, told EcoTourism Expert about the current situation in Suzdal and the prospects of its development.
- After your appeal to the governor of the Vladimir Region on June 1, Suzdal hotels have reopened. How many guests are arriving now, how did the pandemic affect their number? What, in your opinion, can the current Suzdal tourist season be?
- Appealing to the governor, we talked about the peculiar features of Suzdal as a tourist centre. Our argument was that we had practically no Covid-19 cases in the town. At that time (May 19, 2020), only 5 persons with coronavirus were identified. Despite the fact that the town relies mainly on tourism, there were no exceptions to the rule. However, from June 1, 2020, it became possible to accommodate visitors arriving on a business or official trip at all hotels of the Vladimir Region, including Suzdal, if they have documents to confirm that they are Covid-19-free.
The tourists show low activity, the people do not come. First, restrictive measures are applied; second, hotels are open only for business travellers and, third, catering facilities have been closed since April 28. I believe the pandemic will have a strong impact as it is mid-June already, but it is not known when the restrictions will be completely lifted. (At the time of publication of the material, the governor of the Vladimir Region issued a decree allowing some businesses to reopen apartment-hotels (including guest houses, of which there are many in Suzdal), sanatoriums with a medical licence, restaurants and cafes with out-of-doors areas. By mid-July, the reopening of shopping centres and cinemas is expected – correspondent’s note). Two months of the potentially active tourist season are lost completely. In addition, the Russians and foreign guests will continue to fear for some time to become infected while travelling.
- Did the crisis affect the cost of tourists’ accommodation and services? Are there any new municipal programmes and initiatives to attract more visitors?
- How the crisis will affect pricing, we can only say after the abolition of all these restrictions. It’s difficult to assess the damage as yet.
We hold 57 various events annually - the entertainment, sports, music, and religious ones. The largest among them are the Cucumber Festival, the Veloleto (Bicycle Summer) bicycle race festival, the GranFondo mass bike ride, GoldenRingUltraTrail cross-country race, the Suzdal Meadow sled dog race, the New Names music festival, the Summer of God festival of sacred music and chimes.
Unfortunately, the events coincided with the restrictions will not be held this year. The rest events will certainly be held after the quarantine is over.
- About one and a half million tourists come to Suzdal every year. What is the contribution of tourism to the municipal treasury?
- There is no direct correlation between the number of tourists coming and the tax budget in any tourist city. I have come up with this problem many times, but so far, no solution has been found. The land tax and property tax money of individuals received by the municipal budget does not depend on the tourist flow. Only the personal income tax amount depends on it, but its share, 10%, is very small for the town. Therefore, our entire tax budget is 70 mn roubles allocated for the improvement of the town, salaries, utility bills, and street lighting.
- How is the tourism industry developing in Suzdal, what part of the population is involved in it and in providing services to visitors?
- More than 70% of the town’s working-age population work in the tourism and hospitality sector. In addition, large hotel complexes hire the people living in other cities and districts of the Vladimir Region, as well as the Ivanovo Region. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Suzdal had the lowest unemployment rate in the Vladimir Region, 0.5% only.
- Suzdal looks much better, the streets are much cleaner, roads are better, there are more renovated buildings, signs look more attractive, the number of cafes and bars increased. How do you manage to improve the town with a very meager budget?
- In October 2015, the deputies and I adopted the format: each saved budget penny will be used for our federal and regional programmes.
The design estimates are being developed at the expense of the budget of the town, which is used in the target programme on the co-funding basis. For example, in the road construction, the share of the local budget is 5%, and the share of the federal and regional budgets is 95%; in social and sports facilities, the local budget share is 25% and that of the federal and regional ones is 75%.
- In recent years, a lot of hotels have appeared in the town. Are there enough hotel rooms now or do you need to build more hotels? Is Suzdal attractive to investors?
- The number of rooms per 10,000 citizens is 4,500 beds, Suzdal ranks first in Russia as for this indicator, and there are few such cities abroad. Now, the 100% room occupancy is only on great holidays and festivals - New Year and Christmas, Pancake Week, Cucumber Day, Veloleto, GranFondo, GoldenRingUltraTrail, etc. The average occupancy rate of our hotels is about 40%. Whether it is necessary to build more hotels, only time will tell. But our town is attractive in all seasons.
- What changes will the town expect in the coming years?
- Suzdal is preparing for a mega-event: in 2024, we will celebrate the 1000th anniversary of our wonderful town. All the municipal government’s efforts are aimed at preparing for it, we actively and successfully participate in the contests for various grants in the run-up to this date.
For example, a 50 mn rubles grant for the implementation of the Suzdal-Zaryadye-Activation project was obtained as we were the winners in the contest held by the Ministry of Construction and Housing and Public Utilities of the RF in May 2018. This year, the second stage of the projects will be implemented. This project provides for the renovation of two squares - at the Shopping arcade and at the Sokol Hotel. In addition, the observation deck will be renovated near the arcade and the paving stones on the walkways will be replaced.
In September 2019, we successfully defended the subproject - Improving the Infrastructure of the ‘Town of Suzdal’ Open-Air Museum, and the committee of the Russian Ministry of Culture decided to provide us a $13.47-mn grant. As part of its implementation, three buildings will be restored that are cultural heritage sites: the Firsov’s House of the 18th century, Tabachnikov’s House of the 19th century, and the Residential House of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Part of the funds will be spent on cleaning the town ponds, repairing the dams, and architectural lighting will appear on 21 architectural monuments.
Despite the challenges, the town will continue to look better to make its residents and all its guests happy. And I'm sure that Suzdal will celebrate its anniversary the best way