Respecting the law on tourism

Respecting the law on tourism

Expert Reports  

Tourism infrastructure facilities should appear in all national parks in Russia by 2030. This task was set by the President of Russia in his annual State of the Nation Address. The creation of the tourism infrastructure is determined by the new law on the development of tourism in specially protected natural areas adopted in March 2023. The drafting of the law took many years and stirred up discussions among authorities, businesspeople and the environmental community. The document specified the conditions for the development of tourism infrastructure in specially protected natural areas for the first time. The EcoTourism EXPERT correspondent found out how the new law worked.

Sangadzhi Tarbaev, Chairman of the Committee on Tourism and Tourism Infrastructure of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation

The law on the development of tourism in specially protected natural areas in Russia was adopted a year ago, and it is a period of the law enforcement practice now. It is already clear that in nature conservation areas, there are difficulties with carrying out capital construction, using water, building roads, and so on. For example, there are restrictions for the construction of buildings as their size should be three and 15 meters according to the existing technical requirements. Businesses face significant restrictions when implementing large-scale tourism projects such as the mountain ski resorts in Sochi. On the other hand, the existing restrictive measures are required to ensure the environmental protection. It is important to give an opportunity to tourism to develop in environmentally sensitive areas, but this must be done causing minimal and, preferably, no damage to the environment and nature. We understand the difficulties associated with organizing tourism in protected areas, therefore we are ready to work out by-laws and amendments to the law. Taking into account that until last year, activities aimed at developing tourism in designated conservation areas were actually prohibited, there is a revolutionary shift today within the framework of the Russian legislation towards permitting this. This is a good positive signal.

We must continue moving towards legalization and democratization of the processes related to the construction of tourism infrastructure facilities in specially protected natural areas. But the construction should not be unregulated as in the Alps where buildings appeared all over the area, and there are environmental challenges now there due to high burden on the environment. It is necessary to develop tourism infrastructure working hand in hand with environmental experts and businesses. First of all, understanding the needs of the Russian tourists is required. Perhaps, travelers do not need five-star hotels in specially protected natural areas, and two- or three-star hotels can satisfy the needs of the tourists coming just to stay overnight and make tours of the local attractions and excursions. The needs of the tourists should be of prime importance. The prospects for developing tourism in the country’s national parks are great, there are many places in Russia that the Russians cannot visit, they just watch them on TV, see in photographs, but it is impossible to get to these places due to a number of restrictions. The main task is to give the opportunity for the Russians to see their country, and the task of businesses is to build the tourism infrastructure facilities to make traveling possible and easy.

The issue of control is very acute today in the tourism sector. Many laws have been adopted, but there is still a legal gap in terms of control. I believe that in any case, not only business community should face the consequences of this, but also the officials who made their contribution to all this. When analyzing a situation, in cases when everyone behaved within the law, but there were no other ways to construct a building, it is possible to discuss the issue and make appropriate amendments to the legislation. Businesses cannot be left alone with such problems, because it is impossible to develop tourism in Russia without businesses; the state alone will not have enough funds to do this.

The federal law determines the ‘fate’ of settlements located within the boundaries of national parks. No changes were made, the situation with properties will remain unchanged, no one has the right to alienate land parcels or re-register them. At the same time, the residents of such settlements have the same rights as the residents living in the settlements outside specially protected natural areas. This applies to the construction of infrastructure facilities in such settlements, for example, roads. If a road supports the life of the people in a settlement or is aimed at developing a recreational area, it must be built.

The creation of glamping sites is among the issues related to the development of tourism infrastructure in specially protected natural areas. These places of accommodation have not yet been defined in terms of regulations in our country, and their operation has not been regulated. This means that the issues of providing safety and security, selling alcohol, catering, and the required infrastructure facilities have not been determined. That’s why glamping sites are built in every possible way in the country, so to say, each does what he or she can. Moreover, most owners begin to experience problems with payback in the second year. Initially, glamping sites appeared abroad on the basis of camping sites where people came by car and stayed overnight in tents. Soon, vacations in camping sites became popular and glamping sites - more comfortable camping sites for wealthier people - began to appear. This can be compared to the economy and the business class on an airplane. In Russia, we started constructing ‘business class’ glamping sites focusing on people with average income. Therefore, the creation of glamping sites needs to be regulated from the point of view of business models. In my opinion, there are two possible options. The first option can be compared to summer terraces at restaurants. That is, there is a major large hotel and there are 30 to 40 glamping houses next to it operating at certain seasons of the year. The second successful option for glamping sites is family businesses, when a mother, for example, cooks, her daughter cleans, and a father provides general management. This is a micro-business option. And in Russia, glamping sites are often built in an ‘open field’. Such options can be successful only if they are set up in an area where a tourist flow already exists, for example, in the Republic of Tatarstan, the Krasnodar Territory, and the Moscow Region.

