All Tourists Are Wel­come

The ex­port of tourist ser­vices in Be­larus in 2011 is es­ti­mated at $150 mil­lion

Economy of Belarus - - CONTENTS - Svet­lana PAVLOVA

The ex­port of tourist ser­vices in Be­larus

in 2011 is es­ti­mated at $150 mil­lion

Some peo­ple would at­tribute the pos­i­tive trends to us­ing a spe­cial cal­cu­la­tion method of the World Tourist Or­ga­ni­za­tion adopted by Be­larus. This method con­sid­ers ev­ery for­eigner cross­ing the Be­laru­sian bor­der as a tourist.

In­deed, long-dis­tance truck driv­ers or busi­ness del­e­ga­tions can hardly be called tourists in the tra­di­tional mean­ing of the word. How­ever, while truck driv­ers spend money at a camp­ing site or a road­side caf , busi­ness­men who con­clude suc­cess­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions usu­ally or­der ex­cur­sion tours from Be­laru­sian travel agen­cies. There­fore it would be fair to in­clude them into the

Be­larus’ tourist in­dus­try has demon­strated vig­or­ous growth across all the fields. The ex­port of tourism ser­vices rose by al­most 10%. The num­ber of tourists trav­el­ling via travel agen­cies rose by 17,000 peo­ple. In 2011, some 137,000 peo­ple bought ex­cur­sion tours to our coun­try. In 2011, the over­all num­ber of for­eign tourists com­ing to Be­larus for busi­ness, sight­see­ing or on pri­vate trips has risen by 3.6% com­pared with 2010.

tourist sta­tis­tics. Be­sides, the cal­cu­la­tion method al­lows fo­cus­ing on tourism-re­lated in­dus­tries.

Who, Where From and What For

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Sta­tis­tics Com­mit­tee, the ma­jor­ity of tourists came to Be­larus from Rus­sia (Rus­sia ac­counted for about 70% of Be­larus’ tourism ex­port). Rus­sia is fol­lowed by Ger­many, Turkey, Ukraine and Poland. To­gether these coun­tries “sup­ply” Be­larus with 98% of all tourists. How­ever, last year Be­larus wel­comed tourists from new coun­tries, in­clud- ing Tai­wan (China), Lux­em­burg and even New Zealand. Na­tion­als of 122 coun­tries vis­ited Be­larus in 2011.

As was al­ready men­tioned, sta­tis­tics for in­bound tourism is pro­vided by the State Bor­der Com­mit­tee of the Repub­lic of Be­larus. The sta­tis­tics says that 5.877 mil­lion peo­ple ar­rived in Be­larus, most of them are cit­i­zens of the CIS mem­ber states - over 3.6 mil­lion, or up by 15% on the pre­vi­ous year.

Some 60.5% of tourists came to Be­larus upon in­vi­ta­tions for pri­vate pur­poses. Sec­ond come busi­ness trav­el­ers. They are fol­lowed by those who en­tered Be­larus for tourist pur­poses. The num­ber of tran­sit en­tries rose by 10%. The num­ber of trips by the so-called ser­vice per­son­nel of ve­hi­cles soared by 40%, which was quite ex­pected af­ter the es­tab­lish­ment of the Cus­toms Union and the Sin­gle Eco­nomic Space.

How­ever, the num­ber of those who put the word “tourism” in the “pur­pose of the visit” col­umn has re­duced: pri­vate trips from the CIS and Baltic states tended to have a ma­te­ri­al­is­tic pur­pose, rather than sight­see­ing in view of the well­known rea­sons in 2011.

How­ever, there are a num­ber of rea­sons not to be up­set about the de­creas­ing num­ber of “pure” tourists (those who came to Be­larus via Be­laru­sian travel agen­cies, booked a room in a ho­tel or a health farm). Let us say, Be­larus ex­pe­ri­enced a real tourism boom this win­ter. In late De­cem­ber - early Jan­uary it was im­pos­si­ble to find a va­cant rental apart­ment or a ru­ral es­tate in Be­larus. Cars with Rus­sian num­ber plates could be seen on all ma­jor roads of Be­larus, near Mir Cas­tle, Nesvizh Cas­tle and the Es­tate of the Fa­ther Frost.

