Vologda looks to tourism for bigger slice of the economic pie

Most foreign visitors to Russia think first of the wonders of St Petersburg or Moscow, with the Kremlin, palaces and ancient monasteries high on the agenda. But Vologda is looking to put itself on the tourist map.

Founded in the eleventh century – and part of the ancient trade routes to the north and west which linked medieval Russia with the outside world – it is rich in cultural history. The region – on the watershed between the Baltic, Caspian and white seas – has natural beauty. Vologda businesses believe more tourism would be good for the economy according to Galina Telegina, President of the Vologda Trade and Industry Association.

“There are global programmes for developing tourism in the Vologda region, which might breath in life into many sectors. For now there are just words, and nothing is being done. But what we should have is real schedule of what should be done and when. Currently tourism is just 3% of regional GDP and 3% of the budget of the region.”

Outside the Golden Ring – which is famous among domestic and foreign tourists – the region lacks initiatives to attract sightseers who could boost the local economy. Russian cultural heritage might remain unseen by the majority of tourists visiting Russia due to the lack of infrastructure and proper services. But where officials are slow small business is ready to pick up, offering affordable accommodation in the traditional style.

With thousands of lakes and rivers it’s a fishing paradise – and the Kamen Bor is one of many small businesses which have sprung up. Owner, Andrey Oplesnin, says the project has grown from humble beginnings.

“First we were building houses for ourselves, but we need money for maintenance. so we had an idea to turn it into small hotels. We registered as a small enterprise and now we have people coming from Moscow and many other cities, and we see the pay-off period of 6 years.”

The traditional Russian village experience will appeal to more domestic tourists in the wake of the economic slowdown – being affordable and unique. But if the region can raise its profile in the ranks of Russia’s tourist destinations then tourism in Vologda may yet provide a bigger dividend for its people.