PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, April 21. /TASS/. Kamchatka prepares new tourist programs and routes to attract visitors not only in summer, but also in autumn, the region’s head of the tourism agency Elena Tratonova told TASS.
In 2019, Kamchatka welcomed more than 240,000 tourists (a growth by 26,000 year-on-year). The number of foreign tourists almost doubled to 36,000. The most popular destinations on the Kamchatka Peninsula are the Valley of Geisers and the Nalychevo Nature Park with a chain of volcanoes. Earlier, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, the president’s envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District, Yuri Trutnev said the region should boost competitiveness of its tourism industry.
"We cannot say what the upcoming summer season will be like, and thus we are working on promoting autumn holidays on Kamchatka," the regional official said. "Jointly with businesses we have launched online expositions to present autumn tours. Autumn is not as popular as summer, but on the peninsula autumn is marvelous, and our operators have good offers for Russians. Trips to Kamchatka cannot be compared with anything else."
The local authorities explain the upsurge of visitors in 2019 by additional cruise programs. "Almost 20,000 foreigners came here by cruise vessels: 20 cruise ships called on Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in 2019. This is a record of recent five years," the official continued.
Presently, the region’s tourism industry faces tough times. In the coronavirus pandemic, hotels accommodate only business visitors, and all tourist programs are terminated. Visitors, who planned summer holidays on Kamchatka, now cancel the bookings.
"For this year, we have planned to receive at least 28 cruise tours in the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky port. Companies have prepared new cruise programs, including a unique route in the Arctic zone. But now the cruise season is at risk: we have cancelled all spring programs, and our hope now is for programs in autumn. The regional government supports the industry, the current list of incentives is not closed, and the government has been working on additional measures in response to requests from the businesses," she said.
Kamchatka’s tourism industry is about 90 tourist operators and 200 agents, more than 200 catering facilities and 150 hotels. Hotels, hostels, motels and guest houses may accommodate at a time about 7,000 guests. The best possible scenario for the business, she added, could be bigger numbers of visitors when the epidemic situation improves.
Keeping Kamchatka’s nature
On the other hand, experts fear tourists may ruin the peninsula’s fragile ecology balance. An organizer of photo tours to Kamchatka, Vladimir Ishchenko, told TASS big flows of tourists must be organized so that they do not damage the nature.
About a dozen years ago, he continued, only wealthy people could afford coming to Kamchatka. Nowadays, he said, even though a 10-day trip may cost 150,000 rubles ($2,000), the interest to the peninsula only grows. "Kamchatka is a mass destination, trips to the edge of the world are rather specific. You can’t compare them to walking along a pavement to make a photo. But if tours are organized professionally, the number of visitors may increase without damage to the ecology; like it is done in well-known foreign and Russian national parks. The sector is ready for it, and wants it," he said.
"People living in the country’s west think visiting Kamchatka is top expensive. But every year, the number of affordable tours only grows. Leisure programs may satisfy any demand: from exclusive tours by VIP helicopters to affordable accommodation in sleeping bags or at hostels. People will get tired of being locked at home, and as soon as it is allowed, they will travel, including to Kamchatka," said Igor Semenikhin, who organizes off-road tours across the peninsula. "We only wish the virus ceased, and we shall - no doubt - manage to entertain the guests."
Less optimistic were representatives of leading tourist companies, which suffer greatly in the pandemic. According to head of Kamchatka’s Association of Tourism Industry Irina Sedova, big players are in a more vulnerable situation, even despite the support from local authorities.
"I really would not say who will survive by autumn: we, unlike our ‘junior’ players, have to keep the staff, pay rent, keep locked all the accommodation. Even if the forecast is favorable, we cannot expect many tourists in summer - where can they come from? Last year, we welcomed about 36,000 foreigners, and it is unreasonable to hope the number of Russian visitors would be the same," she said.
The incentives should not be about "postponing": in her opinion, it will not be effective to postpone taxes and duties, as businesses should be allowed to stay free from financial obligations until the number of visitors could be compared with last year’s figures. "We will not be able to pay the income tax even later, as most probably we won’t have any income for quite a time," she said in conclusion.