Be­laru­sian travel agen­cies can con­firm that they did not have enough trans­port or guides to pro­vide tours for all un­planned tourists who flooded Be­larus like a tsunami. Some of the win­ter tourists will be in­cluded in this year’s sta­tis­tics.

But their in­va­sion has added con­sid­er­ably to rev­enues of Be­laru­sian mu­se­ums, restau­rants and stores. For ex­am­ple, af­ter their raids to cloth­ing stores, knitwear sec­tions were left with bare shelves.

If you think that shop­ping has noth­ing to do with tourism, let me tell you one thing. What coun­try do you think was the sec­ond most pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion in the Euro­pean Union? Lithua­nia. The num­ber of for­eign vis­i­tors soared by 20% there! Some­thing tells me Be­laru­sians made an ap­pre­cia­ble con­tri­bu­tion to this sta­tis­tics, and the beau­ti­ful neat streets of Vil­nius had noth­ing to do with that.

Zones of In­flu­ence

Tourism is a very “del­i­cate” in­dus­try, which de­pends on many fac­tors, rang­ing from visa re­quire­ments to the qual­ity of roads, ho­tels and other things. It was no co­in­ci­dence that when de­vel­op­ing the first na­tional tourism pro­gram the Min­istry of Sport and Tourism shared so many re­lated tasks with the Trans­port Min­istry, the Trade Min­istry, the bor­der agency and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

By the way, the doc­u­ment de­fined a new de­vel­op­ment strat­egy for the in­dus­try, with spe­cific ac­tions for all branches and ar­eas. The doc­u­ment took into ac­count the avail­abil­ity of his­tor­i­cal, ar­chi­tec­tural, nat­u­ral and other re­sources, and se­lected promis­ing ter­ri­to­ries that could be­come tourism desti­na­tions in years to come. To­day Be­larus is di­vided into 27 so-called tourist and re­cre­ation zones, each of which is de­vel­op­ing a net­work of ex­cur­sion routes, and build­ing accommodation and re­cre­ational in­fra­struc­ture. The most fa­mous rapidly-de­vel­op­ing zones in­clude Naroch, Braslav, Polotsk, and Nesvizh.

With re­gard to the types of tourism, Be­larus has all kinds of them, to ev­ery taste and pref­er­ence: from profit-mak­ing al­beit very spe­cific gam­bling busi­ness to bud­getary ru­ral-eco­log­i­cal tourism, from sen­ti­men­tal nos­tal­gic trips to elite hunt­ing, not to men­tion the tra­di­tional types – sight­see­ing, event­ful and well­ness tourism.

In­ci­den­tally, well­ness tourism has been grow­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in the last sev­eral years among res­i­dents of the neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. In 2011, for­eign na­tion­als ac­quired 193,500 vouch­ers to Be­laru­sian health re­sorts (for com­par­i­son: in 2009, our coun­try wel­comed 129,900 tourists, in 2010 – 178,000). Be­larus earned Br448 bil­lion on health ser­vices.

By the way, those who were say­ing that for­eign guests go to Be­laru­sian re­sorts mainly be­cause of low prices were proved wrong. De­spite the sub­stan­tial price in­crease all health re­sorts were sold out for the sum­mer 2012 by the end of Fe­bru­ary. This is not only about a good price/ qual­ity ra­tio, but also about the fa­mous “rest­less urge for change of scenery” in­her­ent in peo­ple.

The bulk of tourists who come to Be­larus for health ser­vices in the spring/sum­mer sea­son are from Rus­sia. It is not dif­fi­cult for Rus­sians to travel to Be­larus, es­pe­cially af­ter cus­toms posts have been abol­ished. There is no lan­guage bar­rier and you can com­bine treat­ment with guided tours around this close yet dif­fer­ent coun­try.

