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Ecotourism potential and ecotour offer in Russia.


Ecotourism has become an equitable segment of the world tourism market. According to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES, 2006), in 2004, ecotourism / natural tourism was growing globally three times faster than the tourism industry as a whole. According to the United Nations Environment program (UNEP), Worldwatch Institute (Mastny 2001) and Conservational International, the development of ecotourism is most dynamic in and around protected areas.

Ecotourism is getting popular in Russia as well. Russian Federal Tourism Agency has mentioned ecotourism as one of the main tourism types to be developed in the country. The Agency's press-release says (2008): "Five Russian nature objects are included in the UNESCO World Heritage list: Virgin Komi forests, Lake Baikal, Volcanoes of Kamchatka, Golden Mountains of Altai and Western Caucasus. Ecotourism can help to protect nature, stimulate development growth in these areas. Besides, there are many other places attractive for ecotourism in Russia."

It is true that Russian nature and traditional culture offer possibilities for ecotourism development. The diversity, uniqueness, attractiveness, and extensiveness of Russian landscapes not involved in urbanization processes and intensive agriculture are quite high. There are also some areas, where traditional indigenous forms of everyday activities are still preserved. These are Northern, Siberian and mountain regions (Butorin 1998; Kasten 1998).

In spite of vast undeveloped or poorly developed territories, ecological situation in many Russian regions is far from being favorable even outside the biggest industrial centers. This is due to the outdated industrial, agricultural and forestry technologies; lack of control over monopolist companies usually extracting materials in remote regions; and inactivity of the laws.

High anthropogenic sensitiveness and fragility of various Russian ecosystems is one of the limitations for ecotourism development. These ecosystems are usually found in regions attractive for their "wild" nature or indigenous way of life. A typical example is degradation of tundra herbage. Excessive herds of reindeer were grazed there without taking into account pasture capacity.

Our unique network of specially protected natural areas is very important for Russian ecotourism development, particularly, these are 41 relatively young national parks and 101 natural reserves (zapovedniks), some of them worldly renowned.

Recreation and tourism in Russia have several special features that make them different from the western European model.

First, tourism in Russia is considered as a form of recreation, whereas in European tradition, tourism is considered as a wider notion and includes recreation as one of its forms.

Secondly, Russian tourism and recreation were not linked to nature protection and protected areas until very recently. On the contrary, historically the most widespread strict nature protection area--zapovedniks--banned tourism entirely. Only in the 1980s, when national parks started appearing in the USSR and then in Russia and took part in ecotourism development process, the situation changed becoming more similar to world's tradition.

Still similar to ecotourism activities have been popular in Russia for many decades. These are active tourism and special tours with scientific programmes. Hiking, canoeing, skiing, mountaineering etc. itineraries were measured and marked in order to calculate their difficulty and let people learn to pass them starting from the simplest and developing their abilities. It was a form of mass tourism and special attention was dedicated to human disturbance mitigation in order to maintain ecosystems in equilibrium. First attempts to justify tourism carrying capacity were made in the 1970s-1980s. Scientific tours have even larger history and have always been linked to study of nature and investigation of natural resources.

Contemporary situation

At present, national parks are the main actors in Russian system of specially protected areas that develop nature-oriented and ecologically sustainable tourism, though not all of them. The second place belongs to zapovedniks (mainly, the biospheric zapovedniks) that develop strictly controlled ecotourism. There are no reliable data on the number of ecotourists in Russia. Approximate numbers can be judged from annual activities reports of federal protected areas' administration.

There are no reliable data on the number of ecotourists in Russia. Actually, it is almost impossible to estimate real visitor flows as it is done in Europe, because of the absence of adequate methods and difficulty to calculate numbers of independent tourists, especially on territories that have several roads of access. Formally approximate numbers can be judged from annual activities reports of federal protected areas' administration, where organized tourist group visits are registrated (Fig.1 and 2). About 80% of them were visitors to national parks (Buivolov, Basanets 2007). Presumably the numbers are much higher, and so is recreational pressure on nature complexes. Including one day excursion visitors, weekend tourists from the nearest towns and organized tourists mentioned earlier, real number can reach 2400--2500 thousand per annum.

