Siberia – a new destination for tourists

Tourism and Russia – this was mainly restricted to some big cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg. Other regions never played a big role. This may soon change. In the beginning of April 2013, the Russian State University for Trade and Economy (RSUTE) in Omsk, who runs there a successful branch for this university anchored in 27 cities and with a long history of transferring know-how in business already in Tsarist times, organised a conference on „Sustainable Development of the Region“. The region is, for example, Omsk Oblast, with approx. 2 million population of which 1,1 live in the city of Omsk. This means that the rest of the large Oblast does not include too many bigger towns and is thinly populated.

It is due to the efficiency of the Rector of RSUTE Omsk, Prof. Sergey Metelev, and his deputy, Prof. Svetlana Bolotova, and the Head of Humanities, Prof. Svetlana Efimova, that the „2. Manikinskiy Readings“ took this spin, and the conference was a great success: Many speakers focussed on different kinds of tourism, and it was impressing what the Omsk Oblast has to offer. From a town which has archeological diggings, to a untouched nature where many fur animals or birds can be watched, to many witnesses e.g. of a German-related history (where in the years after 1730 „Forposts“, in German: Vorposten, have been built by a Prussian army officer on behalf of the Russian Tsar). Still today one can find a surprising high quota of German speaking people (besides English), and many names in the population seem to have German origins. European individual or small group tourists may be at ease in Siberia in summer (when it can become hotter than in Europe!), but also in winter, when it is cold of course, but in a continental-dry version. Of course the relatively short summer season may be more interesting. And the fact that now the „Governors“ are elected by the citizens of the regions themselves and are not anymore imposed by the Kremlin may contribute to a more citizen-oriented policy.

There are many guest houses needed, or small hotels and this also in more remote areas – but this can be managed, and there is already an infrastructure. Also with the help of foreign direct investment, maybe together in joint ventures with locals (for e.g. a hotel, or a guest house). The other endeavors can be managed by the local business alone, i. e. car or bicycle rentals (the European affection to cycling in flat areas must still be made conscient), guided tours, photo safaris, historical tours etc. There are many museums there in the province, and I believe it will be not a too big problem to cope with e.g. the English language for many objects, maps, pictures etc., but also with guided tours. So this will be also an important task to the Siberians. Now it lacks only the offers, via European tour organisers, or via Siberian ones directly. This is now the vacuum to fill – and one can start modestly.

How a region can be developed is visible in many websites, e.g. of the OECD, of tourism regions, of the EU. In Russia, the development of regions by tourism is only at a certain start. Tourism is a unique job machine. The people are hospitable, with a sound intellectual curiosity, and the investment should be welcome, as oil and gas are not everything, and Russia needs a diversification.

One can bet that in 5 – 10 -15 years, tourism will be a stable and visible element in the region’s statistical figures. Mr. Metelev, who masters the art of networking in an excellent way, is an economist!

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka

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