Agro-eco­log­i­cal tourism has been de­vel­op­ing by leaps and bounds with­out ex­ag­ger­a­tion. In 2011, the num­ber of ru­ral es­tates that host trav­el­ers in­creased by 26% and reached 1,500. Rev­enue from the pro­vi­sion of ser­vices dou­bled to Br20 bil­lion. This type of hol­i­days is un­usu­ally at­trac­tive: amaz­ing land­scapes, se­cluded ru­ral houses (with all ameni­ties), and home-made food for ur­ban­ized trav­el­ers. The fa­cil­i­ties that of­fer good en­ter­tain­ment (I know es­tates whose own­ers or­ga­nize mas­ter classes in straw work, clay mold­ing, pup­pet per­for­mances “Potato evenings”) en­joy all the year-round de­mand. Re­views on the In­ter­net work bet­ter than ad­ver­tis­ing...

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, any type of tourism can be a suc­cess if in­stead of in­di­vid­ual tours it of­fers a sub­stan­tial and well-thought-out tourist prod­uct, i.e. a host pro­gram. For ex­am­ple, many ar­gue whether it was good to build ho­tels, cafes and

restau­rants at Nesvizh Palace and Mir Cas­tle, Be­larus’ two UNESCO dis­tin­guished land­marks … The man­age­ment of these mu­seum com­plexes is clear on this is­sue: it is good. They be­lieve the num­ber of these fa­cil­i­ties should be in­creased. Now tourists wish to not only see the halls af­ter restora­tion but also live in these places for a few days, and take part in all the ac­tiv­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with the cas­tles.

The de­mand is there, it is up to sup­ply now…

Longer Pe­ri­ods of Stay

The pe­riod of stay of tourists is a para­mount as­pect for the tourism in­dus­try. The in­dus­try is ef­fi­cient if the av­er­age an­nual pe­riod of vis­its makes at least five days. For this pur­pose a mod­ern, com­fort­able, and si­mul­ta­ne­ously af­ford­able re­cep­tion in­fra­struc­ture is needed. In other words, it should be easy and con­ve­nient for tourists to reach Be­larus and get set­tled in it. He or she needs a good ex­cur­sion bus, a qual­i­fied guide, de­li­cious food, and other ameni­ties.

What is the state of af­fairs in the in­dus­try now? I have been writ­ing for the tourism col­umn in the mag­a­zine for seven years. There­fore I can say for sure that the in­fra­struc­ture of the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try in Be­larus has gone through a small rev­o­lu­tion. In­ter­est­ing com­plexes, ho­tels, guest houses, pri­vate re­cre­ation cen­ters opened in the coun­try; the num­ber of restau­rants and cafes in­creased. This in­dus­try at­tracted in­vestors who can es­ti­mate longterm busi­ness prospects.

In fact, the Min­istry of Sport and Tourism jointly with oblast ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tees re­spon­si­ble for pro­mot­ing the tourism in­dus­try in the regions and rais­ing in­vest­ments has taken a num­ber of prac­ti­cal meas- ures which have borne fruit. The ma­te­rial in­fra­struc­ture of tourism im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly, new accommodation, cater­ing, re­cre­ation, and other fa­cil­i­ties were opened.

As part of the Na­tional Pro­gram of Tourism De­vel­op­ment in the Repub­lic of Be­larus for 2008-2010, over 1,500 tourism fa­cil­i­ties opened in Be­larus. These in­clude 43 ho­tels, 58 re­cre­ation zones and en­ter­tain­ment fa­cil­i­ties, 26 cater­ing fa­cil­i­ties, 123 road­side ser­vice fa­cil­i­ties. Some Br1,171 mil­lion was spent on these projects, while pri­vate in­vest­ments ac­counted for 60% of the to­tal. By the way, in 2008 the share of pri­vate in­vest­ments made up only 26%.

In 2011 some 73 tourism fa­cil­i­ties were com­mis­sioned in the coun­try, while the tar­get was 37 fa­cil­i­ties. Be­larus raised Br520 bil­lion in in­vest­ments and launched the con­struc­tion of 165 new in­fra­struc­ture fa­cil­i­ties.

Over the last two or three years, Rus­sian in­vestors took part in the con­struc­tion of the Belovezh­tur agro­tourism com­plex in Pruzhany Dis­trict and the Vesta Ho­tel for 120 guests in Dz­erzhinsk Dis­trict. The project to build a ho­tel and trad­ing com­plex for 116 guests in Brest was fi­nanced by Ira­nian in­vestors. An in­vestor from Lithua­nia spon­sored a project to build the Korchma cafe in Grodno.

