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Louis Crishok: convinced that the Russian Far East is of interest to American tourists

US Consul General in Vladivostok shared with EastRussia his impressions of the Russian Far East

The business forum "Far East - Winter of Discoveries", which was held on February 24-25 within the framework of the Beringia-2021 Winter Festival, has ended in Kamchatka. The event was held in a hybrid format; one of the forum participants was the US Consul General in Vladivostok, Louis Crishok. At the end of the forum, Mr. Krishok kindly agreed to answer questions from the EastRussia editors. 

Louis Crishok: convinced that the Russian Far East is of interest to American tourists
Photo: In the photo: US Consul General in Vladivostok Luis Crishok in Chukotka at a conference dedicated to the polar bear

Mr. Consul General, in a difficult epidemiological situation in the world, your participation in the forum dedicated to tourism in the Russian Far East suggests that there is interest in cooperation in this area. Perhaps you have a scenario for how this might happen. Please share your ideas.

- I am very grateful to the invitation to take part in this forum, both in the form of interviews and in the mode of videoconference. 

Tourism is an industry in which mainly private companies work for private guests. Rather than planning how tourism can or should develop, I believe that government officials like me are better off supporting existing directions. Existing travel offers and clients serve as “proof of concept” - they show that the citizens of the United States and Russia have a mutual interest in visiting another country.

But while I believe that planning is best left to the firms and the tourists themselves, I am happy to share some of my thoughts, which I hope will be interesting or useful to the representatives of the tourism sector.

One of the key lessons of this pandemic has been the power of information and communication technologies (ICT). People all over the world, from children to seniors, have learned how video teleconferencing can fill the void during travel restrictions. 

As someone who loves travel and tourism, I don't think video conferencing will ever replace them, but they can greatly improve them. For example, I can imagine a world in which American and Russian travel firms use videoconferencing technology to attract potential customers and better tailor offers to their customers' needs and desires.

I think such attempts will be of particular relevance for firms operating in niche tourism markets such as nature tourism and adventure tourism - two parts of the tourism market that are of particular importance to the Russian Far East and Kamchatka in particular.

In your message published on the website of the US Embassy in the Russian Federation, you told about your plans to travel to the Far East. Please tell me how your acquaintance went? What are your impressions of the Russian Far East? 

- I came to the Russian Far East in 2019 and traveled quite a lot before the COVID-19 pandemic.

I was fortunate enough to be in Chukotka for a conference on efforts to conserve the polar bear population, a population that migrates between Chukotka and Alaska. Polar bears are of particular importance to the culture of indigenous peoples in both Chukotka and Alaska, and their conservation is an active area of ​​bilateral cooperation between the United States and Russia based on an international agreement.

I was also lucky enough to visit Sakhalin, where I was impressed by the history of this region and its magnificent ski slopes. 

At the end of 2019, I made very short trips to Khabarovsk and Birobidzhan to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah together with the Jewish communities of these cities. I was very impressed with the history of both cities.

Finally, shortly after my arrival in Russia, the Irkutsk region was officially included in the consular district of the US Consulate General in Vladivostok. During my first visit to the city in early 2020, the dream of my whole life came true - to visit Baikal.

In each of these places, as well as in Vladivostok, where I live, I met the hospitality for which the whole of Russia is famous, but with a special Far Eastern or East Siberian flavor. And wonderful cuisine and truly breathtaking views were just the norm. I look forward to the day when I can get to know the Russian Far East even more deeply.  

Louis Crishok during his visit to Baikal

To what extent do you think the Russian Far East is of interest to US citizens and business representatives in terms of tourism, what are the most attractive places?

- I am convinced that Russia in general, and the Russian Far East in particular, is of interest to American tourists and will remain so. In my opinion, the Trans-Siberian Railway and Lake Baikal are two facets of Russian reality that are best known outside of Russia. Both that, and another attracts tourists to the eastern regions of Russia.

Travel firms can see that by working with their counterparts in Irkutsk, Baikal and Transsib, they can also gain access to clients who plan to visit Russia and may be interested in visiting other natural attractions of the Russian Far East, such as National Parks and Volcanoes Kamchatka.

- One of the obvious objects of attraction in the Russian Far East is Cape Dezhnev, Chukotka. We know that in the world, among advanced travelers and extreme lovers, there is a demand for travel from Chukotka to Alaska, through the Bering Strait. Do you think this tourist route can fully earn money? How interested would the American side be in this? 

- I agree that among adventure tourism fans there will be an interest in visiting extreme places - the highest point, the most northern point, the farthest point.

Just as travelers are drawn to Alaska, they will be drawn to Chukotka and the Bering Strait, which connects them.

But although tourists in this market niche are attracted by extreme places, we must take into account that the waters of the Bering Strait pose a particular danger to both tourists and locals, and any discussion of tourism development must take safety into account.

One way to demonstrate the viability of expanding transit through the Bering Strait would be efforts to encourage the indigenous peoples of Chukotka and Alaska to take advantage of the limited visa-free travel provisions that currently exist between parts of Chukotka and Alaska.

- In addition to the obvious advantages of tourism in the Russian Far East, there is a lack of infrastructure - a lot was said about this at the forum. We are talking about comfortable tourist routes, accommodation facilities, and transport accessibility. Alaska has a similar problem, which can also be categorized as natural pearls. Perhaps there is some know-how specific to tourism in remote areas? In your opinion, what experiences could be learned from the Alaska tourism business?

- Considering the need for tourism infrastructure, I think it is useful to keep in mind that in every industry there are two types of infrastructure: tangible infrastructure and intangible infrastructure. In tourism, the elements of physical infrastructure are well known: roads, hotels, airports and attractions. Intangible infrastructure generally refers to laws, regulations and approaches used by governments and firms that can either stimulate or limit the viability and profitability of an industry.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Alaska as a tourist, and perhaps the most important know-how that the Alaska example can offer to other tourism industries in the Far North is an element of intangible infrastructure, namely, Alaska's approach to its indigenous people. Alaska travel firms and government officials recognize that the opportunity to experience Alaska Native culture is particularly attractive to many visitors, and therefore it is imperative to engage with Native peoples and their representatives when developing travel offers to ensure that local communities, traditions, and culture are treated yours. In addition, since indigenous peoples have centuries of experience living in these harsh climates, constructive dialogue with indigenous peoples can help develop sustainable tourism offerings that respect the environment and natural beauty of these regions.

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