Out of 4,000 russian tour operators in the register only about 200 offer tours to nature reserves and national parks. This is the result of problems in the dialogue between the government and business. This was the point of view of Maya Lomidze, Executive Director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), which she expressed at The First All-Russian Tourism Conference “Both for the Village and the City. Agri- and Eco-Tourism as Tools for the Development of Regions”, that had been held in Sochi this winter. Therefore, the purpose of the conference is purely practical - to identify problem issues and propose solutions to specific problems, she supposed.
“According to our estimates, agri- and eco-tourism can ensure an increase in tourist flow from 50 to 100 percent per year to regions under favorable conditions. ‘Both For the Village and the City’ is the first fully practical business event on a federal scale that combines the topics of agri- and eco-tourism and is dedicated exclusively to the urgent organizational, financial and legal issues of developing the tourism business in specially protected natural areas and agricultural facilities,” added Maya Lomidze.
Despite the fact that about 300 farms already accept tourists, only one agri-tourism route has received the status of a national one, it is located in the Pskov Region.
“This is a three-day tour with a visit to rural tourism facilities where the travellers visit the Izborsky Ostrich farm, an organic centre where agricultural products are processed, and the “Gardens on Kudeba” farm where 20 thousand apple trees grow; as well as the Flax and Hemp Museum “Flax Province”, our region was called this way at the end of the 19th - beginning of the 20th century because the Pskov Region provided 30 percent of the Russia’s flax exports and there was a paper mill where paper was made using flax,” said Svetlana Baranova, Head of the “Continent Tour” operator. “The tourists are met at the Pskov railway station and they are accommodated in a three-star hotel in the village of Izborsk. The cost of the tour is 18 thousand roubles per person,” she added.
In terms of booking tours, the Krasnodar Territory (the Kuban) is still in first place. Top 3 popular places in the Kuban are Abrau-Dyurso, Myskhako and Solokhaul as most of all tourists like wine and tea, but snail farms, for example, are not yet in great demand but have firmly occupied their niche.
“A tourism product has been created in the Krasnodar Territory, but it mainly includes excursions,” she continued. “Tourists come for their vacations at the seaside and come to some tourism objects for a day to make their vacation more interesting. Therefore, the Kuban and Stavropol Territories and the Crimea always stand apart. Agri- and eco-tourism will always be in demand there and they develop better than in other regions. What does a tourism product mean? It means what kind of transport you get, where you stay and what you see, what experience you can have and what souvenirs you can buy, and all this should not be done ‘knee-deep’ in mud and you should not overcome obstacles; that is, it should be a comfortable and civilized tourism product associated with enjoying the nature and getting acquainted with agricultural products. What are agri-tourism and eco-tourism? It means enjoying the nature, but in different ways. There will not be millions of tourists at these places, this is not the right segment for large tourist flows, but when a tourist product is created, a multiple increase in the tourist flow is possible - two to three times more compared to the tourist flow we have now, and this can reach tens of thousands of tourists,” said Maya Lomidze.
Interest in agri- and eco-tourism is growing. Compared to pre-pandemic 2019, demand is up 10 percent. There is no exact information on objects, in addition, the data on the share of agri-tourists differs. According to some sources, agri-tourists make six percent of the total tourist flow and, according to others, it is 1-1.5 percent. In eco-tourism, the share of tourists is larger due to active independent trips and is about 10 percent. Speaking about agri- and eco-tourism, experts noted that these tourism segments have a huge resource for the development of areas in almost all regions of Russia, but they are far from self-sufficiency, so they need support.
“Today, the tourism industry is experiencing a kind of a reset. Rostourism (Russian Federal Agency for Tourism) played its role that allowed the state to focus on a sector that had been developing independently for a long time. Nevertheless, an independent agency led to the disintegration of tourism. The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for agri-tourism, and the Ministry of Natural Resources is responsible for eco-tourism. Every year, we insist on providing the children’s cashback programme, because the children’s tourism is generally up in the air. Therefore, we hope that the Ministry of Economic Development will be able to combine all these segments and look at the industry in general, 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, make profits, collect taxes, all this is important because so far, we do our best and did something in ‘sheltered’ conditions, but as soon as the situation changes, everything falls apart. Therefore, everything must develop in a common way. Tourism is business, and the approaches to it must be appropriate,” said Natalia Kostenko, Deputy Head of the State Duma Committee on Tourism and the Development of Tourism Infrastructure.
The conference was active and held in a flexible format, which gave a chance to farmers and representatives of eco-tourism facilities to express their desire to get acquainted with tour operators, so a networking meeting was held. After completing the work in interregional groups, the conference participants presented the results of their two-day work making their specific proposals for the development of agri- and eco-tourism. For example, the participants of the working groups on agri-tourism consider it necessary, among other things, to launch a cashback programme for tourists visiting agri-tourism facilities and create a federal marketplace with such facilities.
It was also proposed to introduce a single conceptual apparatus in the legislation for rural and agri- tourism, to introduce a separate Russian Classification of Economic Activities for rural and agri-tourism, to facilitate and accelerate the transfer of agricultural land to recreational land and other categories, to reduce deductions (made by farmers involved in tourism) to the labour compensation fund, as well as to develop preferential tariffs for energy supply for rural agricultural producers.
Commenting on the proposals of the conference participants made at the plenary session, Svetlana Kobylkina, Head of the Department for the Development of Entrepreneurship in the Agro-Industrial Complex at the Department for the Development of Rural Territories under the Russian Ministry of Agriculture, noted that the proposals made by the forum experts in agri-tourism were thoroughly elaborated.
The conference participants working in groups on eco-tourism issues noted the lack of tourist facilities in specially protected natural areas, poor transport access to national parks and nature reserves, and an acute shortage of qualified personnel. According to experts, these problems can result in a decreased future tourist flow in eco-tourism.
To solve these problems, it was proposed, in particular, to develop a separate law on the interaction of specially protected natural areas and businesses, remove restrictions for specially protected natural areas as state-budgetary institutions to participate in competitions and grants provided by the government and the Ministry of Natural Resources; start developing regional programmes for the development of eco-tourism, including training personnel for specially protected natural areas, to introduce a system of motivation for tourists in the form of a “reserved area cashback” programme.
This idea was supported at the plenary session by Jan Lavonen, Deputy Head of the Department for Support and Implementation of the Federal Project “Conservation of Biological Diversity and Development of Ecological Tourism” being implemented by the Information and Analytical Centre for Reserve Affairs under the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. He noted that this tool could be implemented on the basis of a single aggregator of eco-tourism facilities of the Ministry of Natural Resources.
“We support the continuation of the professional discussion about the nature and rural tourism, which is so important and necessary for the sustainable development of the Russian national travel industry. We note the growing importance of this segment, and we are glad to observe the deep involvement of the powerful Association of Tour Operators in making its agenda. The wild natural environment and cultural landscapes of the countryside have colossal recreational resources, and by working wisely, we can ensure rich experience to the Russians, help them feel fresh vigour and have peace of mind. We just have to realize that these resources seem to be inexhaustible but they are fragile and vulnerable, and they can be easily lost if there is no balance between an economic success, social well-being and natural harmony. Striking a balance is the main criterion for success in this market segment,” said Dmitry Kolosov, Director for Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection, the Rosa Khutor mountain resort.
More than 170 participants from 70 regions of the country took part in the event. For the first time, the representatives of government, tourism business, agricultural producers and experts in eco-tourism, rural and nature tourism from different parts of Russia discussed all aspects of the development of agri-tourism and eco-tourism in the country. The conference was organized by the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) with the support of the Norilsk Nickel company and the Rosa Khutor resort.