The ho­tel in­fra­struc­ture is de­vel­op­ing in Minsk, be­cause the city will play host to the 2014 IIHF

World Cham­pi­onship. The projects to con­struct new ho­tels and en­ter­tain­ment fa­cil­i­ties spon­sored by Rus­sian, Swiss, Dutch, Ger­man, Lat­vian, Cypriot in­vestors are in progress in Minsk.

More­over, fa­vor­able con­di­tions have been cre­ated for the Be­laru­sians will­ing to work in the tourism in­dus­try. We have al­ready noted that the num­ber of ru­ral and eco­log­i­cal tourism fa­cil­i­ties is rapidly in­creas­ing. This can be ex­plained not only by the grow­ing de­mand for these ser­vices among for­eign guests. Pres­i­den­tial De­cree No. 372 of 2 June 2006 “Mea­sures to Pro­mote Agroe­co­tourism in the Repub­lic of Be­larus” pro­vided for a num­ber of even greater in­cen­tives.

Firstly, in line with the doc­u­ment, in­di­vid­u­als and farm­steads which pro­vide tourism ser­vices in ru­ral ar­eas are not en­trepreneurs. As you un­der­stand, these op­er­a­tors will have to pay other types of taxes and es­tab­lish other re­la­tions with con­trol bod­ies. Se­condly, the de­cree pro­vided for sim­ple forms of typ­i­cal agree­ments and rec­om­menda- tions to re­ceive for­eign guests. As a re­sult, hosts and their guests avoid many trou­bles. Fi­nally, the de­cree en­vis­aged the terms of is­su­ing pref­er­en­tial loans to equip farm­steads with nec­es­sary ameni­ties. Thereby, farm­steads could com­bine ur­ban and ru­ral com­fort; tourists could use bath­houses, saunas, sport grounds.

In late 2010 the Pres­i­dent signed De­cree No. 614 in­tro­duc­ing amend­ments and ad­di­tions to Pres­i­den­tial De­cree No. 372 of 2 June 2006 “Con­cern­ing Mea­sures to Pro­mote Agroe­co­tourism in the Repub­lic of Be­larus”. In line with the De­cree, the num­ber of rooms which make up the agroe­co­tourism fa­cil­ity was in­creased from five to ten. This is the size of ru­ral mini-ho­tels.

The right to do busi­ness in agroe­co­tourism has been granted to all agri­cul­tural com­pa­nies. There is no doubt that both farms and state-run agri­cul­tural com­pa­nies will take ad­van­tage of new busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Be­la­gro­prom­bank has been au­tho­rized to pro­vide pref­er­en­tial loans. The most im­por­tant thing is that the De­cree’s va­lid­ity has been ex­tended un­til 2021. As mo­tor­way ser­vice own­ers say: had such pref­er­ences been granted be­fore, cafes, camp­ing sites and guest houses would have sprung like mush­rooms along the roads. Given a grow­ing num­ber of tran­sit pas­sen­gers and trans­port ve­hi­cles, they would do busy trade…

Yet, pref­er­ences and most fa­vored treat­ment go to an­other tourist spot – the Au­gus­tow Canal. An ex­pen­sive up­grade of this unique nat­u­ral, his­tor­i­cal and en­gi­neer­ing site was com­pleted sev­eral years ago. Un­for­tu­nately, it has not been able to be­come a tourist Mecca so far. This highly promis­ing tourist des­ti­na­tion ac­quired nei­ther the nec­es­sary in­fra­struc­ture nor at­trac­tive routes.

In 2011 the Pres­i­dent of Be­larus signed a de­cree “Con­cern­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the Au­gus­tow Canal tourist and re­cre­ation park” en­vis­ag­ing the con­struc­tion of tourist fa­cil­i­ties cater­ing for all cat­e­gories of the pop­u­la­tion and trav­el­ers.

In­vestors who au­to­mat­i­cally be­come res­i­dents of the FEZ Grod­noin­vest re­ceive a num­ber of

pref­er­en­tial terms. Thus, tax bur­den is re­duced for them to 70%; en­trepreneurs are ex­empted from profit and prop­erty taxes, VAT, im­port cus­toms du­ties and some other pay­ments for a pe­riod of five years.

