How the Attractiveness of the Russian Far Eastern Regions for Tourism is Evaluated
ACCORDING TO INTERNAL OPINION
In 2018, the Black Cube Centre for Social Innovations published data from a survey of 8.2 thousand residents of the Russian Far East who named the regions with the most attractive recreation spots across the entire season. The results indicate that residents of the Russian Far East prefer to go to the seaside or simply spend time in nature while on holidays. The voters principally preferred Primorye Territory (33%), Kamchatka (22%) and Sakhalin (19%) — regions that offer a combination of opportunities to simply sun oneself on the beach or do something unusual in the wilderness.
The regions topping the list in the survey are far ahead of the others. Khabarovsk Territory was named as the region with the most attractive recreation spots by only 11% of those surveyed, while Yakutia and the Amur River basin received only 7% each, and the Jewish Autonomous Region, Kolyma and Chukotka received close to zero. The fact that the constituent entities of the Russian Federation gained such a spread of responses is understandable, since, according to the same survey, 31% of the Far East residents perceive recreation as going to the beach (resort), while 24% of those surveyed see it as self-organised trips to the countryside. 21% of the Russian Far East's inhabitants prefer spending their holidays in the countryside or at their dachas, while 24% prefer visiting other cities or countries.
It makes sense that one of the most popular and affordable tourist options — spending time at resorts — means Primorye Territory is one of the leading regions as it is where the Far East's best beaches are located. Kamchatka Territory deserves its second place in the survey thanks to the increasing accessibility, primarily in terms of affordability, and the variety of recreation on offer there. Its volcanoes are in the Top 10 natural areas of unique interest in Russia according to UNESCO.
At the same time, even local residents clearly tend to undervalue the potential of other amazing natural territories in the region — the Shantarsky Islands (Khabarovsk Territory), Leninsky Stolby Natural Park (Yakutia), Sikhote-
Alin Ridge (Primorye), Vrangel Island Nature Reserve (Chukotka). It is true that many of the these reserves are still hard to access and it is impossible to take large groups of tourists there.
We'd like to point out that the constituent entities of the Far Eastern Federal District received a similar spread of votes based on their attractiveness got tourists in the Russia-wide tourist rating for 2017 made by the Rating Information Communications Centre and Recreation in Russia magazine in December last year.
The rating is compiled based on ten criteria — from the level of development of the hospitality sphere to the level of crime and the outcomes of the region's promotion in the media. Data of the Russia-wide rating mostly agree with the local residents' opinions, with the only exception that Kamchatka, well-known in the Far East and the leader in terms of tourist attractiveness on the local market, still remains in the middle of the pack in Russia in general.
In the annual rating of constituent entities of Russia in terms of the development of tourism compiled by the Ministry of Culture the Russian Far East regions fall rather far behind the rest. According to the 2017 data, only Primorye Territory demonstrated decent results, taking the 23rd place and joining the group, Regions with Relatively High Tourism Development Indicators. Khabarovsk Territory's indicators of development of the tourism sector were defined as medium — 47th place — by experts of the Ministry of Culture. The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) was close by in 49th place. This very group of regions with medium indicators included the Sakhalin Region (54th place), Amur Region (62nd place), Kamchatka Territory (63rd place), and Magadan Region (74th place). The outsiders were the Jewish Autonomus Region (83rd place) and Chukotka Autonomus Area coming last in 85th place.
Primorye Territory is the most attractive region for both domestic and foreign tourists among all constituent entities of the Far East. According to the data gathered by the territorial border department of the Federal Security Service of Russia, in 2017, Primorye was visited by 518 thousand of foreign citizens, 12% more than in 2016. Citizens of the People's Republic of China make up the largest proportion of inbound tourists. 421 thousand people came to the Territory from China. According to Nikolay Lipatin, Doctor of Economic Sciences, the Chinese tourists' interest in Primorye Territory is thanks to the chance to visit the casino, among other factors.