Irina Makanova, Director of the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russia’s Department of State Policy and Regulation in the Development of Specially Protected Natural Areas

The existing complexes in our country, for example, in the mountains around Sochi, show that with the right legal approach, it is possible to develop tourism in specially protected areas. In the last few years, a great breakthrough has been made in the development of recreation in specially protected natural areas. The main impetus was given by the President of Russia in 2019 when he set a task of working out a clear mechanism. Earlier, tourism in specially protected natural areas as an institution had never been specified, discussed, or regulated from a legal point of view. This was also facilitated by the development of domestic tourism and the attitude towards the environment protection. The new law on tourism in specially protected natural areas came into force on September 1, 2023. We see now the points that need improvement. A number of these points will be resolved thanks to the law enforcement practice; we also discuss these issues with the Prosecutor General’s Office that has begun to cooperate with us, and we make changes to certain government acts. For example, an order was adopted to approve the list of capital construction objects that can be located in protected areas. The list turned out to be insufficient; it does not reflect the existing realities. For example, there were no ski slopes on this list, but there are already mountain resorts in the Russia’s specially protected natural areas in national parks, not only in Krasnaya Polyana, but also in the Elbrus region and in the Tiberdinsky Nature Reserve. Serious attention was paid to making several helipads, not as tourist infrastructure facilities, but as the helipads aimed at ensuring the safety of areas and they can perform related functions for the Ministry of Emergency Situations and for sanitary medicine establishments. This work has already begun.

What is most relevant and important now? The law adopted provides for the implementation of tourism in specially protected natural areas, but some certain conditions should be observed. First of all, the maximum permissible ‘recreational capacity’ must be calculated, that is, the number of people who can simultaneously be on the tourism sites , they should feel comfortable and their presence shouldn’t do any harm to the surrounding nature. The second prerequisite is a recreational activity plan. There are 68 national parks in our country, and 21 priority areas have been identified in them where such work has already begun. It will be completed by June 1, 2024, and as for all other priority areas, the work will be completed by the end of the year. This is very important; the plan for recreational activities should become a kind of certificate or ID, where everything is indicated - what can and what cannot be built, as well as what is already located there. Such a document must be coordinated with each head of the region, be transparent and an unlimited number of people should have an access to it. Subsequently, the recreational activity plan will become a document on the basis of which all the investors will develop their projects, participate in auctions and support the project that should be implemented in the protected area. The tourism infrastructure facilities are already under construction in the protected natural areas. Thanks to the help of the Corporation Туризм.РФ (the joint-stock company ‘Corporation Tourism.RF) and the Ministry of Economic Development, 1.4 billion rubles were allocated last year, which made it possible to create a large number of tourism infrastructure facilities, including visitor centers, museums, and information boards.

Before adopting the law, such an institution as the tourism in specially protected natural areas did not exist in our country at all. This question is very sensitive, a huge number of people wanted to take part in discussing it. Therefore, passing the law was not easy. The President set certain tasks, including the development of tourism with understanding that compliance with the environmental norms and rules is mandatory. Agreements on recreational activities necessarily stipulate the environmental issues that investors must comply with. Our plans are to develop a ‘green standard’ for the creation of appropriate facilities in specially protected natural areas. Perhaps, it will be a GOST (All-Union State Standard), but this is a subject for discussion with the investors who already have ‘green standards’ in their regions. For example, the Lagonaki Resort planned for being constructed already incorporates some ‘green’ technologies as it uses electric vehicles and the power generation.