The ink was barely dry on the doc­u­ment, when three projects were launched at the Au­gus­tow Canal spon­sored by the do­mes­tic busi­ness. The Min­istry of Sports and Tourism be­lieves that in the short term the doc­u­ment will help to im­prove the ter­ri­tory of the Au­gus­tow Canal and be­come ba­sic for other regions with a high tourist po­ten­tial.

It is Worth See­ing More Than Once

Brand­ing Be­larus on the world tourist mar­ket is both a pro­mo­tional and mar­ket­ing task. Pro­mo­tional prod­ucts, par­tic­i­pa­tion in in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions, in­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies as well as other in­stru­ments are all cru­cial to pro­mote a tourist prod­uct.

It is even more im­por­tant to see that af­ter vis­it­ing Be­laru­sian ex­po­si­tions fea­tur­ing fas­ci­nat­ing views and sou­venirs at a for­eign expo or tourist web­sites po­ten­tial trav­el­ers are ready to go see the coun­try with this cap­ti­vat­ing na­ture and rich his­tory. And, prefer­ably, more than once…

In this re­spect for the coun­try’s sports and tourism in­dus­try it is dif­fi­cult to over­es­ti­mate the sig­nif­i­cance of the IIHF World Cham­pi­onship that is due to take place in Minsk in 2014. For one thing, it is about the num­ber of guests: sim­i­lar events gath­ered 500,000 for­eign­ers in Switzer­land and 300,000 in Latvia. Ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary es­ti­mates, Be­larus is ex­pected to wel­come just as many as the above­men­tioned coun­tries did.

Of course, in or­der to re­ceive such a num­ber of for­eign ath­letes and fans the coun­try should have not only a suf­fi­cient amount of ho­tels (which are built up in Minsk at an ac­cel­er­ated tempo), cafes and other fa­cil­i­ties, but also a great num­ber of in­ter­est­ing ex­cur­sion pro­grams and routes in dif­fer­ent lan­guages, qual­i­fied guides and top-qual­ity ser­vices for tourists who are ex­pected to visit our coun­try for the first time.

Keep­ing all this in mind, the Min­istry of Sports and Tourism is or­ga­niz­ing a con­test among travel agen­cies for pro­vid­ing ser­vices to the par­tic­i­pants and guests of the 2014 IIHF World Cham­pi­onship. Spe­cial at­ten­tion will be at­tached to the qual­ity train­ing of guides and, es­pe­cially, guides-in­ter­preters. There are plans to widen and sat­u­rate na­tional ex­cur­sions with cul­tural, his­tor­i­cal, ar­chi­tec­tural, mil­i­tary, en­vi­ron­men­tal, ethno­graphic and even gas­tro­nomic routes.

So, the IIHF World Cham­pi­onship will demon­strate not only the coun­try’s sports po­ten­tial but also its level as a host, i.e. the abil­ity to re­ceive and en­ter­tain guests in a pro­fes­sional man­ner. It is well worth the ef­fort.

Ev­ery na­tion has its own em­broi­dery pat­terns. Stu­dents

from Riga are look­ing at Be­laru­sian tow­els in the his­tory and lo­cal lore mu­seum of sec­ondary school No. 14 in the town

of Molodechno

Each year about 20,000 tourists visit the his­tor­i­cal cen­ter “Mozyr Cas­tle”. Like hun­dreds of years ago, guests are wel­comed by the Prince and Princess, in­tro­duced to the his­tory of the town and treated to an­cient dishes

A health farm of

the agri­cul­tural com­pany Rassvet re­opened af­ter ren­o­va­tions in Jan­uary 2012. The

health farm uses min­eral water from

its own wells

The Nikolin Is­land is one of the most pop­u­lar farm­steads in Gomel Oblast. One of its high­lights is the wind­mill built in 1860

Minsk-arena, a mul­ti­func­tional sports fa­cil­ity, will be the main

venue of the 2014 IIHF World Cham­pi­onship,

which the Be­laru­sian cap­i­tal is ac­tively gear­ing

up for

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