Russia to invest in Arctic tourism as visitor numbers climb

Russia’s government has committed to a plan to invest in the development of Arctic tourism as part of a broader spending plan to boost efforts to open up the region to visitors through eco-friendly cruises and expedition routes.

The country’s largest national park, named the Russian Arctic, located on two polar archipelagos Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land, has seen a 20% increase in visitors this summer to 1,142 people from various regions of the world, officials said.

“In the summer of 2017, the Russian Arctic was visited by tourists from 36 countries, with the largest number from the People’s Republic of China,” said Alexander Feldt at the Department of Environmental Education and Tourism of the Russian Arctic National Park.

The number of Russian visitors also gained, along with tourists from Switzerland, Taiwan and France, the latter mostly on the cruise vessel Sea Spirit run by the French company Grands Espaces, said Feldt.

Russia’s Arctic zone includes the country’s mainland, which covers an area of more than 3.6 million square kilometers, as well as 185,000 square kilometers of archipelago territories made up of large and small islands.

About US$ 76 million has been allocated for the federal Development of Tourism plan from 2019 to 2025.

Protected areas in Russia’s Arctic are mostly visited by cruise ships on two-week or longer journeys, sailing from Murmansk or Russia’s Far East port of Anadyr, as well as Norway’s Svalbard.

The vessels generally accommodate about 150 tourists for a program that includes lectures on the Arctic, and daily excursions by motor boat to observe polar bears, walruses, whales, birds, and plant life.

“Expedition cruise tourism is eco-friendly and comfortable, as visitors live on a ship and do not need additional infrastructure on the shore,” said Feldt.

“As an environmental institution, our goal is to develop Arctic tourism so as not to damage the unique and fragile Arctic nature. In fact, both the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia and Russian Tourism agency are now focusing on that,” he said.

Artur Chilingarov, an Arctic and Antarctic researcher and President of the State Polar Academy, said tourism needs to be developed so that it doesn’t harm the ecology of the Arctic.

“Everything that concerns the ecology of the Arctic is a tough topic that has to be decided on a state level. But, the bottom line is that no one will let in tourists if it means harming the local ecosystem,” he told Asia Times.

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