How much Chinese tourists spend in the Primorye Territory and how many gift certificates from Primorye stores are sold have a lot to say about the satisfaction level of Vladivostok guests — an EastRussia reporter talks about this and more in an interview with the director of the Primorye Territory tourism department, Konstantin Shestakov
– Mr. Shestakov, how would you assess the current year in terms of tourism development in the Primorye Territory?
– The Primorye Territory is the indisputable leader of the entire Far East based on domestic and international tourist flows. It is enough to say that today we are among the three top Russian regions by the number of tourists from PRC, beaten only by Moscow and St. Petersburg. As for this year, the expected number of international visitors to the Primorye Territory will for the first time exceed half a million people. Those numbers aren't bad in the slightest.
– What countries do tourists come from to Primorye?
– Mostly from Asia. The main countries are China, South Korea and Japan. Tourists from China are the leaders, at over 350,000 people from the beginning of the year. That figure is also a third higher than last year. And there was an even a larger increase in the number of tourists from the PRC coming to our region under the visa-free agreement—some 65-70% compared to 2015. The last two years has clearly shown positive dynamics.
The second inbound tourist flow in terms of volume comes from South Korea. These indicators are far from China's, but their dynamics are higher. Korean tourists have also started to come to our region more often as well. Thus, as of nine months into 2016, growth is over 62% YoY. For nine months, the total number of visitors to Primorye from South Korea amounted to 41,000 people. And in last place are tourists from Japan.
– China, Japan and South Korea are close neighbors to the Primorye Territory. Are there any visitors that travel in from afar?
– The flow of tourist from Europe was a pleasant surprise for us; it numbered in the thousands of tourists. The tourist flow from, for example, Germany, grew by 184%. Tourists from Australia have to cover even longer distances, but here we also see good growth: 154% compared to the same period in 2015. For us that is very important and symbolic, as it shows that the regional and federal policies for the advancement of the region's tourist products are actually working. We can be sure that these growth dynamics will also continue into the future.
– How much does an average tourist from China spend in Primorye? How would you characterize their social standing and status?
– We monitored spending habits and determined the average check for one Chinese tourist. We can break them down into two classes. The first, let's call it the economy class: a trip to Primorye will cost them about 350-500 yuan. In our region, a tourist of this class will spend on average 150 to 200 US dollars during three days and two nights.
The second class has recently been growing rather dynamically; such growth is attributed to the development of tourist destinations reachable only by plane. These are typically more solvent and wealthier tourists from the central and southern regions of China. For them, the total value of the tour package together with the flight is initially 5,000 yuan, or about 740 US dollars. Their average check for three days and two nights is 4,000-5,000 US dollars. These are wealthy and well-off tourists, and their number continues to grow. They prefer rather expensive hotels, high-class restaurants, and tours in aircrafts. Such tourists also take yacht tours, and can afford buying jewelry, visit perfumery and clothing stores, and prefer expensive cuisine. In a beauty salon, their average check is around 12,000-13,000 roubles for one visit. By the way, recently a new characteristic trend has been observed: tourists have begun to purchase more gift cards from our stores. This is a good sign for us, as it means that the guest intends to come back at least once more.
– What about the Japanese and Koreans?
– Tourists from Japan and Korea are mostly individual tourists with their own special preferences. Among them are those who like culinary journeys, lovers of our wild nature who often take tours to the North of the region, or connoisseurs of art who come to see performances at our Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater. These types of tourists form groups based on interests and take special tours that are pre-prepared for them with an average cost of 2,000 to 3,000 US dollars not including flights. Of course, these are just the average values, like for the tourists from China.
– Do you find it hard to please visitors from abroad?
– To determine the growth areas of tourist flows with the maximum efficiency, we need to understand their interests, their mentality, what they like, and even their food preferences. And those can sometimes be rather versatile and intricate. But our experience of working with our Asian neighbors over the recent years shows that we have enough information and understanding of what our next move should be. And the experience of our tourist companies welcoming guests travelling to our region is also quite extensive.
In reality, nothing can truly compare to the discourse formed by the tourists themselves when it comes to promoting tourism in the area. Or in other words, feedback from tourists visiting Primorye forms an additional favorable image of our region as they share their impressions of the journey on social media, and exchange information with their friends, colleagues, and relatives. All this creates a certain snow-ball effect: the more our region is visited, the more information about Primorye as a great tourist destination is dispersed. Such communication is of course a great benefit to us.
– What places of interest do tourists prefer the most?
– Traditionally speaking, these are sights already well-known to our colleagues and tourist operators from Asia, starting from the observation platforms and the historical district of Vladivostok, its memorials, and museums, and ending with the new sights built for the 2012 APEC Summit – the Far Eastern Federal University, Opera and Ballet Theater, and others. Always popular are also the integrated entertainment resort Primorye, the Primorskoye Koltso sports complex, the Emerald Valley historical park, the Safari Park and the Oceanarium. Within the scope of the regional state program for Tourism Development in the Primorye Territory for 2013-2020, the specialists from the Tourist Information Center debuted new routes adapted for the cold season. They include new, original programs such as Primorsky Conditer (Coastal Confectioner), Asian Vladivostok, European Vladivostok, Orthodox Primorye, and various ascents – walking tours to Pidan mountain and the Olkhovaya volcano. And of course, we cannot forget about our guests' love of visiting our shopping centers. The purchasing power of our guests is currently very high.
