Grodno Oblast considers the tourism industry an important reserve of regional development
Health resorts account for more than 66% of export of tourism services
Tourism has become a promising economic sector and a profitable business in many countries. This rapidly developing sector is considered to be an important export earner. How attractive are Belarusian regions for tourists and for investors? Dubbed as Belarus’ entrance gate, Grodno Oblast has been consistently working to promote this sector. The region coordinates the multi-field activities of various organizations in order to make their cooperation more efficient.
“Interests of different people and sectors are intertwined in the tourism industry,” said Oleg Andreichik, the head of the sports and tourism department of the Grodno Oblast Executive Committee. “What do people do when in another country? They use various services: accommodation, transport, shopping, cultural services... This has the most favorable impact on the economy of the region. Therefore, our goal is to increase the number of tourists and attract investment in this sector,” he added.
Grodno Oblast’s export of tourism services has been growing recently. Last year, the region hosted more than 360,000 tourists, up 20% over 2013. In view of the current economic situation, the tourist flow has slowed down this year. In January-August the export of travel services totaled about $5 million, or 60% of the export over the same period last year (the country’s average is 58.8%). However, for example, Lida District managed to avoid the decline. Traditionally, many foreign tourists visit the city of Grodno and Korelichi District. For the first time this year the statistics on the export of tourism services featured Zelva District and Oshmyany District.
“Thanks to the concerted efforts, many companies stepped up the work this year. The number of economic operators exporting tourism services has almost doubled as compared to June 2015. In less than six months we now have twice as many travel companies who cater to foreigners. We hope to build on the progress,” said Oleg Andreichik.
Health resorts account for more than 66% of the export of tourism services. There are ten of them in the region. The share of these organizations in the export of tourism services has decreased slightly. For example, in 2013 health resorts accounted for 83% of services export. The decline is due to the decrease in the number of foreign tourists (mostly Russians). Belarusian health resorts were not prepared to work amid growing competition from Russians. In the face of the currency fluctuations the price has become the decisive factor. Critically analyzing the situation, specialists add that the quality of services still needs to be
improved. In addition, not all local health resorts pursue an aggressive marketing policy and maintain cooperation with travel agencies. The global economic situation also took its toll. As a result, in January-August 2015 health resorts of Grodno Oblast were visited by 9,600 foreigners, which was 70% of the number of visitors last year. The export of tourism services across the oblast made up 46% of the export over the same period in 2014.
Grodno Oblast authorities are confident that the situation will improve. Health tourism is still among the priorities for Grodno Oblast. A lot of factors contribute to this, including the geographical position, climate and environmental factors, the level of medical services and, of course, competitive prices. Everyone, including investors who show interest in the sector, understands this. In August 2015 Dyatlovo District became home to the private health resort Alfa Radon. The new facility was built by the Belarusian company Torvlad in the resort zone near the Radon health resort of Belagrogoszdravnitsa Company. According to Torvlad Director General Vladimir Boky, the company invested about $30 million (both its own funds and loans) to build the facility. Those were the company’s first steps in the health tourism sector and the start was quite successful. In the first months of its operation Alfa Radon welcomed guests from Belarus, other CIS and nonCIS countries. It offers a range of modern high-quality services for demanding tourists: comfortable accommodation, spa services, an aqua zone and a gym and also a restaurant with live music, a bar and a conference hall. Natural elements of treatment in the new facility are of the same quality as in the nearby health resort of Belagrogoszdravnitsa Company, which is also one of the most visited resorts in Grodno Oblast. It offers treatment with unique natural radon water extracted from the depth of 300m and sapropelic muds.
Comfortable Overnight Accommodation
Hotel business in Grodno Oblast has good development prospects. Today the total hotel bedspace in Grodno Oblast makes up slightly over 2,600 beds. There are under 1,000 beds in the city of Grodno. The hotels in the oblast are not always fully booked but they are usually full during big forums and festivals. However, the number of hotel beds is much lower than in the neighboring Druskininkai of Lithuania and Augustow of Poland. The revenue of private lessors is not included into the services export statistics.
“Travel agencies view our region as a transit zone, offering only excursion programs to Grodno Oblast tourist attractions which are considered among the best in the country. That means Grodno Oblast needs to develop its network of hostels and small economy-class
hotels for 40-50 guests in order to attract longer-stay visitors.
