english


Ecotouristm Development in Russia,

Authors:Natalia Moraleva

Within the next ten years, Russia may have a chance to become one of the worlds most attractive nations for tourism focused on nature and environmental education. Yet less than a decade ago, during ecotourisms first stages of development in Russia, almost no one supported the idea. As recently as 1995 and 1996, many environmental organizations were either uninterested in ecotourism or actively opposed its development in zapovedniks. To the private sector, ecotourism seemed too complex and troublesome, and did not promise exceptional profits. Zapovednik directors, with few exceptions, could not understand why ecotourism was needed at all.

 

In these early years, Vsevolod Stepanitsky (director of the Department of Environmental Protection of the State Committee on the Environment of the Russian Federation 1990-2000) and international organizations, such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the TACIS program of the European Union, and the Replication of Lessons Learned (ROLL) project of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, offered the only real support for ecotourism development in Russia. Starting in 1996, this support led to a series of ecotourism development projects in zapovedniks in Primorsky Krai (Maritime Region), Khabarovsky Krai (Region), and Amur Oblast (Region), in the Russian Far East; in zapovedniks and national parks of the Altai-Sayan ecoregion; in zapovedniks in the North Caucasus; and in Vodlozersky National Park in northwestern Russia. (Please see accompanying article about ecotourism in Vodlozersky National Park on page 7.) The supporting organizations also led seminars, developed new tour routes, published advertising materials, conducted a mass media PR campaign, and created a website (www.ecotours.ru). These projects laid the foundation for a whole series of new initiatives in ecotourism development on protected areas and helped change attitudes toward tourism in national parks and zapovedniks.

 

Five years later, in 2001, the Association for Ecological Tourism was created as a forum for sharing experience among Russias protected territories staff, government agencies, and the private sector, and to unite these groups through a single set of principles for ecotourism development. The Association for Ecological Tourism was founded on the initiative of the Dersu Uzala Ecotourism Development Fund, as part of a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) ecotourism project in the Russian Far East, with funding from USAID. Its membership consists of zapovedniks and national parks, as well as a wide range of organizations, including the Ecological Travels Centre, Collection of Adventures interregional alliance, Green Network tourist agency, Astravel Travelers Association, and the Russian Association of Tourist Agencies. The Association for Ecological Tourism now conducts its activities under the aegis of the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

 

Ecological tourism currently makes up 5 percent of all tourist activity in Russia (Financial News, 12 January 2003). However, the majority of tourists visiting Russias protected territories still cannot truly be called ecotourists. The demand for nature-oriented tourism in Russia is largely focused on traditional recreation in natural areas and on traditional tour routes that do not necessarily depend on the existence of protected areas. All too often, there is simply no demand for the ecological tours, lectures, and excursions prepared by Russian zapovedniks. Tourists come to zapovedniks and national parks with interests far-removed from the objectives of nature conservation and protected territories, and with little understanding of the principles and ethics of ecological tourism. Thus, the single most urgent objective of ecotourism development in Russia is to increase awareness of the goals and objectives of ecotourism and to heighten public understanding of protected areas not only as recreational areas, but as special territories offering a unique experience that must be enjoyed responsibly.

Financial Support of the League of Nation's Health.