The Party Is Over?

Farm­steads will soon have to play by new rules

Economy of Belarus - - TOURISM -

Over the past ten years, farm­steads have be­come one of the most rec­og­niz­able brands of the Be­laru­sian travel in­dus­try. The suc­cesses of ru­ral tourism are ob­vi­ous. How­ever, the Be­laru­sian Sport and Tourism Min­istry warns against turn­ing a blind eye on the prob­lems that “tar­nish the rus­tic land­scape”. With this in mind, it has ini­ti­ated amend­ments to De­cree No. 372 that reg­u­lates this sec­tor. The in­no­va­tions have at­tracted pub­lic at­ten­tion. Both the Min­istry of Taxes and Du­ties and the State Con­trol Com­mit­tee also ex­pressed their views on the busi­ness op­er­at­ing un­der the guise of ru­ral tourism. What as­pects of the pro­posed draft de­cree have gone un­no­ticed? How many farm­steads will have to ap­ply for self-em­ployed busi­ness­man li­censes and how do other coun­tries de­velop ru­ral tourism?

Once the draft de­cree was submitted for pub­lic dis­cus­sion, the at­ten­tion was im­me­di­ately drawn to a pos­si­ble ban on wed­dings and din­ner events. To be more pre­cise, the draft de­cree sug­gests con­sid­er­ing en­ter­tain­ment ser­vices pro­vided by farm­steads as a busi­ness ac­tiv­ity. The Sport and Tourism Min­istry says that in fact farm­steads are not al­lowed to pro­vide en­ter­tain­ment ser­vices to­day. How­ever, the word­ing “other ser­vices” al­lows the own­ers of farm­steads to pro­vide al­most any kind of ser­vices. The ban­quet halls and saunas have noth­ing to do with ru­ral tourism, the Sport and Tourism Min­istry be­lieves. The ban may ap­ply to not only wed­ding par­ties but also birth­day par­ties and fu­neral re­cep­tions. It is im­por­tant to note that the ban will not ap­ply to sport events, re­cre­ational and cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties.

At first, there was a sug­ges­tion to al­low au­then­tic wed­dings and cer­e­monies. How­ever, the ques­tion is who will de­ter­mine the de­gree of “au­then­tic­ity” of a wed­ding party? The ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to the or­ga­ni­za­tion of work­shops, sem­i­nars, ed­u­ca­tional events are also un­reg­u­lated. In fact, these are not tourist ser­vices ei­ther. And what about birth­day par­ties? If they fall in the “an­niver­saries and other cel­e­bra­tions” cat­e­gory, then they are sub­ject to the ban. Does this mean that a group of 5 or 6 per­sons will have no chance of hav­ing a birth­day party on a farm? Given all these ques­tions and un­cer­tain­ties, there is a clear need to elab­o­rate the list of ser­vices that farm­steads can pro­vide.

The Min­istry of Du­ties and Taxes also wants to make the list of ser­vices more de­tailed to pre­vent di­ver­gence in in­ter­pre­ta­tions by both farm­stead own­ers and watch­dogs. This will pro­tect ru­ral and eco­tourism en­ti­ties from un­cer­tainty, sur­prise in­spec­tions and pos­si­ble penal­ties. An­other nov­elty in part of taxes is that farm­stead own­ers will have to re­tain all tourist con­tracts for three years af­ter they pass a tax in­spec­tion.

At the same time, there are no plans to in­crease the tax bur­den. The Min­istry of Taxes and Du­ties says this mea­sure is un­nec­es­sary. Farm­stead own­ers pay only one base amount to the state bud­get an­nu­ally (one base amount is Br21). The prac­tice was in­tro­duced in 2006, and has re­mained in force since then. The tax bur­den on farm­stead own­ers makes up 0.003% to­day. In 2006 it was 2%, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial ru­ral and eco­tourism statis­tics. Farm­steads are in­spected less fre­quently than other eco­nomic en­ti­ties. The ru­ral hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try is con­sid­ered the low­est-risk group, with in­spec­tions as in­fre­quent as once in five years. The Min­istry of Taxes and Du­ties noted that in early 2016 there were over 2,200 farm­steads in Be­larus. Two thirds, or nearly 1,500, of them are cur­rently in ser­vice.

While some farm­steads will be forced to re­duce the list of ser­vices they of­fer, the new de­cree will fi­nally give the es­tates lo­cated in the Naroch Lake re­sort area the pref­er­ences that the farm­steads across the coun­try have been en­joy­ing for quite some time. For now, these es­tates have no such pref­er­ences, and it is hardly pos­si­ble to say that their lo­ca­tion in the re­sort area au­to­mat­i­cally gives them eco­nomic ben­e­fits that other farm­steads can­not get.

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