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“The Kamchatka tourism community faces a number of serious problems”

The Chairman of the Board of the Association of Tourism Industry of Kamchatka, Irina Sedova, spoke about the work of the industry in conditions of restrictions

Rostourism is working on creating affordable tours from the central regions of Russia to the Far East. One of the directions is Kamchatka. However, while she can not fully accept guests and start the tourist season. Irina Sedova, chairman of the board of the Kamchatka Travel Industry Association, told EastRussia about how the peninsula’s travel companies survive in such conditions, and what to expect next.

“The Kamchatka tourism community faces a number of serious problems”
Photo: provided by Iriny Sedova

- Irina Gevorkovna, tell us what is happening with the tourism industry of Kamchatka today?

- The professional tourist community of Kamchatka, frankly, is now facing a number of serious problems. The fact is that a full-fledged tourist season has not yet begun, although it should already be in full swing. As you know, Kamchatka is characterized by a pronounced seasonality: a surge in the arrival of tourists falls on March-April - the period of heli-skiing and skiing tours, the peak - from mid-July to mid-September. In connection with the epidemic of coronavirus, the spring-winter season this year did not take place completely, because in April restrictions were introduced, and the summer has not yet begun, although already in mid-July. And this is alarming for all civilized market participants.

- And what is the situation with foreign tourists?

- Usually, foreigners arriving on scheduled and charter flights, as well as passengers on cruise ships, make up a significant share of the entry flow. Moreover, it is no secret that foreign tourists leave more money in Kamchatka, when compared with the Russians. Cruise companies begin their program in May and early June and end in September. However, due to the closed borders, the cruises for the whole year were completely canceled at first, then all foreign groups gradually withdrawn before the end of the year. Some part has already been postponed today to 2021, some part had to be completely canceled.

- Is it possible in these circumstances Kamchatka travel agencies to count on compatriots?

- To a certain extent, yes. Russian tourists who did not fly, for obvious reasons, abroad, began to consider rest in Russia as an alternative. Unfortunately, now they are all in limbo, because there is no clear explanation of when and under what conditions it is possible to fly to us, nowhere is this written in one place. Someone has tickets in their hands, they are ready to hand them over, because travel agencies can’t confirm admission at the end of July - beginning of August. On the other hand, many in the hope that everything will work out in August, buy tickets, but they are not at an adequate price.

Large Russian tour operators, which previously specialized exclusively in the exit direction, quickly reformatted and drew attention to domestic destinations, including Kamchatka. We see a great interest in the market, but until July 13 we could not guarantee the reservation and accept tourists because of restrictions on entry, first of all, mandatory observation for a period of 14 days for everyone arriving in Kamchatka, because the average duration of the tours is seven to ten days. Since July 13, clearer and more acceptable rules for working with visiting tourists have appeared - now our guests are invited to take an express test at the airport upon arrival and, in the case of a negative result, they can freely visit organized tours. At the same time, tour operators registered in the Kamchatka Territory issue electronic passes for tourists and settle only in certain accommodation facilities. Of course, not just, but you can already work!

- How do travel agencies of Kamchatka feel in this connection?

- Travel agencies are now in a situation where it is vitally important for them to retain qualified staff for years, because in Kamchatka, staff starvation is sharply felt. It is necessary to pay employees at least a cut, but a salary. But companies have not had any income for almost half a year, in addition, they have to make refunds for prepaid tours. Of course, we strongly persuade foreigners to postpone the tours for the next year, keeping the money deposited as a deposit and guaranteeing the prices of this year, while it is not known how much prices will rise this year against the backdrop of the economic crisis. All tour operators are in standby mode, the necessary means have been prepared to comply with sanitary standards.

- Maybe it makes sense to show Kamchatka to its inhabitants?

- Yes, from July 1, we were officially allowed to conduct outdoor excursions for local residents, but, firstly, it is a limited and poor solvent market, and secondly, it is almost completely taken away by the so-called illegal immigrants who offer exactly what Kamchadal need - low prices when traveling in Kamchatka. It’s not worth repeating that the flip side of dumping prices is the provision of unsafe services with extremely low quality. You don’t have to go far for an example - these are sunken boats, inverted rotational shifts, and lost and frozen tourists.

We urge all tourists to take a more careful approach to the choice of tour operators and carriers and trust only licensed, accident insurance and well-established companies, most of which are members of the Travel Industry Association and value their reputation.

- What are your prospects for the tourist season?

- In fact, extremely foggy. Against the background of talk about a possible second wave of the epidemic, there is no confidence in stabilizing the situation. As I already mentioned, due to the pronounced seasonality of the tourist season in Kamchatka, all the travel company’s money is earned in the summer. We clearly understand that even if we can work from mid-July, it is unlikely that we will manage to survive until the next season.

- What support do authorities give you?

- In fact, many companies today remained “at zero”. For many, the only way to survive was to obtain a loan, but any loans must be given. It is gratifying that at the federal level, tourism was recognized as one of the most affected sectors of the economy and one of the first to be included in the list. This made it possible to obtain tax and insurance benefits, minimum subsidies in the amount of the minimum wage through tax. But, unfortunately, this is completely insufficient to survive elementarily.

In this situation, we were, frankly, surprised by quite tangible regional measures. Tour operators received subsidies for rent, utility bills, operating expenses, parking of small boats, microloans at the lowest interest rates with deferred payment, advance payments for social tours, cancellation of transport tax and much more. Of course, we are grateful for such attention of local authorities.

- What do you propose to do to overcome the crisis in Kamchatka tourism?

- In every possible way, try to extend the season until late autumn, start the winter as early as possible and actively promote it in Russia, to attract as much as possible not only central Russia, large cities, but also to increase intra-regional flows in the Far East. To do this, support is needed to reduce the cost of air tickets - subsidies to carriers, tour operators and tourists directly buying tickets and a vacation package to the Far East.

Strange as it may seem, the epidemic rallied the Association of Travel Industry - all participants began to work more actively and amicably, many new, young, initiative members appeared, and it pleases me personally. The association defended the spawning river Bystroy from gold mining by a wall. In close contact with the Agency for Tourism, the Ministry of Economic Development, it also happens in heated discussions, but always constructively, it is directly involved in the development of support measures, in the search for measures to open Kamchatka for tourists as soon as possible and to improve the economic situation, and, therefore, to improve the lives of our residents. We are optimistic about the future. We wish you all health, joy from contact with the unique nature of Kamchatka, which we want to preserve for posterity in its original form.

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