Private business has already been working in this direction. In recent years small private hotels have been built in Novogrudok, Mir, Smorgon, and Volkovysk. More private hotels are also being built in Ostrovets, Novogrudok and Lida. It is expected that the largest 16-storied hotel called Grodno will undergo renovation in the coming years. Chinese partners show interest in buying out the hotel. They want to build an entertainment and tourism center there. Besides, there are plans to erect a number of small hotels in the city’s center, including a hotel of the French group AccorHotels. Palaces for a Stay
Today many Belarusian entrepreneurs are running projects to turn historic sites into tourist attractions. This is particularly relevant to Grodno Oblast that has a great number of well-preserved old mansions and palaces. Chairman of the Grodno Oblast Executive Committee Vladimir Kravtsov instructed local authorities to give full support to such tourism projects, including legal assistance and any other help. For example, the businessman who renovated the estate of the Tyzenhaus family in Grodno District has plans to expand into agritourism, build a spa and a rehabilitation center that will offer hippotherapy. The estate Radzivilki of the Gorski family near the Augustow Canal is another promising project. The estates in the village of Kraski and the agro-town of Podorosk were auctioned to Russian bidders. The estate of the Umiastowski family in the village of Zhemyslavl has recently been sold to a businessman from Jordan who showed a desire to restore the original look of the architectural landmark dating back to the 18th-19th centuries and open a hotel and a restaurant there. The magnificent palace of the former family nest of the Volovichy dynasty in Svyatsk near the Augustow Canal is also undergoing renovations. This project is tipped to be a big
Grodno Oblast is the land of palaces and castles. It is home to 9 out of 21 castles on the cultural and historical heritage list of Belarus
success. There will be a hotel, a spa complex, and a mini-brewery that have good chances of becoming popular tourist attractions drawing investors to the canal. The palace is currently the property of the health resort Ozerny in which the National Bank is the principal shareholder. The first stage of the renovation works is completed; the pond system has been restored and cleared. All documents for the main stage of the project are ready. Grodno Oblast Governor Vladimir Kravtsov was informed that the proprietor has plans to find a co-investor to speed up the process. Grodno Oblast authorities provide every kind of assistance, including with the search of a partner. Some preliminary agreements have already been reached.
A number of heritage conservation projects have been carried out using funds from the local budget. The Oginski estate in Zalesye was renovated last year, the palace of the Drucki-Lubecki family in Shchuchin has been restored this year. The sites have already been included in various tourist routes.
Tour of a… Nuclear Power Plant
The growing network of hotels, catering outlets and roadside facilities in the region is expected to lead to an increase in tourism arrivals. However, tourists are usually more interested in historic sites, traditions, and important events. The question is how to present them properly and what services to offer.
The region has developed 255 tourist routes, including 150 excursion routes. These include sightseeing tours and rather exotic thematic trips. For example, the landmark tourist route The Golden Ring of Grodno Oblast includes visits to 23 populated areas in ten districts of Grodno Oblast, Mir Castle and Lida Castle, the castle and park complex in Lyubcha, the town of Novogrudok that was the first capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and other places. The tourist route Starazhytny Haradzen (Ancient Grodno) is of national importance. Volkovysk District offers the tourist route called In the Miners’ Footsteps.
Besides, the region offers 28 bike routes, 27 walking routes, 18 ecological routes, 14 water routes, and three horse routes for active tourists. They are designed for foreign and Belarusian guests. As a rule, the number of domestic tourists exceeds the number of international tourists. According to different estimates, domestic tourists account for 75-80% of the total number of tourists in the world. Therefore, in many countries domestic tourism is much more popular than international tourism.
At the same time, the tourism industry offers endless opportunities for making money. For example, industrial tourism was underestimated in the past. The situation has changed when several local companies showed that this line of business can also be popular. Visitors to Lida Castle enjoy the trips to nearby OAO Glassworks Neman where they see original works of glassblowers and buy unique designer souvenirs. Lida does its best to raise the inflow of tourists to renovated breweries; Ostrovets organizes excursions to the nuclear power plant construction site. Why not if people are interested? The governor gave an instruction to develop industrial tourism routes in the entire region. As a result, excursions to 41 enterprises may be included in the tourist routes throughout Grodno Oblast.
