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"Reindeer-skin tent" tourism on the far side of the world

"Reindeer-skin tent" tourism on the far side of the world

24.10.2012 — Analysis

The average Russian tourist has exhausted all the available tourism opportunities and has had his fill both with "vegetative relaxation" and with the standard European package of sights. It is about time those who are stifled by the civilization enjoyed breathing fresh air in the uttermost part of the Earth. Yamal offers to break loose from stereotyped tours and bask in the beauty of the pristine nature. The RusBusinessNews reporter is sure: You can become a mature traveler only if you reach the Arctic heart of Russia.

Only the Arctic can be better than mountains

Yamal ventured on being acknowledged as the center of ethnographic tourism – and it has every reason to do so. According to the rating of the Russian-language version of Forbes, the Arctic Region is listed among the eight most unique travel destinations. "Development of tourism will help to preserve and revive the sites of cultural and historic heritage, restore environmental assets, create modern tourism and recreation centers having unparalleled ethnic culture. It will breathe life into small and medium-sized businesses of indigenous nations of the North,” Dmitry Kobylkin, governor of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District (YNAD), said. "However, the main objective of the government is to take care of comfort of the Yamal population by complying with the strictest regulations when launching new routes and new tourist sites. Traditions and culture of Yamal residents should not be jeopardized."

The district authorities buttressed their commitment by the target program for development of domestic and inbound tourism, having earmarked 51 million rubles for its implementation scheduled for 2012-2014. Keeping in mind the golden rule that cadres are all-important, Yamal uses its best efforts to train skilled professionals. During special-purpose training courses, coaches in water activities and hiking hone skills in challenging routes, overcoming severe weather conditions and extreme situations. They are able to cover a few-hundred-kilometer route alternating climbing and rafting.

Training programs are also developed for "backup folks" – representatives of the national communities, who offer their hospitality to guests coming to their camping grounds or tourist camps. During seminars they delve into organizational secrets of hospitality and financial subtleties of the tourism business. Training of mid-tier employees and managers in the tourism industry is facilitated through cooperation with the leading universities of Russia.

At present, Russian and foreign travelers coming to Yamal are taken care by three travel companies - Yamaltour, Yamal-Travel and Manya Yava. Adventure seekers are offered more than 60 tourist routes including ethnographic tourism and eco-tourism, historical tourism, hunting and fishing, mountain skiing, rafting along mountain rivers and snowmobile riding. Throughout the year, tourists can visit the family land of five communities, and more than 30 communities expressed their willingness to offer their hospitality. The reputable international agency, Kohl & Partner, confirmed that the organization of the ethnographic tourism in Yamal meets the European standards of comfort and safety. Rostourism also notes the advances of the region in this sector.

Elvira Timergazina, the director of the District Department of Youth Policy and Tourism, points out that Yamal can compete with Switzerland in its scenic landscapes, attracting photography enthusiasts from France, Poland, Norway, Bulgaria, Germany, and Slovenia. In 2011, the district impressed 30 thousand Russian and 3,800 foreign tourists by its stunning beauty. In the first half of this year, 17,200 fellow nationals and 1,200 foreign visitors came over to northern residents.

"Our services are generally sought after by residents of Germany and France. The Chinese are also interested in the district, but they prefer to travel on their own," Andrei Nesterov, the senior specialist of the domestic and inbound tourism department at Yamaltour, told RusBusinessNews.

According to him, foreign tourists prefer "reindeer-skin tent" accommodations at ethnic camping grounds. They are dazzled by national traditions, local food and small details of everyday life. The 4-10 day trip costs 50-70 thousand rubles. Russian tourists opt for more economical historical and informative tours for 3-5 days for 25-30 thousand rubles. Rafting along the Sobi River is especially popular among tourists, as during it they also have a walking trip to Romantics Glacier. Another place of attraction for travelers is the Reindeer-Skin Tent on Swan Lake, where they can get familiar with the traditional lifestyle of the indigenous population. Other interesting guided tours include climbing to the top of Rai-Iz Mountain and enjoying the panoramic view of the jade valley, walking along Nyrdvomenshor creek to the mountain having a symbolic name - Dinosaur, trips along the Polui River flowing side by side with the railway built under the 501st Stalin construction project.

Transport expenses account for the major portion of the expenses in the northern tour: The only transport suitable for frozen prairie or tundra is the all-terrain vehicle. Trips to remote areas of Yamal can be made only on the helicopter – the rent for one hour is 100 thousand rubles. "If anyone wants to feast their eyes on polar bears, they should get ready to have a four-hour flight and to spend the relevant amount that not everyone can afford even by clubbing, though there are tourists who take the trip," A. Nesterov says.

Photo and movie-tours are very popular — the Koreans, Finns and, certainly, Russians come here for documentary filmmaking. Adrenaline-buzz seekers try not to miss the annual snowmobile racing – The Siberian Extreme. They cover more than one thousand kilometers on their "iron horses" in the snowbound tundra. A. Nesterov notes that some of those who have already been to Yamal come back — to show the land that captivated them to their folks or friends.

Who has said that the north is far…

Being the uttermost part of the Earth, Yamal does not take the attitude "it’s no concern of mine what others are doing..." and is building ambitious plans with confidence. The district has entered into the agreement with Finnish consortium Sofi for the construction of the Polar Tourism Center in Salekhard, which will have an annual capacity of 60 thousand people. The complex will have the residence of Yamal Santa Claus – Yamal Iri, hotels and cottages for 1,000 guests, restaurants, open air and indoor swimming pools, helicopter pad, a boat station, an administrative complex with concert and conference halls. The government authorities are ready to help investors in infrastructure development and to provide tax benefits.

Projects of development of local "tourism clusters" are also on the agenda. One of the projects is a recreation center that will be located at unique Bolshoye Schuchie Lake in the Cisurals. This water body that has not been thoroughly studied is a sacred place for the indigenous population of the North. The lake lies in a tectonic depression, the depth of which reaches 150 meters; its length is more than 25 kilometers. Bolshoye Schuchie Lake is the second water body in the Urals in terms of fresh water reserves.

The government authorities decided to seek advice from the indigenous ethnic groups regarding "ingenious" ideas on development of domestic tourism. They put forward an initiative of awarding grants for projects offered in this sector. Those who offer the best projects can receive from 200 thousand to 1.5 million rubles for their implementation. By today, there have been 18 projects offered, including projects from Novy Urengoy, Salekhard, Muravlenko, the Pur Region and Cisurals.

The northern tourism is becoming an attention grabber at many large Russian and foreign exhibitions. The most recent examples are Beijing International Tourism Expo in Beijing and TOP RESA in Paris, where the visitors were enthusiastic about taking pictures in the Yamal reindeer-skin tent. Visitors from more than 80 countries learnt about unparalleled characteristics of the Arctic Region, and Yamal residents are sure that the flow of foreign guests will become more intensive.

Margarita Romashova 

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