Sell­ing Im­pres­sions

Grodno Oblast con­sid­ers the tourism in­dus­try an im­por­tant re­serve of re­gional de­vel­op­ment

Economy of Belarus - - FRONT PAGE - Ye­lena STASYUKEVICH

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.

Over­all Pic­ture

“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 Trips

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.

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