Data on group visits are more reliable. That is why the following figures are based on group visitor numbers.


The data on group visits demonstrate their growth by more than three times in eight years. Though it is hard to judge whether this tendency is still preserved, rapid growth of visitors in 2005 in comparison with the previous years is evident. The amount of visits to the transition zone of zapovedniks grows as well. In 2005, 111.9 thousand visits were registered there, 20% more than a year before.


The number of visitors to national parks increases due to Russian tourists, while the number of foreign tourists has decreased recently (Fig.2). Probably, this is due to a general decrease of interest for Russia that was higher at the end of the 1990s.

More recent comparable data are unavailable. However, according to declarations of administration of protected areas, the number of tourists has been increasing. The Head of Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources sustains that the number of visits in the first six months of 2009 grew by 18% in comparison with the same period in 2008.


In recent years, the number of Russian ecotourists has grown not only due to visitors to protected areas. Green village tourism has been getting more popular, especially in the Altay and Karelia republics. There are also many eco-tours that do not necessarily take place in national parks or zapovedniks, but choose attractive landscapes, historical and cultural museums-zapovedniks, and nature monuments as the most attractive points of the route.

Nevertheless, in general, the high potential of ecotourism in Russia has not been realized in full measure. There are too many tourists in some regions, while other territories, no less worthy, are not popular with tour operators. To evaluate the possibilities of ecotourism development in Russian regions, a special investigation was performed.

On the whole, the existing regional ecotourism structure is shaped by the following actors (Drozdov, Basanets, 2006):

--distribution of protected areas;

--diversity (primarily, biodiversity) and attractiveness of regional ecosystems and landscapes;

--bioclimatic and ecological comfort;

--transport accessibility and distance from urbanization centers that generate demand;

--infrastructure and socio-economic development;

--popularity of regions and certain routes.

The potential was evaluated for every region of Russia taking into account interests of different categories of tourists. The evaluation was based on 11 parameters (most of them complex) grouped in three blocks: natural resources, social and economic conditions, and ecotourism infrastructure (see Table 1). Every region was estimated on the basis of 5-point scale (from 1 to 5) for each block of parameters. Maps for each block of estimates were drawn up on a 1:30 M scale map.

On this basis, administrative regions of Russian were separated into six groups with different structures of the ecopotential. The structure of the potential, i.e., the relationship between the three grades obtained for different blocks, reveals peculiarities of ecotourism development in every region. Ecotourism potential was compared with ecotourism offer (represented on the Internet) of the respective regions.

Considering the development of ecotourism and the conditions favoring it, we take into account general interests of various groups of ecotourists, though we do realize that different groups of ecotourists may have different objects and aims of traveling. In fact, the following main categories of Russian ecotourists have each their own interests:

--active tourists, backpackers;

--lovers of village green holidays;

--fishermen and plant, berry, and mushrooms collectors;

--excursionists--school and college students;

--classic ecotourists (foreigners chiefly), including birdwatchers;

--auto tourists (only some of them and only those friendly to nature);

--Middle class representatives that appreciate environmental quality (not too numerous).

Possibilities of ecotourism development depend strongly on natural characteristics of the territory. The block of natural parameters includes climate, environmental situation, and scenery diversity indicators (see Table1).

Ecotourism volumes, intensity, and types are linked to general socio-economic development of the regions. It can interfere with or favor the involvement of natural resources into ecotourism practices. That is why the second (socio-economic) block includes integrated investment possibilities and population health quality indicators. There is one more indicator in the block: "indicator of possible tourism demand." It was introduced on two assumptions: the larger is the distance between a place of permanent residence and a tourism destination, the less people are likely choose that destination. On the other hand, the bigger is the city, the higher is tourism demand its citizens generate. So the indicator combines two parameters: (i) the distances from 33 biggest cities in Russia (with population over 500 thousand), in which demand for ecotourism is usually generated, to every region's capital; (ii) the population of the biggest cities. The third block includes indicators of ecotourism infrastructure in the regions. Infrastructure development level dictates local capacity for accommodation and quality of services. This block includes traditional tourism indicators--number of accommodation facilities (specific for ecotourism) and highway and railway density--and, also, some special indicators of ecotourism infrastructure: availability of skilled personnel, number of museums (of regional nature and culture, natural history, museums-zapovedniks), and infrastructure of national parks and zapovedniks.

