Time to enjoy ecotourism
Alexander Kozlov
Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia

Time to enjoy ecotourism

The need to develop ecotourism in Russia has long been discussed. Today, national parks and specially protected natural areas (SPNAs) occupy more than 13 percent of the country’s area. At the same time, Russia ranks 14th in the world in terms of various indicators of ecotourism and is almost 10 times behind other countries.

“Russia has a huge potential for the development of ecological tourism. Over the last year, 10.6 mn people visited the specially protected natural areas of the country. The closure of borders and the fact that it is not safe for the Russians to travel abroad have increased the flow of tourists. Increasing the tourist flow will solve the problem of extreme underfunding of the specially protected natural areas in the country. At the same time, it is important to form a unified philosophy of ecological tourism so that it provides a balance between the economy of tourism and the conservation of nature for our future generations,” said Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko. He took part in a meeting on the development of tourism in the specially protected natural areas. Our correspondent found out what awaits the ecotourism in Russia.

The year of tourism

The last year was a truly breakthrough year for the development of ecotourism in Russia. During this time, it was possible to solve a number of issues that had not moved forward for many years. It is no coincidence that Sochi became the venue for the meeting with the participation of Alexander Kozlov, Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia. In Sochi, there are the most popular specially protected natural areas in our country - the Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve and the Sochi National Park. They are visited by more than three million people annually and reflect acute issues in the best possible way. One of them is the boundary delimitation of national parks.

“Our first priority is to put things in order. Previously, anyone who wanted could ‘pinch off’ a piece of the National Park. Last year, we started adding the borders of the Sochi National Park to the Unified State Register and saw hat almost 5,000 square metres were missing. As a result, we have arrested some sites, we also have already gained more than 100 suits, and the National Park was recognized as a victim. Today, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Rosreestr (Federal Service of State Registration, Land Register and Mapping) must provide a decision on how the boundaries of the National Park should be determined, because all these court hearings will last more than one year,” said Alexander Kozlov, Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia.

Another problem solved last year is related to water. Today, changes have already being made to the Water Code. They will eliminate contradictions between beach owners and water users and empower local authorities to use water bodies.

“As far as water resources are concerned, casuistry of the law has taken place. The Rosvodoresurs (Federal Water Resources Agency) subordinate to the Ministry of Water Resources distributes the water surface on a competitive basis, without taking into account what is on surrounding land - a children’s camp or any other tourism facility. Meanwhile, someone grows shellfish in the sea, so an imbalance is seen. We agreed with Rosvodoresurs that we would change the legislation, and the priority would be determined based on the use of resorts and tourism objects,” Alexander Kozlov emphasized.

Another important issue is wood recycling. And here again, Sochi became a pioneer. The Ministry of Natural Resources determined the procedure for wood utilization in the SPNAs. While preparing for the 2014 Olympics, many trees were cut down in the Sochi National Park to create the necessary infrastructure. Due to gaps in the legislation, the wood has been stored along the roads for more than 10 years.

“More than 14 thousand cubic metres of harvested fir, spruce and beech trees have been kept in 10 grounds of the National Park for so many years. And all these years, nobody has been concerned about this because the general procedure for the sale of timber approved by the Government did not apply to the specially protected natural areas. The investor repeatedly appealed to the Federal Agency for State Property Management, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia, the National Park, and the Federal Agency for Forestry, but received non-committal replies. We were able to resolve this issue and managed to cut this bureaucratic knot,” said Alexander Kozlov, Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia. 

Based on the results of wood inspection by a special commission consisting of several specialists from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, Federal Agency for Forestry, as well as the Federal Agency for State Property Management, regional and municipal authorities, 14,350 cubic metres of wood were recognized as illiquid. Over the years, the wood has lost its technical properties, and its storage entails fire and sanitary safety risks in our forests. Until July 1, it will be processed by mulching, and the resulting sawdust will be used for filling hiking trails. The experience of the Sochi National Park in addressing the issue of timber utilization in the SPNAs will be used in other national parks of the country.
Legal Tourism 

One of the important steps in the ecotourism development in Russia will be the adoption of a relevant law.

“In 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed to develop a draft law on eco-tourism. We did it and on March 28, it was submitted to the State Duma for the second and third readings, we are waiting for its adoption at the spring session. Today, according to the existing law on specially protected natural areas, it is impossible to put even a toilet for tourists in a national park, and at the same time, there are loopholes in the law, so the construction equipment can be seen in the natural parks and the construction can be underway. The adoption of the new law will allow solving such issues. Unfortunately, not all of our national parks can boast of extrabudgetary investments. And our task as a State is to support them. The form is simple: improving our infrastructure means increasing a tourist flow. This year, 993 mn roubles were allocated, so by December, the tourist flow to the SPNAs will amount to 12 mn people. With this money, the national parks will create recreation areas, buy equipment, and build educational facilities. Until 2024, this makes 3.6 bn roubles and will result in a multiple increase in the tourist flow,” said Alexander Kozlov, Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia.