Local authorities also pin big hopes on event tourism. Taking into account the interest in the nearborder region and its rich cultural traditions, Grodno Oblast experts are compiling comprehensive calendars of events which need to be advertised in mass media. Some events are quite unique. These include the festival of national cultures in Grodno, the multiindustry exhibition fair Euroregion Neman. Why not restore St. Anna Fair in Zelva to its former glory? Once it was considered the biggest fair in Europe as it brought together up to 5,000 merchants. It used to liven up the quiet life of local residents during the entire month.
To attract tourists to such events and promote alternative types of
In May 2016, Grodno plans to hold the Belarusian-Polish Tourism Forum to discuss tourism projects, including projects within international technical assistance programs. First of all, they will be related to the development of the Augustow Canal
tourism, it is essential to use huge untapped reserves of cooperation between tourism companies and regional recuperation facilities, rural estates, hotels, cultural institutions in charge of tourism development. Therefore, Grodno Oblast authorities promote the development of tourist destinations using a cluster principle. To diversify services, rural estates will be united in clusters using the potential of protected areas and involving craftsmen, folk bands and other local residents who will be encouraged to sell their homemade products.
At Border Junction
Since Grodno Oblast borders on Poland and Lithuania, it makes sense to develop cross-border tourism there. The common feature of the bordering regions of the three countries is the Augustow Canal itineraries. Their development will have an impact on the number of tourists visiting other sites of the Augustow Canal Tourism and Recreation Park occupying more than 5,700 hectares with a special legal regime on the territory adjacent to the Belarusian part of the canal and the Neman river. The water connection opens wide opportunities for the joint tourism projects within cross-border cooperation programs. According to Sergei Koleda, deputy chairman of the National Tourism and Sports Union, it is the issues with visas
and water border crossing that slow down the process. In October, during a meeting of the border checkpoints and infrastructure subcommission of the Belarusian-Polish Intergovernmental Coordination Commission for Transboundary Cooperation it was decided to allow crossing the border on foot (or by bike) and by river at the Lesnaya (Rudawka) international seasonal checkpoint. The Grodno Oblast Executive Committee is currently introducing changes to the relevant intergovernmental documents. The checkpoint will get a new status before the tourism season 2016 starts, which will give a new impetus to the cross-border tourism and foster travel on the both sides of the Augustow Canal. For instance, tourists visiting Augustow by kayaks, yachts or bikes will be able to continue their trip in Belarus, stay at hotels and do sightseeing. This summer the Augustow Canal as a cross-border corridor started to gain popularity among yachtsmen traveling from Poland to Belarus. GrodnoTurInvest organized a couple of similar tours for the Polish guests. Although getting clearance at border checkpoints is much faster for customers of travel agencies (within an hour), travelers wishing to do that on their own can call the border service to notify about their arrival at the checkpoint (approximately two hours in advance). The detailed instructions can be found on websites of the border committees or in the tourism information centers on the both sides of the border, representatives of GrodnoTurInvest said. In the future the possibility of introducing a three-day visa-free regime similar to that in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha might be considered. However this is a matter of the distant future.
In May 2016, Grodno plans to hold the Belarusian-Polish Tourism Forum to discuss tourism projects, including projects within international technical assistance programs. First of all, they will be related to the development of the Augustow Canal. There are plans to set up cycle routes and related infrastructure on both Belarusian and Polish parts of the canal, develop water tourism and promote the Augustow Canal to the international tourism market.
Image is Everything
A uniform and successful brand developed taking into account all the marketing rules will help promote tourism services. Grodno Oblast will present its tourism brand in 2016. It is not clear yet how the brand of the multifaceted travel industry of the region will look like. So far the main idea of the Grodno city brand has been played around the tagline “Grodno is a city of museums”. Beer brewing traditions might become the tourism brand of Lida. Smorgon can use its reputation as home of sushki (bagellike treats) and the Bear Academy, although such sites as the Oginski estate, also known as Northern Athens, deserve a special place too. Grodno Oblast is the land of palaces and castles (nine out of 21 castles on the cultural and historic heritage list of Belarus are located there), and is the birthplace of famous men of art and science. It is important to align efforts on fostering positive attitude towards the region and raising its visibility with the development of world class travel services.