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Why Russia’s Far East lures foreign tourists

The Primorye Region welcomed more than 500,000 foreign guests in 2017

VLADIVOSTOK, November 30. /TASS/. Russia’s Far East has become a popular destination for foreign tourists, especially those from the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite infrastructure problems, the lack of accommodation and dilapidated roads, this region has many things to offer both to low-income and deep-pocketed tourists.

A number of experts and local officials told TASS what attracts foreigners to Russia’s Far East.

The Primorye Region, which welcomed more than 500,000 foreign guests in 2017, remains the most popular destination.

"The growth of tourist flow can be attributed to the region’s unique natural and cultural resources and the attention that the Russian government is paying to the development of the Far East," said Irina Barashok of the Far Eastern Federal University.

"The law on the Free Port of Vladivostok opens vast possibilities for attracting foreign tourists due to the simplified visa issuance system," she added.

Major events held in the Far East also contribute to cultivating tourism, Barashok stressed. Among them are the Eastern Economic Forum and Pacific Tourism Forum in Vladivostok, the Amur Waves international music festival, a regatta on the Amur River and the Ice Fantasy festival of ice sculptures in the Khabarovsk Region, an international film festival and the Oil and Gas business conference on the Sakhalin Island.

However, the pristine nature of Russia’s Far East lures tourists more than these events.

Guests from Japan and South Korea prefer travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Sakhalin railroad built by the Japanese. They also visit ethnic villages and go on fishing tours.

Chinese tourists favor going along the so-called "Red routes" linked to Russia’s Soviet past.

Sakhalin Island offers trips to its highest peaks, Mounts Chekov, Zhdanko and Lopatin, as well as sea and river fishing cruises.

Dmitry Pavlov, the head of the Katyusha tourism agency from Primorye, said Chinese tourists with fat wallets come to the region to spend money in the local gambling zone.

"The prosperity of the Chinese people keeps growing and they are ready to spend that money abroad," he said. "Any rich Chinese person wants to come here, because China does not have such facilities. They (casinos) draw the Chinese as magnets."

He said Chinese tourists also flock to visit the Vladivostok oceanarium. It is much better than similar marine parks in China.

"We take many Chinese guests to shooting ranges," Pavlov added. "In China, only the military and police have the right to bear arms."

He said the Chinese take great pleasures in shooting Kalashnikov machine guns and taking pictures with the weapons.

According to Barashok, the Far Eastern hotel industry still lags behind the European resorts.

"I hope the procedure of compulsory hotel classification that will be launched on January 1, 2018, will have a positive impact on the quality of accommodation services," she said.

The regional authorities also acknowledge the accommodation problem.

Ivan Shevchenko, a senior tourism adviser for the Sakhalin region, told TASS that the island is struggling to overcome this issue.

"We are repairing and building roads and reconstructing popular tourist sites," he said. "We have also started building new hotels."

Khabarovsk’s regional Culture Ministry said it was not easy to solve local transport problems.

"The road network covers the region’s southern and central parts, while the problem of availability of the region’s north is quite critical. Given the region’s vast territory, the development of cheap air links can become the key to increasing its tourism potential," a ministry official said.

Things are much worse in Yakutia, one of Siberia’s largest regions with a total area of over 3 mln square kilometers or 18% of Russia’s territory.

In most cases, tourists coming to Yakutia can travel only by air, which makes trips very expensive. Many tourist sites, for instance central Yakutia’s Sinyaya Natural Park is not accessible by road.

"No road can be built there since the regional Transport Ministry allocates money only to construct roads leading to residential areas," the local tourism department said.