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Corona crisis exposed the problems of the tourism industry in the Far East

Lack of infrastructure, expensive air tickets did not allow the Far Eastern Federal District to successfully reorganize to domestic tourism

The tourist summer season has ended in the Far East. This year, it became a real test for the industry - the closure of borders due to the coronavirus blocked foreign tourist flow, and restrictive measures in the regions delayed the opening of the season and made it impossible to plan holidays. Rebuilding the business to the domestic market turned out to be problematic due to the lack of tourist infrastructure and the remoteness of the Far Eastern Federal District from central Russia.

Corona crisis exposed the problems of the tourism industry in the Far East
Photo: pixabay.com

"CATASTROPHIC SITUATION"

Tour operators and structures tailored to unique ecological routes have survived the season quite well. At the same time, the Far East, who prefer a more comfortable vacation by the warm sea, this year were left without a vacation. Valentina Aseeva, a representative of the Far Eastern Regional Tourism Association, called the situation catastrophic for the industry.

“The industry is in a pre-bankruptcy state. It has no future until those who believe that they have the right to influence the market are introducing recommendations - to close restaurants at 23:00, prohibit someone from working, transfer 30% of employees to remote work. Nobody knows how to behave, there is no certainty, ”the expert notes.

According to her, due to insufficient clarification by local authorities of the restrictive measures introduced due to the coronavirus in the Far East, many tourists hesitate to travel. Aseeva notes that it is still premature to name the number of closed travel agencies, hotels and restaurants, but emphasizes that their percentage will be significantly higher than in 2019. Also, according to her, entrepreneurs in the regions are unable to get deferrals for utility bills and soft loans.

The crisis, according to the expert, was superimposed on the general systemic problem of the tourism industry in the Far East, which consists of a number of factors: the region's remoteness from the center of Russia, the harsh climate, expensive air tickets, the lack of infrastructure, and, as a result, the inaccessibility and high cost of most tourist destinations.

“For our region, this situation was catastrophic and is still ongoing. If we compare us with the western regions, then they are in a more advantageous position, "said Valentina Aseeva.


CHANGE OF PRIORITIES

During the tourist season, Primorsky Krai is popular among residents of the nearby regions of the Far East because of the beautiful sea beaches and unique nature. In recent years, foreign tourist flow in Vladivostok has also increased threefold, mainly from Asian countries. Guests from Korea, Japan and China go for delicious and inexpensive seafood, attend concerts and performances of the Primorsky stage of the Mariinsky Theater and other events. Against this background, many cafes, restaurants, hotels and travel agencies have opened in the city. This year, due to closed borders and restrictions, the entire infrastructure had to be rebuilt to the domestic market.

“Indeed, our business did a good job during the summer months. The recreation centers had a good load, especially the top ones, with good infrastructure. If typhoons had passed in Primorye next year, and we were able to pass a year without cataclysms, this could significantly improve the situation. This is vital, first of all, for recreation centers. But if we are talking about hotels located in the city center, until now, and even more so now, the occupancy rate varied around 15-20%. This is colossal little ", - said the deputy chairman of the Primorsky Krai government Konstantin Shestakov.

He noted that travel agencies, which were previously sharpened for inbound tourist flows, this year began to work for their tourist.

“You open the ads and see that many eminent tour operators have reoriented themselves to domestic offers. It is clear that if this situation did not exist, they would also gladly work on the inbound tourist flow. But, nevertheless, now there is a good opportunity to shake up the infrastructure of municipalities, to shake up the tourism products, which are tied to the remote territories of Primorsky Krai, "- said the deputy chairman.

According to him, this year there were fewer tourists from other regions of Russia in the region than usual, but the geography has expanded. Shestakov suggested that this is due to advertising of the region's attractions in Siberia and central Russia. Now Primorye plans to focus on weekend tours for young people and families in Siberia.

“We have found ourselves a very good partner - the S7 airline, with which we began to cooperate this year to promote the region. We plan to continue next. This year we focused on Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk, and saw a very good return from this advertising campaign. We would like to stay in the same direction, ”Shestakov added.

The deputy chairman noted that the emphasis is supposed to be made on event, gastronomic and ecological tourism. As an example, he cited the unique tourist proposals of the Land of the Leopard National Park - the organization of tours to get photos of rare animals in the taiga.

