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“Kamchatka needs a tourist flow distributed by the season”
The head of the Kamchatka Agency for Tourism and External Relations Elena Stratonova shares her thoughts on infrastructure, mass tourist and support of tourist business
- Kamchatka was relatively recently a non-tourist region, a military territory. What is the imprint it has imposed on the industry?
- Indeed, historically it happened that Kamchatka has long been a closed territory. Only in the 1990-ies the region began to open up to the world. The flow of tourists in those years was very small, although even cruise ships came here. First of all, Kamchatka was mastered as a fishing Mecca, hence the architectural features: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is older than Vladivostok, but there are practically no beautiful buildings in it, since it was built as a shift camp. This is one of the problems that the regional government is now trying to solve. The features of climate, topography, seismic also play their part. Here, large wind loads are still coastal territory. All this led to the fact that some areas of the city do not look very presentable.
- What to do?
- Now the city and regional authorities are focusing on the organization of recreation areas, a comfortable embankment, on the arrangement of new squares and parks. All this is done so that residents and tourists have a place to spend their free time.
- Spending time is also a question of hotels, right?
- Many hotels in the city were built in Soviet times, including the largest ones - Avacha and Petropavlovsk, Geyser. Now they are being actively reconstructed, in addition, new hotel complexes are being built in the region. But there are several constraints that affect the infrastructure as a whole. Kamchatka is most in demand during the peak tourist season - from July to September. During the spring months, the region is especially popular with heli-skiing enthusiasts. Now we are trying to expand the boundaries of the season. So far, it turns out to shift its beginning to June, and the end to October.
- Capacity of accommodation facilities is growing proportionally?
- We analyzed large investment projects in the field of tourism concerning the construction of accommodation facilities. Only in the next three years, the number of rooms will increase by one third: 775 new numbers of various categories will be put into operation. This is a very good indicator. For comparison, now in Kamchatka there are only 2200 hotel rooms. Only in the last few months, three new hotels have been launched in the city, targeting various tourists, including a very modern hotel with hand-painted rooms for travelers who are trying to save on accommodation but not lose quality. The entire new number of rooms - modern, with quality service. In the season they have worked well.
- Due to what is the expansion of the season in Kamchatka?
- Quite a lot of event activities. A week of culture and tourism takes place with a unique dance marathon, festivals of indigenous peoples. Guests are also attracted by unique types of tourism, for example, ecological tourism with access to natural parks, regional and federal reserves and preserves. Of course, the role is played by the overall growth of the tourist flow, which is now more or less evenly distributed throughout the season. Our main task is to use the winter. At this time, there are also many activities: this is a huge number of kennels for dog sledding trips, visits to the foothills of volcanoes, and a ski tour, and downhill skiing, snowmobile travel, and the Kamchatka traditional dog sledding race “Beringia”. Moreover, only in Kamchatka there is a unique opportunity to go skiing from an active volcano, and then dive into a hot spring.
- Is the flow of tourists growing?
- Last year Kamchatka was visited by about 200 thousand people, including Russian tourists. Foreign tourists were about 15 thousands of people. 6,5 thousands of them arrived in Kamchatka on cruise ships. This year vessels of greater capacity enter our port. Last year, we had 12 ship calls, in this, despite the fact that the number of airliners remained the same, the number of tourists on their boards increased to 13,5 thousands. Most cruise ships are now servicing through the new Marine Station in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The berthing facilities were reconstructed, and now the station accepts ships up to 250 meters in length.
- Tell us about the reconstruction of the other "gates" of Kamchatka, the airport.
- The construction will be quite large-scale, there will be a reconstruction of the existing air terminal complex. This will create more comfortable conditions for servicing flights. Passenger traffic at the airport last year amounted to 650 thousand people. This year it will increase. The expansion of the existing terminal will enable the next season to expand the international sector, to create a comfortable zone for receiving and sending passengers of Russian and foreign flights. They will expand the area of arrival and departure, equip a business hall. These works should be completed by the beginning of the next tourist season. We have already begun negotiations with companies that organize charter programs in order to increase the volume of international traffic. Now we have a flight to Anchorage and Japan, these flights operate on entry. But the directions to Vietnam, Thailand work mainly on departure. It is important for us to stimulate air transportation to Kamchatka. Of course, you need to look for mechanisms that will allow carriers to stimulate. It is important for us to provide a growing tourist flow, to systematically distribute the load according to the season, so that investors have an incentive to build new hotels, and this requires that they be loaded throughout the season.
- Well, a massive tourist went to Kamchatka. The first thing that interests him is infrastructure. How are things going with this?
