SYKTYVKAR, November 9. /TASS/. The Arctic zone has great prospects for cultivating tourism as the number of visitors to Russia’s northern regions continues to climb every year, Oleg Safonov, the head of the Federal Tourism Agency, told TASS on Thursday.
Tourists venture beyond the Arctic Circle to see the northern lights (aurora borealis), to ride dog sleds, to bathe in hot springs when it is minus 40 degrees Celsius outdoors and to stay in indigenous deerskin tents (chums) used by nomadic ethnic groups inhabiting northern Siberia.
"We are witnessing a surge in tourism in the Northwest," Safonov said. "Some 1,500 tourists go on cruises to Franz Josef Land. But the potential is much higher, roughly 80,000 people and we are working towards boosting the tourist flow."
Unparalleled Arctic tourist attractions
Yakutia lures tourists with its ethnic traditions and northern charm.
"In July travelers can see the polar day, while the northern lights can be spotted in late August and early September," Darya Buzikova, head of a local tourist operator in Yakutia, told TASS.
The Murmansk Region with its largest ice-free port in Russia’s Arctic offers cruises to the North Pole, as well as other holidaymaking opportunities, including snowcat tours.
"The Hunt for the Northern Lights is most popular. Tourists from Southeast Asia are ready to travel thousands of kilometers to see this unique phenomenon," said the press service of the Murmansk regional government.
Meanwhile, the Yamal-Nenets Region welcomes tourists who want to get acquainted with the life of nomadic reindeer herders.
The Russian Arctic National Park, the country’s northernmost and largest protected area of 8.8 mln hectares, attracts enthusiasts of extreme expeditions.
The Putorana Plateau, Lake Lama, the Permafrost and Mammoth Museums on the Taymyr Peninsula are on the list of popular tourist sites in the north of the Krasnoyarsk Region.
Vorkuta, the fourth largest city of the Arctic Circle, was popular five years ago due to its GULAG memorial sites and now its visitors have become more interested in hunting, fishing and its pristine wildlife.
The flow of tourists to the Russian Arctic keeps growing. The Murmansk Region witnessed an 8-percent rise in tourist flow in 2016 (more than 330,000 people), while the number of foreign visitors grew by 39% to 38,900 in the past two years.
Yakutia expects a 13-percent surge in its tourist flow to more than 202,000 people this year. As of August 2017, 88,000 tourists visited the Yamal-Nenets Region and last year the region welcomed more than 120,000 people.
In 2017, the Russian Arctic National Park opened its doors to 1,142 visitors from 36 countries.
Excursions that build survival skills
Gherman Arbugayev, the head of the Arctic Travel company, personally tested dog sled tours to the Yakutia’s Arctic coast. He travelled 1,500 kilometers to the New Siberian Islands across the ice-covered Laptev Sea along the routes taken by the 17th-18th century explorers of the Russian North.
"These journeys are meant for high-income tourists and place tough demands on survival skills in a severe climate. A few people are ready to pay for travelling to the Arctic," Arbugayev said. "First of all, we are ready to welcome individual tourists."
In the spring, the Yamal Tour company signed a cooperation agreement with Intrepid Travel, one of Australia’s largest tour operators.
"In August, a group of 28 tourists from Australia, the United States and Germany set off on an expedition to the Yamal Peninsula," said the press service of the Yamal-Nenets Region’s governor.
The tourists got acquainted with the life and traditions of local ethnic groups, visited a camp of deer herders, went on deer sleigh rides and were taught to build chums and catch deer.
After that, the Australian company decided to continue the venture and will send two tourist groups to Yamal next year, the press service said.
Extreme tours to the Yamal Peninsula are also popular in Switzerland, France, Finland, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland, Italy and Belarus.
Despite its popularity, arctic tourism is quite expensive. For instance, a two-week cruise on the Lena River from Yakutsk to Tiksi, a port on the Laptev Sea, costs 140,000 rubles (more than $2,300), and is booked mostly by foreign guests.
A cruise to the North Pole on board the 50 Let Pobedy nuclear icebreaker costs some $27,000.
Another factor hampering the development of Arctic tourism is the lack of infrastructure, hotels, roads and camping sites.
The Paanajarvi National Park in Karelia, Russia’s northwest, cannot accommodate more than 7,000 visitors per year due to infrastructure problem, according to its spokesperson Natalia Bizhon.
"Those who want to visit the park in the summer have to book their trip in February," she told TASS.
The preservation of Arctic wildlife also remains a major issue. "Do no harm" is the main principle in organizing tourist sites and routes in the Arctic’s national parks.
"Our purpose is not only to tell tourists about the surrounding landscape but also to warn them that we are nothing but guests in nature’s realm," said a spokesmen for the Taymyr Peninsula’s natural reserves.