"Creating the Primorye Gambling Zone near Vladivostok in 2009 was the right decision. The powerful growth of the Chinese economy has resulted in an increase in people's prosperity, and these days the Chinese are prepared to spend their hard-earned cash on tourist trips. Given their love of gambling, the opening of Tigre de Cristal casino in the Muravyinaya Bay in 2015 could not have come at a better time," believes Mr. Lipatin.
Ms. Darya Guseva, director of the tourism information centre of Primorye Territory, states that most Chinese visitors to the gambling zone hail from the southern provinces.
"The south of China is home to well-off tourists who visit Primorye to gamble at the casino. They also take pleasure in arranging rafting and fishing trips, and tours about the taiga. Overall though, they comprise the smallest share in the general tourist traffic from China. The lion's share of visitors from China are residents of northern provinces who come to Vladivostok for 3 or 4 days to shop, try Russian cuisine, and purchase various dietary supplements made from marine flora and fauna," states Ms. Guseva.
Vladivostok is the main tourist goal in Primorye Territory. Efforts made by the federal authorities to reconstruct it in the run-up to the APEC 2012 summit brought about excellent results. In 2015, National Geographic Magazine included it in the list of ten most beautiful seaside cities of the world, while Forbes named it among ten of Russia's best holiday destinations.
Apart from the capital of Primorye, tourists are attracted by the Safari Park, Land of Leopard National Park, the Park of Dragons, the Pidan Mountain, the Petrov Island, the Triozerye Bay, and numerous other spots that Primorye Territory is so rich in.
THE EASTERN RING OF RUSSIA
In 2014, the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism presented its tourist brand: the Eastern Ring of Russia. Its goal is to unite the areas of interest and events that attract tourists to the 12 regions of the Russian Far East and Transbaikal. It is assumed that, as a result of implementation of the project, tourism and recreation clusters will be generated along with the supporting infrastructure.
Each of the entities on this route offers its own, unique tourist facilities and sites: for example, Yakutia has the Lena Pillars rock formation, while Amur Region is famous for the Vostochny Space Port, and Kamchatka — the Valley of Geysers. Moreover, the project presupposes tying the tours to various events typical for each season. For instance, when travelling along the Eastern Ring of Russia in winter, tourists could attend the Buuzyn Bayar festival of national cuisine in Buryatia, enjoy the Ice Fantasy ice sculpture competition in Khabarovsk, or participate in the traditional Beringia dog-rig race in Kamchatka. The idea of the project is to turn interregional routes into a driving force for the sector's development in each of the regions.
However, the creation of the unified tour route is slow-going. It was only in 2016 that the agreement on cooperation for project implementation was signed by the Ministry of Culture of Russia, the Federal Agency for Tourism, and the regions involved. In May 2018, during the fourth Pacific Tourism Forum, representatives of entities in the Eastern Ring of Russia remarked that, thanks to subsidised tickets and effective promotion, interest in the route has increased. However, its full potential is far from being realised yet.
According to Darya Guseva, Europeans are currently taking particular interest in the Eastern Ring of Russia. They are the ones that purchase tours along this route with great relish. Presenting these tours in Australia also attracted visitors from there.
ADVANTAGES AND PROBLEMS
Each of the regions in the Far Eastern Federal District possesses its own unique historical and cultural places, landmarks, and sights that attract a lot of tourists. However, it is rather difficult for the Far East regions to ensure that an acceptable level of service and proper infrastructure is in place. Moreover, high transportation expenses take their toll.
"The development of domestic tourism is greatly hampered by high air ticket prices," states Nikolay Lipatin, Doctor of Economic Sciences. "The Russian Far East and Siberia are sparsely populated and therefore cannot ensure mass internal tourist traffic themselves. It is necessary to attract people from the densely-populated European portion of Russia but it is cheaper for them to fly to Europe."
According to Olga Gurevich, Chairperson of the Public Committee for Tourism of the Governor of Primorye Territory, the common trouble all Far Eastern constituent entities share is a badly developed tourism infrastructure.