Director of the Land of the Leopard Federal State Budgetary Institution Viktor Bardyuk notes that this year the National Park has become a worthy alternative to foreign tourism. According to him, the number of visitors has already exceeded the indicators of the same period last year by 1,5 times (about 2,4 thousand guests in 2019 and more than 3,2 thousand in 2020).

The head of the national park connects the growth of tourist attendance with the fact that this year it was possible to expand the infrastructure and increase the list of services provided. Thus, in the national park, automobile and walking excursions to the Gamovsky cluster site, which became part of the Land of the Leopard last year, have started. Now guests can visit protected bays and observe sika deer. Another popular destination was the new multi-day individual tour "In the Footsteps of Wild Cats" to the habitats of leopards and tigers. The guests of the national park, who attend multi-day tours, live in the hotel complex of the central estate.

“Regularly guests of the national park are enthusiasts who come from afar, in particular from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don. Many people note: before the start of the pandemic, they were planning a vacation in Italy, Iceland and other countries, but a trip to the Far East does not disappoint and gives an unforgettable experience, - said Viktor Bardyuk.

The fact that the tourist geography has expanded is also confirmed by the travel agencies of the region. According to the director of the Fregat Aero travel agency, Sergei Alekseev, tourists from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi came to Primorye, but the residents of Primorye went in the opposite direction. They also chose Crimea, Baikal and Altai. However, in the first nine months of this year, the company's turnover has decreased almost five times compared to the same period last year. Revenues were down 80%. Even ecological tours do not save because of the remoteness of the region and the high cost of proposals.

“We have a lot of tours in Primorye, but their margin is small, the competition is great. We were forced to drop prices. Travel companies had to pay for the reservation of recreation centers in advance, no one had such opportunities, because we had to make refunds to clients who could not use the tours. Plus the high prices of air tickets, and the discount options were with several landings, which no one wanted to use, ”said Olga Alekseeva, Tourism Development Director.

The company counted on promoting tours around the edge through a system of vouchers, when a guest buys a package from a travel company receives a discount from airlines, but the project has not yet been supported by Rosturizm.

The entrepreneurs also hoped for reimbursement of expenses for admitting foreigners under the Rostourism program, which helped last year. But in 2020, October and November were removed from the program, the flow of foreigners in Primorye practically dried up.

At the same time, the company notes that at the beginning of the pandemic, state support measures helped to withstand: the payment of minimum wages, an interest-free loan and regional support - the ability of employees to perform public works within two months.

According to the forecasts of the company's management, all financial resources will run out by November. The firm hopes for deferred demand from clients from Russia and abroad, and believes that it will be able to return to pre-crisis levels by the end of next year.


ORIENTATION ON LOCAL TOURISM

The Kamchatka Territory has always been attractive for nature lovers. The main attractions are volcanoes, hot springs. Tourists go hiking there or go to remote corners of the region on helicopter tours.

The region is also popular with foreigners. According to the press service of the regional government, in 2019 more than 36 thousand foreigners from the USA, China, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Great Britain, Canada, France, Switzerland visited Kamchatka. More than 19 thousand of them are participants of cruise programs. However, this year, due to the situation with COVID, cruise programs were canceled, flights were limited, as a result, a little more than one thousand foreigners visited the region. In total, according to the press service, 46 thousand tourists visited Kamchatka during the season, in 2019 there were more than 240 thousand.

According to Anna Gavrilova, head of the educational tourism department of the Kronotsky State Reserve, the tourist area has worked quite actively. It began to grow dynamically after the restrictions on entry to the region were lifted in July.

“We assumed there would be fewer tourists. It cannot be said that we are disappointed with the season. Compared to last year, this is a minus, but not as expected. If you take tours to the Valley of Geysers, then more than six thousand tourists have visited it. Compared to last year, this is only 800 people less. If we take the South Kamchatka nature reserve, then the minus is more significant: in 2019 there were 6,3 thousand tourists, this year - 3,3 thousand, "said Anna Gavrilova.

She noted that day trips were popular this year. There were many tourists from Moscow, 30% of the total number of tourists who visited the reserve were residents of the Kamchatka Territory. Compared to last year, they have increased by a third.