The purpose of the new bill is to provide a unified basis for the legal regulation of tourism and recreational activities within the boundaries of the Russian specially protected natural areas, as well as to create a legal framework for streamlining land and property relations between the State and investors. Simply put, to define a legal mechanism through which the investor will understand what and how can be built in a specially protected natural area and how to use it, taking into account environmental legislation for the benefit of nature and for achieving the socio-economic effect. The main novelties proposed by the draft law are the introduction of a system for planning recreational flows to the SPNAs, the establishment of a legal mechanism for regulating relations between the federal authorities, local governments and investors through the conclusion of an agreement on the implementation of recreational activities, as well as the introduction of a legal mechanism for determining the procedure for creating infrastructure facilities and renting them. Nine normative acts have been developed for the new law. They determine the list of objects of capital and non-capital construction for the SPNAs, the rules for organizing and developing tourism with the working out of a plan of recreational activities, the procedure for calculating the maximum permissible recreational capacity, for preparing competitions and auctions for the right to conclude agreements on conducting recreational activities, and for the right to calculate the payments for its implementation, and they also determine the procedure for the transfer of powers in the implementation of recreational activities in the SPNAs, which are subject to the regime of special economic zones.

Going to the forest along the path

The development of ecotourism is impossible without the creation of infrastructure. At the same time, despite the fact that such a line - “creation of infrastructure”- is in the national tourism project, funding for this line is zero. Due to lack of funds, the development of the national parks and specially protected natural areas for tourists is fragmented. A trail can appear in one place, a sign can be installed in some other one, and a visitor centre can be built somewhere. It’s time to put things in order. The specialists of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives have already developed eight guidelines. These include commercial and basic infrastructure designs, area programming and new product development, economic impact creation, and waste management regulations. Among the tactical steps, the ASI sees the need to approve at the government level a catalogue of model solutions for creating infrastructure. So far, each head of a national park or a nature reserve comes up with his or her own infrastructure programme, and then wastes money for its design, concept, and so on. The catalogue of model solutions will allow them to understand the quality of objects and predict their budgets, this will speed up the implementation of projects and make it possible to replicate practices in other national parks or nature reserves. Another important step is to include extrabudgetary income in the area’s performance. Today, such an indicator in the SPNAs is taken into account for statistics purposes only. At the same time, the national parks and nature reserves have enough opportunities to receive extrabudgetary revenues, for example, through selling tickets, organizing excursions, leasing property, placing retail outlets, and so on. Thus, their performance will become an indicator of the quality of services provided and the quality of management, it will show the demand for infrastructure and programmes offered. And at the same time, it will allow them to establish order. 

“I gave an instruction to return back everything that was withdrawn from the Sochi National Park. For example, the famous Arboretum Park. The cable car of the Sochi National Park was given to the local entrepreneurs. The National Park did not receive anything, the equipment was worn out, the cable car was in a poor state. We repaired it, now we will launch it. According to our calculations, it will bring additional 80 mn roubles to the National Park revenues. Recently, one of the trails was assessed. According to the agreement signed earlier, the Sochi National Park received 150,000 roubles a year from businesses as they operated this trail. We returned the trail back to the National Park, and within a weekend, we earned over 120 thousand roubles thanks to selling tickets at the price of 100 roubles. Sochi is famous for its friendly relations. Sochi National Park is our ‘pearl’. And this ‘pearl’ belongs to the State, and not to the peoples who have taken it and earn on it without investing anything. We will support those investors who are ready to invest billions of roubles and are ready to receive people who come to Sochi on vacation. This is our philosophy for the development of the National Park,” said Alexander Kozlov.

A strategic direction for the ecotourism development in the country may be the creation of several pilot model zones uniting the National Park and the adjacent areas. Such an integrated approach will allow to combine the available resources and developments, and most importantly, to obtain systemic solutions and attract investors. It is the interaction between businesses and the government that will make it possible to switch to a scheme for the development of national parks and nature reserves not at the expense of the State, but thanks to attracting more tourists. Three billion roubles have already been allocated as part of the national project for the development of tourism and the creation of a possible infrastructure. These funds will be used in the form of grants, and 80 regions have already submitted their applications. The elaboration of GOSTs (National State Standards) will also contribute to developing the entrepreneurial activities in the specially protected natural areas. The new rules’ general requirements will come into force on June 30. Today, four more GOSTs are under development that will include rules for creating recreational trails, marking routes, ensuring safety, and working out requirements for the tourist infrastructure. Particular attention will be paid to environmental protection requirements to be observed by accommodation facilities.