"The quality of what we can offer tourists is also greatly influenced by such factors as bad roads, insufficient number of information boards and display panels, and the low level of service," explained Ms. Gurevich. "What's more, there is a major issue of personnel. Unfortunately, even now we do not have a tour guide certification system, and from time to time we come across people who run tours with absolutely no knowledge of the subject matter. Naturally, each region has its typical characteristics but, as the tourism sector develops, each of them will face similar troubles. For example, Primorye mostly attracts tourists with its seaside. Most of the popular beaches and recreation spots are located in small communities whose infrastructure is simply not meant for a large number of people. During the peak tourist season, these seaside settlements and their vicinity end up with four or five times as many tourists as local residents. Naturally, the medical and police services of these places cannot deal with such an inflow. Sometimes it even gets to the point that local store do not have enough basic foodstuffs."
Olga Gurevich believes there is another problem: during the peak season, Far Eastern prices do not match the quality. The cost of services is overinflated.
"Few people think of extending the tourist season. Most players on the tourism market aim to earn more, here and now," remarks Ms. Gurevich.
The sparse population of the territory is another serious matter that influences not only the tourism sector but other spheres of life in the Russian Far East.
"No development is possible without people," insists sociologist Maksim Namdakov, "and the tourism sector is directly connected to the local population. These are the people who provide staff for the sectors that support tourism. Unfortunately, the Russian Far East, Transbaikal, and Siberia are seeing a steady decline in their population. Naturally, this process is occurring differently in each of the entities but the general trend is the same. Internal migration can also influence tourism. People from small communities move to larger ones, and this, in turn, denudes the tourist sites located in remote areas. The infrastructure also suffers as a result. Modern tourists appreciate more than just natural beauty: they value comfort as well. Therefore, they are unlikely to go and see waterfalls and lakes when there is no opportunity to rest in comfort after a walk. These facilities can only be offered by the local population that lives near the sites."
The Russian Far East possesses vast resources for development of both domestic and inbound tourism, and the measures of state support that are offered as a part of the federal law "On the Free Port of Vladivostok" provide extensive opportunities for the development of tourism in the Far Eastern Federal District, according to Irina Barashok, Associated Professor of the Department of Services and Tourism of the School of Economy and Management of the Far Eastern Federal University.
"Given the remoteness of the Far Eastern region from central areas of the country, the first thing that comes to mind is the lack of information about the Russian Far East. Recently, the Pacific Breeze forum of tour operators was held in Primorye Territory and its attendants remarked that there is precious little information about the Russian Far East, or if there is any it's rather run-of-the-mill. Consequently, it is necessary to arrange fam-tours for Russian and foreign tour operators as often as possible to have them learn more about the Far Eastern Federal District and assess the tourist resources of the region on their own. To increase awareness about the region, tourist businesses, if possible, need to participate in the Tour Business workshop, and we need journalists to write more about the region, and publish articles in online materials such as RATA-news," Barashok elaborated.
Another important factor that would boost tourist traffic is the development of transportation opportunities, increasing the number of regular flights, both domestic and international. To resolve the issue of high-quality service on the tourist market, it is vital that more attention is paid to training personnel for the tourism industry, namely, having them master practical professional skills. It seems that implementation of WorldSkills standards in the training process is one of the ways of solving this problem.
"It is possible to increase the average length of tourists' stay in the region and motivate them to return by diversifying tourist routes and expanding the network of interregional routes as a part of the Eastern Ring of Russia project. To develop a new tourist route, we need to know our tourist service customers and understand what they wish to see. Therefore, tour companies absolutely must make use of marketing." Irina Barashok believes it is also necessary to develop unique events that might interest tourists. "The development of event tourism requires a new approach to its organisation involving the coordination of numerous contractors and co-promoters. Moreover, an effective tourist event cannot be created without the financial, organisational and information support of the authorities," she summarised.