Divide and conquer: cluster system to lure more foreign tourists to Russia

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has signed an eight-year federal program allocating around $10 billion for the development of domestic tourism.

The tourism infrastructure will be divided into clusters. Each region of Russia will unite – and control though one headquarters – a range of organizations dealing with development, creation, promoting and sales of tourism products.

The clusters will include the Silver Ring (Northwest Russia), the Golden Ring (Central Region), the Volga district (the cities on the Volga), the North Caucasus and southern Russia (Krasnodar and Stavropol regions), the Rostov region and the Kabardino-Balkaria region. Siberia is likely to become a year-round resort.

In total, the program will cost Russia around $10 billion – $3 billion will come from the federal budget and around $1 billion from regional authorities, while private investors will fund the remaining part.

Almost 95 percent of the program focuses on major construction projects, but what exactly will be constructed remains unclear.

The main target of the program is foreign tourists, the number of whom is expected to grow 5.6-fold. Still, the government is not planning to spend much on advertising: only $30 million is allocated in total for the effort in Russia and abroad.

The initiative is brainchild of Putin, who repeatedly stressed that Russia has high tourist potential which is not yet being fully realized.

Tourism accounts for around 6.5 percent of the country’s GDP, while the average figure internationally is 9.4 percent. In international tourism competition ratings, Russia ranks 59 out of 139.

“We exploit only 30 percent of our country’s potential,” said Putin. “Yet almost every Russian region has the resources for developing tourism. Russia is considered the fourth-richest country in the world in terms of natural resources. I think they underestimate us.”

“From the far north to the south, and from east to west, there is a huge variety of landscapes that you won’t find anywhere else,” Putin added. “Our Golden Ring, Silver Ring, Volga River, Altai and Baikal have all already become brands, they are known all over the world. And that’s only a small fraction of Russia’s cultural and historical riches.”

Tourism specialists say that without good marketing it is virtually impossible to attract more foreigners to Russia.

“If this sum includes Russia’s participation in major global exhibitions in Europe, America and Asia, it’s not actually that much and won’t get us very far,” Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Tour Operators Association, told RT. “But let’s be positive: It’s good news that we even have this amount of money. Previously it was hundreds of dollars, which was just ridiculous.”

Other tourism specialists argue that the results will depend not only on the program but rather on the development of roads, airports and communal service.

“Tourism clusters are a good idea, because coordinated efforts will help attract more tourists,” Marina Udachnina, head of the Innovations Institute, told Vedomosti. “But a good advertising scheme is a must: otherwise tourists, especially foreigners, will never learn about new hotels and [Russia’s] natural variety.”

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