The data used to calculate the indicators proceeds from the Statistical Surveys of the Federal State Statistics Service, Ecological Atlas of Russia, Reference Book on Lakes and Rivers of the USSR, Rating Agency regions investment possibilities study, Annual activities reports of the Federal Protected Areas, several monographs of the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences and other resources.

Results and Discussion

The highest scores for the first block were given to environmentally friendly territories with high scenery diversity. These are the territories of Altay and Buryatia republics, Chita region, Khabarovsk and Primorie regions, and Evenkia.

Smaller territories with high scores for the first block are found in the west of Tver, southeast of Vologda, west of Kirovsk and Ulyanovsk regions, and Chuvash Republic. Unlike Siberian territories, these areas received middle scores of scenery diversity and high scores of climate comfort. The environmental situation in them is also rather favorable.

The Kalmykia Republic, Astrakhan region, southern part of Volgograd region, some mainland areas of the Nenets autonomous region, and the Yana-Indigirka Lowland in the Sakha Republic received the lowest grades. These territories possess low scenery diversity and extreme or discomfort indicators of nature conditions of life.

Moscow region received the highest marks for the second block of indicators. It is clearly due to political, socio-economic role of the region at the national level. Moscow region is attractive for investments because of the high innovation, industrial, and financial possibilities. It is not among the top healthiest regions in Russia, but, anyway, its population health index is higher than the average in the country. The region's location relative to the main ecotourism demand sources is exceptionally convenient. First, because Moscow region is a traditional destination for millions of Moscow residents for weekend tours. Second, because there are 16 biggest Russian cities located less than 1000 km away from Moscow city, so that a one night journey can take them there.

Siberian and Far Eastern regions received the lowest scores for the second block. Nature conditions strongly affect the level of population health. Climate severity explains low population density and, as a result, low tourism demand.

Some regions of this group have average scores of investment possibilities (the Sakha Republic occupies the 16th place and Amur region, the 47th place), though most of them are not very attractive for investments.

Moscow region is also the leader in the third block (ecotourism infrastructure) estimates. It has the highest indicators of transport density, skilled personnel supply, and the number of museums and the second highest indicator of accommodation facilities. Unfortunately, the infrastructure of protected areas in Moscow region is only in the fourth ten.

Thus, ecotourism potential of every region is evaluated on the basis of three grades characterizing natural and socio-economic conditions and ecotourism infrastructure. Nine contrasting combinations of three grades can be distinguished (1-1-1, 5-1-1, 1-5-1, 1-1-5, 5-5-1, 1-5-5, 5-5-5, 5-1-5, 3-3-3). The types of ecotourism potential can be characterized on the basis of these combinations. Almost all Russian regions were identified within one of the five types of ecotourism structure; two of them were further subdivided into subtypes. Moscow region was sorted out as a separate type (Table 2).

Type A is characterized by low grades in all the blocks of ecotourism potential, as, for example, the Kalmykia Republic.

Type B possesses high grades in the first (nature) block, but low grades in the second and third blocks. Kamchatka region and the Altay Republic are the examples.

Type C possesses low grades in the first and third blocks, while social and economic situation (block two) is favorable, as it is in Volgograd region.

Type D is characterized by favorable nature indicators and socio-economic situation, but poor ecotourism infrastructure development, as in the Chuvashia Republic. Type E has average ecotourism potential grades, as Omsk and Leningrad regions and the Mary El Republic.

Type F was established for Moscow region, as the structure of its ecotourism potential is sharply different from that in types A-E and consists of the medium grade in the block of nature indicators and the highest grades in the socio-economic and ecotourism infrastructure blocks.

