All Tourists Are Welcome
The export of tourist services in Belarus in 2011 is estimated at $150 million
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
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