- As for the infrastructure, now it is starting to grow. Partly, this is facilitated by the special tax regime introduced for the Far East - the regimes of TOP and the free port of Vladivostok. Last year alone, the volume of investment in the tourism sector increased by one and a half times and amounted to almost 2,5 billion rubles. For many years, business has invested not so much money in the development of tourism infrastructure, but now this volume is growing. The modes of TOP and SPV also gave their effect. Now in the field of tourism, 42 investors implement their projects with an investment of 6,5 billion rubles. In the coming years they will allow creating a comfortable tourist infrastructure, which is lacking both in the city and in other areas of Kamchatka.
- Cruise ships have been mentioned more than once. Now it is foreigners coming specifically to Kamchatka or in general to the whole Far East?
- We are negotiating with our Far Eastern colleagues to promote our cruise to the Far East. Why are we interested in such a coalition? As a rule, tourists come to our port for one day, purchase excursions from local tour operators. Some ships come to us for a multi-day program. For example, recently a group of tourists from Japan spent four days with us. We are interested in more such tourists. But tourists themselves tend to visit several cities. Possible route: Japan - Korea - Vladivostok - Sakhalin - Kuriles - Kamchatka. There is a demand for this direction, and I hope that thanks to joint work, our Far Eastern ports will receive more cruise ships in the near future.
- Does Kamchatka cooperate a lot with other regions of the Far East in terms of tourism development?
- I always envy my colleagues from Vladivostok: like a Far Eastern hub, they have a large flow of tourists. Now, with our Far Eastern partners and colleagues, we are looking for a way to promote the “Eastern Ring of Russia” route. While he is underdeveloped. Many tourists from Asian countries fly through Vladivostok - it would be interesting for people to go to Kamchatka. In our opinion, now we need to strengthen the information work between the subjects so that tour operators operating in Primorye find partners in Kamchatka, Sakhalin and so on, so that the routes are built so that the tourist has an idea of how he can get to the neighboring subject there to do.
- And other regions have no professional jealousy?
- I expected it to be. But in fact I see interest from the business, including working with our neighbors. Many are launching projects for the development of domestic tourism, focused on the Far Eastern market. Such projects are on Sakhalin, in Primorye. Interest tour operators is that they provide work on departure.
- How does the market of travel companies in Kamchatka feel in general? What is the dynamics? Is the range of services expanding?
- The Kamchatka market of tourism services is very specific: there are few large tour operators, there are practically no consolidators in this area. We have about 70 tour operators who work in Kamchatka, and about a hundred more agents - quite a lot for such a territory. This is explained by the fact that companies are small. But they are quietly growing, overgrown with new connections, partners, form the whole tourist product. The specificity of the market in Kamchatka is now such that our regional tour operators sell tours only in Kamchatka, form tour packages for residents of Russia without transportation to the peninsula. As a rule, the tourist buys tickets on their own. This is due to some restrictions on the market for small companies.
- The presence of many small players presents some additional difficulties for consumers of services?
- Some difficulties for consumers of services sometimes cause cost. Now there is an interesting story with flat fares of Aeroflot, when for 25 thousand rubles you can get to Kamchatka at any time of the year. This, of course, reduces the cost of the tour, but, as a rule, these tickets need to be bought in advance. Now a large tour operator TUI is slowly coming to our market. He sells tour packages, which regional operators helped him to form. For us, this is an opportunity to increase the tourist flow, and therefore, provide Kamchatka business with work.
- Do you have enough industry personnel?
- The main thing for us is a general improvement in the quality of tourist services in Kamchatka. In our universities, there are few proposals for vocational education for workers in the industry, while the Ministry of Culture of Russia has developed a draft law that provides for the mandatory certification of instructors-guides, tour guides and guide-translators. In our opinion, this will greatly change the situation in the industry throughout the country. We have begun preparations for this and, as a pilot project in October, we are launching a specialized education system for tour guides in one of the universities in Kamchatka. Next year we will develop a program for translators and instructors-guides. This is a system of professional retraining, which involves theoretical and practical courses and an exam, following which a person receives a state diploma. The best guides of Kamchatka were involved in the development of the program. The program turned out to be very interesting and rich. It includes the basics of tourist activities, a large block related to the history of Kamchatka, protected areas, much attention is paid to the traditions and culture of the indigenous peoples of the region. Our task is to make the guides' work of high quality and interesting. The developed program will significantly improve the situation. We have provided resources in the budget, funds have been allocated for training on behalf of the governor under the state program. The cost of a professional retraining course, designed for 2,5 months, will be only 5 thousand rubles.
- WorldSkills goes in about the same direction. Do you interact?
- These are parallel stories. WorldSkills is an interesting direction, but another. Hospitality issues concern all people living in the province. Therefore, starting next year, we want to launch a social project that will stimulate interest in tourism, including among schoolchildren. Hospitality is not instilled in people with a kondachka, this is a mentality that has been formed over the years.
- Are there any initiatives related to the involvement in the industry of people who know the history of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky well and are ready to talk about it on a volunteer basis?
