Analysis and Commentary
Russian Arctic National Park Director Roman Yershov
© Maria Malinovskaya

Russian Arctic park gears up for tourist influx

The fifth international forum, The Arctic: the Present and the Future, took place on December 7-9 in St. Petersburg. In between sessions, Arctic.ru’s correspondent talked to Russian Arctic National Park Director Roman Yershov, who shared his plans for expanding the park.

Tourism, including Arctic tourism, is a major talking point today. How is the Russian Arctic Park developing? Has the number of tourists increased over the past year?

Tourism in the Russian Arctic Park is developing at a rapid pace. This is related, above all, to the pilot project we launched earlier this year in conjunction with the regional authorities and Federal Agency for Tourism. It involves opening a temporary crossing point for foreign ships: Spitsbergen Archipelago — Franz Josef Land — Spitsbergen. It has led to a rise in the tourist flow.

Next year, the project will be operated in test mode. We hope the operation of this crossing point will become permanent, as the expediency of this logistics scheme is geographically evident. After all, Spitsbergen is only a short distance to go for foreign vessels. Needless to say, everything will proceed under full control.

So, the national park is preparing to handle an increase in the number of tourists by training personnel, creating eco-trails and developing new itineraries. Our main goal is to ensure that the pristine Arctic environment remains intact due to a rise in the tourist flow, so that new tourists also see the Arctic in pristine condition. It is a key task for park employees. There is a huge potential demand for this, so I have every reason to say Arctic tourism will thrive.

Are there more Russian or foreign tourists now?

As of now, there are more foreign tourists but this is mostly due to the cost of tours. When logistical problems are dealt with, tours become cheaper. We hope this will make the route more popular among Russian tourists.

Many people associate the Arctic with danger. Do you think it is dangerous to set out on an Arctic tour?

Generally speaking, the Arctic is naturally associated with danger, as it is not meant for human habitation or a long-term presence, especially in the high-latitude Arctic, such as Franz Josef Land or Novaya Zemlya or other Arctic islands. Our task is, in conjunction with tour operators, to ensure a safe presence on this territory; first of all, for the permanent inhabitants of the Arctic and, second, for tourists.

Of course, tourists need not be afraid to visit the Arctic. I believe everything will work out.

You say new itineraries for Arctic tourists are being developed. What are they?

First of all, the park's boundaries are due to expand soon with the inclusion of the territory of the Franz Josef Land federal reserve, and it will be one big national park. It will be divided into functional zones where new itineraries will be developed. Naturally, all of them will include visits to Franz Josef Land islands and key sites adapted for environmentally friendly tourist visits.