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29 Jun, 2007 03:07

“Russia Close-Up”: Krasnodar poised for tourism boom

Even though it makes up a little more than 4% of Russia's territory, the Krasnodar region is itself a land of great diversity. The almost-deserted sandy beaches of the Azov Sea, the snow-topped peaks of the lofty Caucasian Mountains are a heaven for hiker.

For Roman Tereshenko and his wife living in Krasnodar offers a particular advantage – it's just a few hours' drive to the coasts of both the Black Sea and the Azov Sea. But Roman prefers the calm waters of the latter.

“There are fewer people here and it’s calmer. And, unlike the Black sea, we can drive straight up to the beach. We don't need to leave our car anywhere else,” he explains.

Many say the Azov coast has the potential to be a high-quality tourist resort. However, the water is not thought to be not as clean as in the Black Sea. And as yet the hotels lack both the quality and capacity to accommodate large numbers of visitors.

But there is a place in Krasnadar which hits the tourist jackpot. It’s where the Black Sea meets the mountains – the city of Sochi.  Since Soviet times it has been the country's main resort, visited by millions every summer. And in the winter, the ski resorts at Krasnaya Polyana attract hundreds of thousands.

However, many hotels built decades ago haven’t been renovated and in some cases are practically uninhabitable.

“We still have a lot to learn. I would say in school terms we're somewhere in the 6th grade. Our main task is to create good investment conditions. And we've had some success – these days some property fairs have tens of investors bidding for the land,” says Viktor Kolodyazhny, Mayor of Sochi.

Ever since businessmen in Russia realised the need for investment in the Black Sea coast, European-style hotels have started springing up. The first and so far the only 5-star hotel in Sochi was rebuilt from a Soviet-style holiday home and opened last summer.  It combines hi-tech with chic, with quality service. It combines hi-tech with chic, with quality service. Rooms there cost $US 2,000 a night, but there is no shortage of clients.

“Now our hotel is full. Moreover, the whole summer is booked up. Our guests started booking their rooms as early as autumn last year,” says Eleonora Zlobina, hotel manager.

For many other Russians, with more modest holiday budgets, Sochi offers what’s known as the “private sector” – rooms for rent in private homes.  Essentially it’s a cheap bed & breakfast.  But it offers an affordable way to spend your days at the beach. And gives the locals a tidy profit for as well.

“This business is good for those who can’t earn money in the winter time. We’ve practically no jobs in winter time. Our rooms for rent bring us around $US 5,000 profit per season,” says landlord Sergey Pavlenko.

The authorities say that despite Sochi's appearance as a well-developed but growing resort, the real race for tourism profits is only gathering pace. And, they add, a lot depends on whether or not Sochi wins the bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Krasnodar region has all the makings of a world-class tourist destination. The question is – will it ever become one? Experts say if current growth rates continue, this dream could be a reality just around the corner.

This story is the second of a new monthly series on RT called “Russia close-up”. The aim of the project is to look in detail at the special life and character of Russia's many regions. In June, there'll be three day's of reports from the Krasnodar region in the south of the country. We’ll tell you about agriculture and tourism there, as well as reporting on the region's famous resort city, Sochi, and its bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2014. So, make a date with “Russia close-up” – live on Russia Today.