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Karelian Tourism Committee shuts down despite record number of visitors

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 10:33 By Gleb Yarovoy, Petrozavodsk State University
Republic of Karelia

Karelian State Committee for Tourism was dissolved upon the decision of the Head of the Republic, Alexander Khudilaynen. As a separate agency, it ran for two years: in June 2013, the Committee was established upon the order of Khudilaynen. From this point onward, the functions of the Committee will pass over to the Ministry of Culture.

Officially, two reasons for the shutting down of the Committee have been voiced. The first reason is a need to bring the structure of the Government of Karelia into accordance with the structure of the Federal Government (in Moscow, the Ministry of Culture is responsible for tourism development). The second reason is “optimization” of budget expenditures.

However, the decision of the governor may look premature. According to the Federal Tourism Agency, 2014 was the most progressive year for Karelian tourism: for the first time in history the overall number of visitors exceeded two million. The number of "organized" tourists increased by ten percent. In addition, Karelia has claimed first place in the national tourism rankings, received two out of nine nominations for Russia's annual award in the field of tourism "Star": "Best place for winter holidays" and "Best place for active recreation."  

Certainly, there are objective growth drivers influencing the number of tourists in the republic. Among others, the ban on travel abroad for law enforcement officials, as well as a general decline in living standards in the country. As a result, people are forced to spend their holidays and vacations in Russia.

At the same time, the Committee has had obvious success. The first thing to note is the investment project "Creation of ‘South Karelia’ tourist cluster", which was developed by the Committee and won the competition organized by the Federal Tourism Agency. The project was included in the Federal Target Program "Development of domestic tourism in the Russian Federation (2011–2018)." According to the document, the emerging tourist cluster will attract approximately 2.7 billion rubles of private and public investments, which means a lot of money for the Republic.

At the same time, the committee was unable to run another tourist cluster "Zaonezhsky". It is kept at the planning stage for several years, and will hardly be launched soon since its main developer, an independent environment NGO "SPOK", was recently enlisted as “foreign agent” by the Russian Ministry of Justice.

It should also be noted that the joint Finnish-Russian projects of the ENPI CBC "Karelia" program, which were implemented from 2010 to 2014, played a significant role in the development of tourism in the republic. Dozens of projects were completed with the financial support of about ten million euros from the European Union, Finland and Russia. However, the Russian Barents regions are still much less popular among tourists and much less known worldwide than their Nordic neighbors.

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