Adjacent regions with similar grades compose 30 ecotourism districts of Russia (Figure 3). The Siberian and Far Eastern regions are characterized by similar structure of the potential: nature resources have received high grade, while socio-economic conditions and ecotourism infrastructure have been found inadequate. Therefore, there are only few districts, all of them are of A or B types. Grades of European regions are more diverse. In spite of relatively uniform nature resources, the levels of infrastructure development and socio-economic conditions differ from region to region, so that numerous ecotourism districts can be distinguished.


On the whole, current ecotourism offer agrees with ecotourism potential grades. "Classic" ecotourism offer is typical of Northern, Siberian and Far Eastern areas.

These are tours to protected areas that include typical activities, such as nature observation and animal watching, scientific lectures on environmental problems, traditional culture, and local nature management. Usually they last from 10 to 25 days. Such programs as cruising along Yenisey river or around the Commander islands (Commander islands reserve), birdwatching in Lena river delta (Ust-Lensky reserve) and hiking through Far Eastern taiga (Lazovsky reserve, Khassansky nature park) form traditional ecotourism offer in these regions.

Rural, cultural ecotourism is more typical of the European regions. This is the so-called "West-European" ecotourism model. It permits involving cultural heritage in a new fashion, interpreting it together with nature. Tours in the European part have smaller duration (usually from two to seven days) and combine nature and cultural excursions. The development of "cultural ecotourism" is very promising in European regions because of many cultural objectives, specific traditions of nature management, and great ecotourism demand.

Probably the most famous destinations for cultural ecotourism are Kenozero national park in Arkhangesk region and Vodlozero national park in Karelia republic.

Ecotourism offer of the Karelia, Altay, and Buryatia republics and Irkutsk region is the most diverse on the whole. Recently, there have been built up a lot of comfortable small and medium size hotels. In addition growing demand for nature tourism makes local people enter tourism industry market with rural houses accommodation. Still both new hotels and village houses do not usually fulfill sustainability requirements.

There are several well prepared ecotours with visits to protected areas of the Far East, most of them were developed by NGOs. These tours usually take place in areas with very primitive living conditions, as a rule tourists live in forest refuges or tents.

There are some interesting tours in the Urals, the Caucasus regions and in Kamchatka. However, sustainable tourism requirements for transportation, accommodation and waste treatment technologies are rarely met in these regions.

Very limited offer of ecotours to Chukotka, Taimyr Peninsula, Yamal, and other polar territories includes interesting programs. There are very few hospitality infrastructure and tourists are usually accommodated on cruising ships. However indigenous dwellings such as urtas have appeared on the tourism market recently.


Taking into consideration estimated ecotourism potential and monitored offer of ecotours, a specific policy of ecotourism development may be worked out for every region. Here are some examples of general recommendations.

Yakutia and Chukotka (ecotourism potential type B) have certain natural resources but very low indicators of socio-economic development and minimum infrastructure. Ecotourism policy should include the development of specialized classic ecotours for individual tourists and small scientific groups involving indigenous people in ecotourism practices. The Caucasus region is a traditional area of mass tourism with high grades of ecotourism potential components. This region will obviously maintain "sun and sea tourism" as a priority, but there are two additional prospects for ecotourism implementation. First, ecotourism programs may be offered during low season, and second, ecological excursions may be offered to "traditional" tourists to diversify their activities at a resort.

A comparison of positive and negative factors affecting ecotourism in Russia (Table 2) indicates that only the second and fifth pairs contain serious contradictions. Difficulties in other pairs can be removed gradually.

To resolve the problems of ecotourism development in Russia, concentrated efforts are required. They have to be directed to ecotourism infrastructure development in the first place, because general socio-economic and natural conditions are more difficult to manage. Another priority is to achieve high quality upon preparing and conducting ecotours.

It is important to understand that sustainable regional development of tourism in general and, more precisely, ecotourism requires accurate integrated planning and sufficient time.


BUIVOLOV, YUA & BASANETS, LP. (2007), Ecological Tourism in National Parks and Reserves of Russia: Tendencies of Development and Management Problems, Environmental Planning and Management, 4 (5), 39-45.

BUTORIN, A. (1998), Indigenous Traditional Use Areas and World Heritage Areas in Russia in S. Dompke & M. Succow, Cultural Landscapes and Nature Conservation in Northern Eurasia, Proceedings of the Worlitz Symposium, Naturschutzbund Deutschland, 162-165.