- The system of professional retraining will allow to get a professional education not only to people who are already working in tourism, but also to attract people who are interested in such work. Subsequently, they will be able to obtain a patent for guided tours. Also, a program for the development of social tourism has been operating in Kamchatka for several years. We support tour operators who take excursions around Kamchatka, including unique natural places, people who have distinguished themselves in Kamchatka - children (winners of competitions, school competitions) and adults (veterans, retirees). There is a volunteer movement focused on work in tourism. We have a team of volunteers who actively cooperate with us. Plus, in Kamchatka, the All-Russian “Green Route” competition has recently passed with dignity. Both public and volunteer associations as well as commercial companies connected with pleasure, which laid routes, cleaned the paths, set up ecological paths both within the boundaries of natural parks, and on routes that were interesting for their business.
- Kamchatka remains a territory of extreme tourism?
- Yes, Kamchatka is a territory of ecological and extreme tourism. We have excursions around the city, sanatorium rest, but mainly routes in Kamchatka are associated with trips and hikes. This type of recreation requires a lot of responsibility both from the tourist himself and from the tour operator. When a person chooses such a route, he must understand where he is going: what is the height of the mountains, what is the relief, what should be the level of training, and so on. Today, there are frequent cases in the country when companies operating on the market recruit people for extreme tours, but are not responsible to them, do not warn of possible danger. An example is the story of the Krasnoyarsk tourist group, when a company that was excluded from the register of tour operators and had no right to provide services to tourists, recruited people from all over the country via the Internet and took them on an extreme tour of Kamchatka. Then in one of the passages a young girl froze to death on the way to the camp. This happened a few hundred meters from the rescue base camp. They asked for help late, left the man alone on the route. In our opinion, it is necessary to change the approach to security. And first of all, I'm not talking about legally operating companies that comply with the requirements, but about those who ignore the laws, in fact, carry out illegal business activities and endanger people's lives.
- Something can be done here?
- For tour operators there are quite strict requirements, they bear serious responsibility. But for individuals who are engaged in such activities, there is no responsibility. Now there is a problem with low qualification of personnel. At the same time, the demand on the travel services market is high, so the employer will inevitably reduce the requirements for the employee. This affects the tourist image of the region. The adoption of the draft law of the Ministry of Culture on mandatory certification of specialists working in the industry will increase the requirements for qualifications, ensure that specialists meet the requirements for guides, guides, translators. It will also introduce systemic responsibility for those involved in such activities. This will make a big difference.
- Any changes to the regulatory framework can be initiated from the bottom?
- It is necessary to make changes to the list of laws on specific types of compulsory insurance. While tour operators are obliged to insure only their liability. In our opinion, on extreme tourist routes, it is necessary to provide life insurance and health insurance for tourists. In many cases, insurance must provide for the reimbursement of expenses for search, rescue and, most importantly, the evacuation of victims. In Kamchatka, if you got into trouble far from the city, you need to call a helicopter. Who should pay for this - the state or the tour operator - is always a question. Now in the region we are creating a working group on security in tourism. It will include representatives of the legislative and executive authorities, law enforcement agencies. Together we want to develop proposals for amending federal legislation that will make it possible to change the security situation in tourism.
- What regional support measures are there for tour operators?
- Any entrepreneur, subject to the conditions prescribed in the legislation on ToR and PWV, may declare his project and receive appropriate support. In addition, we help the tourism business with the promotion of services. One of the support measures that is in place in the region is to help participate in major international exhibitions. We have the Association of Travel Industry of Kamchatka, with which we are in close partnership. Together, we draw up an exhibition plan for each year - we look at what is interesting for our tour operators, what new markets it is preferable to cover, and pay for exhibition space for business.
- Do local authorities somehow stimulate the development of tourism?
- The subsidy program for municipalities has been operating for several years. They can apply for a specific project and receive money from the budget of the region for the creation of tourist infrastructure. A few years ago, a modern hotel was built on the Commander. This year we are starting the reconstruction of the hotel in Palana, the administrative center of the Koryak district. In remote areas it is difficult to build even small hotel complexes. Now in Ust-Kamchatsky district a similar project is being considered by business. As for the development of infrastructure, we are trying to create new routes, new objects for travelers, new points of attraction for tourists. The program is not very big, but there is support from the governor. I hope that next year we will strengthen this story; The main thing is to have an interest among municipalities.
- What preferences can the tourist business in Kamchatka still count on?
- An important task is to provide subsidies for businesses that build ecological tourist infrastructure - not only builds hotel complexes, but also equips trails and campgrounds. Given the fact that the territory of Kamchatka is huge, there is a problem with the delivery of materials. We consider it necessary to support the business. This year we are trying to implement a project to create a sanitary zone and a recreation area in the foothills of the Vilyuchinsky volcano. Next year we want to develop a program to provide subsidies for the creation of infrastructure for ecological paths and routes for the Kamchatka business. In this issue, measures of state support are needed, including at the federal level. This is what the president said in his last decrees. It is important that business come to such directions.