In our country, there was an opinion for a long time that a specially protected area is a reserve, and a reserve was perceived as something connected with the word ‘forbidden’. This happened because many national parks began to appear in Russia only in the 1990s. As a result, there are 107 nature reserves today and only 68 national parks in the country. In this regard, popularization is of prime importance. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation is actively working in this direction to bring up a generation that will adopt the respective permissive and prohibitive concepts. Thus, the Russian Arctic National Park has already published two textbooks for children who study in grades 1 to 4 and 4 to 8, and a course Arctic Studies has been developed that is taught at schools in the Arkhangelsk Region. Now, the Russia’s northern regions use this experience in their work. The Krasnoyarsk Pillars National Park was the first to receive an educational license and officially conducts educational programs for children and adults. From last year, several films about the Russian national parks are under production. Six films have already been filmed, with eight more planned to be completed this year.

Sergey Sukhanov, General Director of the Corporation Tourism.RF

The nature conservation areas occupy 13.5 percent of all the country’s lands; the tourist flow to them is 14 million people a year. It is clear that it is impossible to ban tourism in the specially protected natural areas with such tourist flows. It is necessary to create conditions so that the Russians could use these beautiful areas, but it is necessary to regulate the process in such a way as to minimize the negative impact on the environment. The law put into force in September 2023 allowed to define a clear framework of what can and cannot be done in specially protected natural areas. The Russian national project Tourism and Hospitality Industry provides an opportunity to move actively as the government provides several support measures. The first one is provided by the Ministry of Economic Development and involves the compensation of the interest rate on the loans; investors know how important this is when the interest rate is 16 percent. The most important support comes from the Ministry of Construction. All supporting infrastructure facilities are built at the expense of the state; even a major investor cannot afford building roads, highway networks, etc. The Corporation Tourism.RF stands at the intersection of instruments and ensures the construction of a tourism facility at the place where the main infrastructure facilities are built by the state. Thanks to the government support, our portfolio includes 101 projects at different stages of implementation. Master plans have already been developed for four large-scale tourism clusters. A lot of work has been carried out, including the assessment of the environmental impact, analysis of the potential impact, conservation of biodiversity, reduction of negative impacts and the compensation measures provided for in the development of specially protected natural areas. In the Far East, there is a large ski resort Aina Valley. Pistes have been created at the ski resort, but there are no hotels. Thanks to the support of the Corporation Tourism.RF, a tourist village for 2,600 people is under construction, and the development of eco-tourism there is colossal. Sakhalin is among the popular travel destinations; travelers are eager to go there, stay at hotels and enjoy high quality service. The Baikal Sloboda project is located 23 kilometers from Lake Baikal. Understanding that the law regulates the construction on the border of the lake, the tourism project is located down the Angara River coming out of Lake Baikal. It is a large complex able to accommodate 3,500 persons, and it is being built to the most stringent environmental standards. The plans are to create a ‘green area’ around the Baikal Sloboda project; 15,000 trees will be planted and 200,000 grayling fry will be releases. These are specific measures, but we understand that it is necessary to take measures to minimize the environmental impact if we enter the specially protected natural area. ‘Green’ construction of tourism facilities, the use of environmentally friendly construction materials, the resource-efficient environment are included in the technical design specification to allow the creation of tourism places where people can go on vacation to specially protected natural area. The plans are also to create Turyev Khutor located 15 kilometers away from the Rosa Khutor resort in the mountains near Sochi. After the Winter Olympic Games, the tourist flow to the Sochi’s mountain ski resort cluster was expected to grow up to two million people a year, but it is over three million travelers today. At the same time, a large capacity transport infrastructure was created. In addition, in peak seasons, the Sochi’s mountain ski resorts are overbooked, and the popularity of mountain ski vacations is growing. In addition to the ski slopes, the project involves the construction of hotels for 1,195 rooms; and all environmental standards are observed while creating them. The Novaya Anapa resort is another project to be built in the Krasnodar Region. This large complex is on the border of the Anapa bay-bar, but it bypasses it so carefully that people have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the specially protected natural area, the amazing dunes that nature has created over millions of years. The development of tourist routes is necessary; it is always easier to ban tourism. But we need to work not on restricting, but on ensuring that everyone should make responsible use of natural resources and protect the nature.