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Boost in tourists to Siberian lakeside as sanctions force Russians to stay at home

By Anna Liesowska & Derek Lambie
20 December 2014

Staycations have become a 'mass source of income' for businesses on the edge of Baikal, with predictions of more to come in 2015.

The jewel in Buryatia's crown is Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest anywhere in the world. Picture: Visit Buryatia

Western sanctions against Russia since the summer have boosted 'staycation' tourism, with parts of Siberia among the major benefactors. Officials in the Buryat Republic say that a downward trend in Russians leaving for foreign shores has sparked renewed interest in holidays at home. 

Lake Baikal, in particular, has become a 'mass source of income' as visitors from other parts of the country descend on its scenic shores. The tourism boost could not have come at a better time, with fears of a recession fuelled further with the Rouble in freefall.

Indeed, there are hopes the Kremlin’s growing relationship with Asia can attract new visitors from China and South Korea and bring in much needed additional income from overseas.

Sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and Europe in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis have directly reduced outbound tourism by 40 per cent since the summer. The situation is worse year-on-year with a reduction of 70 per cent in the demand for overseas trips.

But while Russians may not be sunning themselves as much on the beaches of the Mediterranean, they have helped boost their own economy by holidaying at home. More than 200,000 people visited Buryatia this summer.

Tourism in Buryatia


Tourism in Buryatia

'In terms of the sanctions, which began in the summer, all Baikal coastal areas have felt the growth of the tourist flow.' Pictures: Baikal Eco

Ludmila Maksanova, the head of the Buryat Republican Tourism Agency, said that businesses in the region, 5,500km from Moscow, are thriving from an influx of new visitors.

She said: 'In terms of the sanctions, which began in the summer, all [Baikal] coastal areas have felt the growth of the tourist flow. In coastal villages, most of the residents provide a service in terms of guest houses.'

According to the official Russian Federal Agency for Tourism, Buryatia is a 'wonderful and beautiful land of mountains, deep rivers, numerous lakes, and green valleys.'

Potential visitors are then told: 'If you want to have a rest and recover, Buryatia was made just for you!' The region is rich in flora and fauna, natural resources, and mineral and thermal waters.

But its jewel in the crown is Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest anywhere in the world.

Thought to be 25 million years old, it stretches for 400 miles through south-eastern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. It contains 20 per cent of the world’s unfrozen freshwater reserves and in places is said to be about 5,387ft deep.

It is said to be home to 1,700 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The lake even has its own species of seal – the Baikal Seal – with no-one sure how they came to be in the stretch of water, far from any sea or ocean.

Tourism in Buryatia


Tourism in Buryatia

Views of the Lake Baikal. Pictures: Visit Buryatia

Tourism officials in Buryatia believe the boom in visitor numbers will continue into 2015, with the current value of the Euro, Pound and Dollar making trips overseas too expensive.

It is at this time of year that many Russians will begin planning their summer holidays and the Baikal region is likely to be high on the list. In addition, there are signs that there could be 'significant growth' in visitor numbers from Asia next year.

The Buryat Republican Tourism Agency is continuing to promote Siberia’s 'Great Tea Road' with overseas tour operators, particularly to China whose tourists have shown a great interest. 

Ms Maksanova said: 'As part of an intergovernmental agreement it was planned to start a tourist train from China in 2015. There will be 12 trains for 400 tourists.

'Also if you think about the orientation of our tourist services to visitors from the Asia-Pacific region, we must work with countries with which there is a visa-free regime today - Mongolia and South Korea.

'In connection with the abolition of visas with Mongolia and Korea we have already seen positive growth and predict an increase of tourist activity in summer 2015.'

Tourism in Buryatia


Tourism in Buryatia

Winter fishing on the Lake Baikal and hot springs near the village Uakit. Pictures: Oleg Shubarov, Shamil Askarov

Earlier this month Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Siberia would reap the benefits of moves to align Russia to the economic powerhouses of Asia. He insisted there was 'enormous potential' in closer ties with neighbouring countries, particularly China.

Despite the positivity, tourism officials admit that the region is still not geared up to meet the requirements of wealthy foreign visitors seeking five-star treatment.

Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn, the Head of the Republic, said: 'We don’t have the infrastructure. We can’t get rich tourists here. The four-star apartments that we have are constantly busy.

'It’s necessary to build and build in the first instance on the lake shores, which we are now doing. After that the flow, of course, will increase. There are so few extreme people who want to sit in a toilet in the street at -40C.'

Comments (1)

Western sanctions are actually blessing in disguise its for the best, when one door closes another door opens.
Lazar, Moscow
25/12/2014 09:25
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