“Good dynamics this year for residents of the Kamchatka Territory. More than ever this year. A preferential program affected - subsidized travel for residents of the Kamchatka Territory could be used on the territory of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve. When the borders are closed, not everyone wants to go to Sochi and the Krasnodar Territory. There are a lot of satisfied people, many people used to refuse such trips because of the price. Not every family will spend 30 thousand per person, ”explained the head of the reserve's tour department.

According to Ekaterina Anisimova, head of the Kamchatka travel company Vityaz Travel, who specializes in helicopter excursions to the Valley of Geysers and the Kuril Lake, most of the guests were traditionally from central Russia. A feature of the season was the increase in tourist traffic from the regions of the Far East, in the past there were practically none. The company's revenues amounted to about 40-45% percent of last year's indicators.

“It will be possible to return to the“ post-like ”indicators, I think, not earlier than 2022. Maybe it sounds pessimistic, but there is an assumption that 2021 will be exactly the same as this one, ”said the head of the travel company.


WITHOUT RIGHT TO ENTRY

The Sakhalin Region is also popular among tourists for its distinctive unique nature. Authorities have banned entry to independent tourists this year due to restrictions. Guests from other regions of Russia could come only to visit relatives or on a business trip. From the beginning of July, they were allowed to enter as part of organized groups. During this time, Sakhalin was visited by 1,5 thousand tourists from Moscow, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Kamchatka, Novosibirsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Yakutsk, Krasnodar Territory and other cities. Most often they come from Moscow and the regions of the Far Eastern Federal District.

For comparison, in 2019 the leading Sakhalin tour operators served about 19,5 thousand organized tourists, including islanders. In total, about 30 thousand tourists, including independent ones, visited the region last year.

“It is clear that the pandemic has affected the work and income of the business. But not a single travel company or hotel has closed. The latter have worked and continue to work, inter alia, as observators for oil and gas specialists - in front of the shift, employees are placed for a two-week observation, ”the press service noted.

Among the federal measures of state support for the tourism industry in the region, there was a deferral of tax payments, temporary exemptions from paying contributions to the reserve fund of the Turpomosch association and contributions to personal liability funds. Regional - deferred rent for companies with offices located in government buildings.

The head of the Sakhalin travel company "Adrenaline-tour" Sergey Vasilenko noted that the season turned out to be ambiguous. According to him, the industry will be able to reach the pre-crisis state only in two years.

“Our main mass of guests, the main percentage are Russian citizens from the central regions of the country. Yes, we have lost some of the clients, in general, the season, of course, turned out to be ambiguous, but more or less we worked, "said Sergei Vasilenko.


FAR EAST WITHOUT SUMMER

Valentina Aseeva, a representative of the Far Eastern Regional Tourism Association, believes that this year, due to closed borders, the Far East, who do not like difficult ecotourism routes, but prefer comfortable rest, did not have opportunities for vacation.

According to her, in the Far Eastern Federal District there is no sanatorium and resort infrastructure that would be of high quality and affordable. Sanatoriums and recreation centers in Primorye, where there is a relatively warm sea, are overcrowded, prices are too high. Also this year typhoons passed in the region, which significantly reduced the number of comfortable sunny days for recreation.

Flying west is also problematic due to expensive tickets. There are subsidized flights for privileged categories of citizens, but the system is not debugged.

“For example, Aeroflot announces the sale of subsidized tickets for privileged categories of citizens. Not that they appear on sale and then disappear. There is no stability. Also, they are issued only through the personal cash desks of Aeroflot, the rest of them are sold with a service charge, which leads to an increase in cost. There is also a limited number of these tickets on each flight. Therefore, even the privileged categories of citizens who could use these tickets and go to the West have restrictions, ”Aseeva noted.

Before the pandemic, residents of the Far East preferred to vacation in Vietnam, Thailand and China, given that there is a warm sea, tourist infrastructure and affordable prices. This year, only 12% could afford to relax.

“Even trips on weekend routes in your region cannot be called a full-fledged rest. The fact that the Far Easterners could not rest leaves an imprint on their health, on labor productivity, ”the expert noted.

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