DROZDOV, AV & BASANETS LP. (2006), Tourist Environmental Management, Ecological Imperative and Potential of Russia, in VM Kotlyakov (ed.), Environmental Management and Sustainable Development. World Ecosystems and Problems of Russia, KMK Scientific Press Ltd, Moscow, 322-340.

FEDERAL TOURISM AGENCY (2008), Ecological Tourism. Available at [accessed 20 October, 2009]

KASTEN, E. (1998), Indigenous Cultures and the World Heritage Area in Kamchatka in S. Dompke & M. Succow, Cultural Landscapes and Nature Conservation in Northern Eurasia, Proceedings of the Worlitz Symposium, Naturschutzbund Deutschland, 186-191.

MASTNY, L. (2001), Traveling Light: New Paths for International Tourism. Worldwatch Institute, Worldwatch Paper 159, 2001

TIES GLOBAL ECOTOURISM FACT SHEET (2006), Available at What_is_Ecotourism__The_International_Ecotourism_Society.htm [accessed 20 October, 2009]

Received February 26, 2010

Alexander DROZDOV *, Larisa BASANETS **

* Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

** Ecological Travel Center, Moscow, Russia
Table. 1. The list of indicators that
characterize regions' ecotourism potential

1st Block   1. Comfort of nature conditions for living (durations of
            periods of different air temperatures; amplitudes of
            annual, monthly and daily air temperatures; provision of
            water for household and drinking purposes, its quality and
            accessibility; possibility of hazardous natural phenomenon
            and some others)

            2. Scenery diversity (river network density; percent of
            forested area; relief ruggedness)

            3. Tenseness of ecological situation

2nd Block   1. Integrated investment possibilities (investment risks
            and investment potential)

            2. Population health quality (life expectancy, infant
            mortality, standardized mortality rate for male and female)

            3. Possible tourism demand (see explanation in the text)

3rd Block   1. Accommodation capacity (ecolodges, campings, guest

            2. Highway and railway density

            3. Skilled tourism personnel available

            4. Regional nature and culture, natural history,
            ethnographic museums density

            5. Infrastructure of national parks and zapovedniks (% of
            region's territory occupied by zapovedniks and national
            parks, stuff number of ecological education and ecotourism
            departments, number of visit centers and museums of nature
            and information points in the protected areas, number and
            length of ecological trails and routes in national parks
            and zapovedniks and in their buffer zones.

Table 2. Types of ecotourism potential found in Russia

    Grades         Average grade in each type

Type          1st block   2nd block   3rd block

A (1-1-1)       2,40        1,80        1,00
B1 (5-1-1)      3,00        1,00        1,14
B2 (5-1-1)      4,24        1,47        1,24
C (1-5-1)       2,20        3,80        1,20
D (5-5-1)       4,25        3,75        1,50
E1 (3-3-3)      3,00        3,00        1,00
E2 (3-3-3)      3,21        3,43        2,00
E3 (3-3-3)      3,06        3,44        3,11
F (3-5-5)       3,00        5,00        5,00

Table 3. Positive and negative factors of ecotourism development

Positive                             Negative

Very high nature diversity           Inadequate tourism product
(landscapes ranging from tundra to   diversification, poor ecotourism
subtropics, plains and mountains,    programs
seas, rivers, lakes)

Vast virgin territories with high    Vulnerability and high
environ- mental quality              sensitiveness of many ecosystems,
                                     existence of territories with bad
                                     ecological situation

Vast network of protected areas,     Quite few specialized tour
numerous naturalists                 operators, few professional
                                     ecotourism guides

Many regions where traditional       Sometimes not very friendly
societies and cultural landscapes    attitude towards tourists,
are preserved                        especially on behalf of local
                                     authorities and residents

High average education level of      Low average income level, absence
townsmen, traditional interest for   of readiness for real ecological
journeys in nature                   journeys

Comparatively low investment         Delusions about possibilities of
required for ecotourism              fast profits in ecotourism.
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Author:Drozdov, Alexander; Basanets, Larisa
Publication:Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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