Event tourism is also an excellent method of increasing tourist flows. Thus, we traditionally host competitions with major international participation in water sports, including sailing, jet sport racing and rowing. This year, the region is one of the main regional leaders in Russian Event Awards 2016, where different regions from all over Russia present their developments in the tourism industry, with a major focus on new opportunities for domestic tourism. Primorye has for several years now dominated the regional stage of these national awards, but for the first time ever it is also now taking firm leadership positions in such nominations as the Tourist and Information Center and the Tourist Business Event. Event tourism arrangements like this are a major attraction when it comes to increasing tourist flows.
I'd like to also emphasize that this year our Tourist and Information Center has enjoyed great success in promoting the region among strategically important markets. This year, its work was met with high regard at industry-focused exhibitions and competitions. Its team is very active and strongly result-oriented
– Next year we expect considerable growth in the number of cruise ships docking in Vladivostok. Why is that?
– Recently, sea cruises have been gaining in popularity and becoming a more affordable option for tourism both globally and in the Asia-Pacific Region. Cruise tourism is a separate area of our work where we have also achieved promising results. Now, a larger number of Korean and Japanese passenger vessels have been choosing our port. For the first time ever, we recently received a Chinese Taishan liner, and also reached certain agreements for the future, namely to include the Vladivostok port in its typical route. Moreover, we also signed agreements with our Korean colleagues from the Sea Tourist Center in Gangwon Province for a regular cruise line to connect Primorye with Japan and South Korea.
The development prospects for cruise liner tourism between Primorye and Asia were discussed at the 21st Summit on the International Exchange and Cooperation of Northeast Asian Regional Administration Officials. We also very recently concluded meetings with our colleagues in Shanghai, where we presented the city and the port of Vladivostok as an objectively interesting point for cruise ships along the Russian coast as part of the Sea ITM international congress and exhibition events in the tourism industry. In addition, we held negotiations with the heads of major Asian carrier operators and ship owners headquartered in Shanghai – the management of Royal Caribbean, Costa and SKY Sea Cruise. The operators took a clear interest in collaborating with Primorye, and demonstrated a rather clear understanding of our capabilities and advantages. After the meetings, Costa officially declared 6 cruise lines will now include Vladivostok. Thus, the number of cruise liners docking in Primorye in the upcoming year is going up two-fold to 12 vessels.
– How much time is required for port services, official bodies and border control to register a cruise vessel starting from its entrance to the port till the departure of its passengers?
– Modern cruise liners are true floating hotels that handle the same comprehensive services as on land capable of keeping track of thousands of passengers. And as for the residents of such floating towns travelling the seas and oceans to visit our shore, much has already been done, but much still lies ahead. Let me remind you that currently, two Primorye ports are included in the list of sea ports where tourists can arrive to the region without a visa and remain for up to 72 hours. These are the ports of Vladivostok and Zarubino. Now, thanks to the active position of the region's customs services, the passengers of cruise ships entering the port of Vladivostok early in the morning can already be freely walking around the city by 8-9 a.m.
In general, the development of cruise tourism in the region is approved by the Governor, Vladimir Miklushevsky, as one of the priority development areas for its tourism industry. To that end, a whole series of measures has been developed to ensure the dynamic development of this area. They include improving the quality of services and promoting the area as a favorable cruise destination, and of course the modernization efforts being carried out by the owners of coastal infrastructure.
In this respect, I'd like to remind readers that a month ago Rosmorport declared a tender to dredge the channel along the passenger berths of the Commercial Port of Vladivostok. Rosmorport has already allocated 8.8 million roubles to design the channel dredging works.
Another area where we're moving forward is filling the program of stay for cruise liner passengers in Vladivostok with interesting events and entertainment. For example, this year our coastal stage of the Mariinsky Opera Theater together with cruise and tourist operators presented a special program for the arrival of liners including special performances timed to the schedule of cruise ships. This development was accepted positively both by the liner passengers and its operator. And hardly anyone can argue that Vladivostok and Primorye can and are prepared, and most importantly have the ability, to offer interesting tourist products at a high professional level.
– That clears things up for large ships, but what about smaller boats? Vladivostok is a port city, and boat and yacht trips are in stable demand among tourists.
– The sea is one of our key advantages in attracting tourists to the region, so we should use this resource properly. Currently, the Primorye Territory has 38,000 registered small boats. Yet only a few months ago their owners could not obtain licenses for transportation services. At our requests, this year the Government issued an order that made acquiring licenses a reality, and now they have already been issued to the first interested persons. These changes will be a serious additional incentive in the development of the tourism industry. We expect this decision will bring the entire small private tourism business out of the shadows, in particular for sea excursions.
– What are your goals for the future?
– Tourism is a unique sector of the economy and a powerful catalyst for the development of over 53 various economic areas. The tasks set by the region's Governor and laid out in the Program for Tourism Development in the Primorye Territory are ambitious, but rather reasonable: the development of the region as the Eastern tourist hub of Russia, as well as in specific indicators, i.e. an increase in the total tourist flow (inbound and domestic) to 10 million people per year by 2020. This means about three-fold growth compared to the current indicators.
Before us we have very important, yet interesting tasks to address. Personally for me, it's extremely important that you like and take interest in the things you do. I believe that with clearly defined goals, methods for their achievement, and of course the very team of professionals currently operating in the industry, tourism as a sector of the economy has the strength to become a major driver for its development.