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Freezing and hard-to-reach: Why Arctic remains a niche tourist destination

The high price comes from the region’s distanced location

TASS, April 12. The Arctic tourism remains a niche product, which a few can afford not only in terms of money, but due to a lack of infrastructures and to the severe climate, the Russian Arctic National Park’s Director Alexander Kirilov told TASS.

Anyway, Russia’s Arctic regions are attracting more and more tourists, and local operators are offering new routes. The tourism industry’s development was on agenda of the Arctic: Territory of Dialogue international forum in St. Petersburg on April 9-10.

"The Arctic tourism is a niche product, which only a few can afford," the director said. "It will never grow into a mass product as traveling to the Russian Arctic is not like a traditional leisure trip - at the stops in the Arctic there no tourist infrastructures and tourists must be well trained to take hours-long walking or boat routes."

The high price comes from the region’s distanced location, fees to charter an icebreaker or icebreaker-class vessels and expenses on passenger services, he added.

"The Arctic allows trips during only three-four months a year, and even in summer the air temperatures there are between 0 and plus 5 degrees," the park’s director said. "Coming to the Arctic in winter is no pleasure for tourists, as the average temperature is minus 43 degrees or even lower."

The Russian Arctic National Park is Russia’s northernmost and biggest natural reserve, which occupies the Franz Josef Land Archipelago and the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago’s northern part. The park was organized in June, 2009.

The park offers exclusive tours: cruises to the North Pole along the Northern Sea Route and the trans-border route Spitsbergen - Franz Josef Land. Every year, about 1,000 people visit the park - mostly from China and Germany. In 2018, the park welcomed 1,079 visitors.

Problems and potential

The Arctic tours may be cheaper (presently a tour costs between 500,000 and one million rubles ($7,700-15,000)), the director continued. A new border crossing station opened in 2015 on the Alexandra Land Island. Thus, trips from Murmansk to Spitsbergen now take one day instead of three days earlier, and tourists are allowed to stay on the archipelago to one week. The border crossing station now works only with one company, serving about three cruises a summer. The facility should be working in full, with all companies, the park’s director said.

Yakutia has been developing tourism without any state support. Despite the huge potential, the region only begins using its tourism options, the regional legislation’s speaker, Pyotr Gogolev, told TASS. "Yakutia’s tourism now develops by private businesses only. All aspects of attracting tourists and necessary infrastructures are financed by private money, while a state support could solve the problem much more effectively. Thus, in 2019, the region will develop a new program. Another task the authorities face is to prepare the Yakut tourist projects for participation in the National Program to develop tourism." The regional authorities plan the number of visitors will jump by 12 times by 2025 - to 250,000 tourists a year.

Many Arctic regions have reported bigger numbers of tourists: the Arkhangelsk Region says in 2018 they received 409,000 tourists (growth by 4.6%), the region’s Deputy Minister of Culture Svetlana Zenovskaya told TASS. Most visitors come from St. Petersburg, Moscow, Central Russia, some travel from Germany, Finland, Norway, and Italy. The biggest attractions are Arkhangelsk, the Malye Korely Museum of Wooden Architecture, the Solovki Archipelago, Kargopol, the Ken Ozero National Park, the Pinega Caves.

In 2018, the region organized a campaign to promote the route dubbed Arkhangelsk: Here Begins the Arctic.

The region has been working on a new route, which will feature participants in the Association of Russia’s Most Beautiful Villages and Towns - two Arctic villages Kimzha and Kultsa in the Mezensk District and the Verkola village in the Pinega District. Tours will be on sale from July, 2019. Further on, the route may become a part of a tour across a few regions -Moscow, Yaroslavl and Vologda.

Hunting, fishing and esotericism

In Komi, the biggest attractions are the Yugyd Va and the Pechora-Ilych National Parks. Yugyd Va welcomed 7,300 visitors from Slovenia, Poland, France, Germany, Singapore, the UK, the US, Myanmar, and Malaysia. "Yugyd Va has attracted not only fans of ecology and active tourism, but also followers of esoteric tourism," the regional ministry of culture’s representative told TASS. "The Manaraga Mountain is among the world’s eight mighty places of energy - about 60 foreign tourists visited the mountain last year."

The Pechora-Ilych National Park reports growth of visitors to 4,500 people. The park invites travelers to snowmobile or heli tours to the Manpupunyor Plateau. The Finno-Ugric Ethnic Park jointly with Slovaka’s BUBOTravel Agency organized in 2018 the first North Holiday for tourists from Europe.

The Nenets Region was visited by 2,583 tourists in 2018, and 2,211 in 2017. They come mostly from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Arkhangelsk, Komi, as well as from Norway, Sweden and the US. "Most popular are ethnography routes and hunting, fishing, rafting," the regional government said, adding they work with Komi to organize a cruise route along the Pechora.

Northern Lights for Asian tourists

The Murmansk Region has been attracting tourists, who travel mostly from Asian countries - China, Malaysia, Thailand to see the Northern Lights. In 2017, the region accommodated 330,000 visitors.

Yamal reports an average 20% growth of tourists. In 2016, the region welcomed 119,000, in 2017 - 141,000, and in 2018 - 172,000 from Germany, Greece, Israel, Australia, the US, China, etc.

A travel agency in the Krasnoyarsk Region told TASS they develop a new destination - Dikson, one of the centers in history of the Northern Sea Route’s development. That northern port will welcome Arctic cruises, the travel agency’s Director Natalia Strizhova said.

Shamans and Putorana Plateau

The Krasnoyarsk Region’s eleven tour operators and more than 200 travel agencies offer Arctic tours: helicopter tours to the Putorana Plateau, cruises to Dudinka, boat tours to shamans, fishing tours, or tours to the Putorana Plateau’s waterfalls. The Arctic area has eleven hostels, which accommodate about 20,000 tourists. Four new hotels in Norilsk and Dudinka will be ready in 2019-2020.