Updated at 13:48,15-08-2017

Tourism has no economic significance in Belarus; hopes are set on the crisis

EuroBelarus

A mere simplification of the visa regime for foreigners wont change the situation; comprehensive change of the whole tourist policy of the country is needed, experts say.

Last week the problems of the Belarusian tourism were discussed in Minsk. How important is the possible simplification of visa regime for foreigners, which should follow the expected simplification of visa regime on the part of the EU?

As the head of the World Wildlife Support Fund Krasny Bor Siarhei Plytkevich noted, "why should a foreigner prefer visiting Belarus to, for example, traveling to Lithuania?" "A European can get to Lithuania without a visa; there are cheap flights and so on. And our problem lies not just in visa, but also in border control. After April (when new regulations on goods importation entered into force in Belarus) we can only describe what is happening with foreigners on our border as a disaster. How can we talk about tourism, when people cannot bring any basic things to Belarus? This is, actually, some sort of sabotage against people: visas, queues all this, of course, affect the development of tourism as such. This situation gives almost no chances for successful development."

"On the other hand, those foreigners who managed to somehow get through this to enter Belarus, are just delighted in our country. They are shocked both because of our people and because of our nature. There are almost no forests to stop in Europe, whereas in Belarus but for protected areas its possible to stay overnight almost anywhere. Indeed, our castles cannot compete with the Czech Republic or with Estonia, but out forests and swamps can compete with the rest of Europe. It should be noted that over the last three years the infrastructure has increased dramatically. But the question is, how can a potential client get information about all of this. We are now creating the Association of owners of accommodation facilities and we hope that the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Sports and Tourism will be taking the association into consideration, because these people have actually proved that they are working for the sake of our country", - said Siarhei Plytkevich.

The main thing is the offer of services. According to the experts, the permit for visa-free attendance of the Bialowieza Forest hasnt seriously affected the flow of tourists: "There are about 300-400 manors on the Polish side of the forest and a three-star hotel, whereas we have almost nothing in fact, its a no-go area everywhere there, no mansions, nothing. There should be things interesting to tourists."

The head of the Republican Union of Tourist Organisations (RUTO) Valentin Tsekhmeister provides us with an example of the advertised Augustow Canal: "If, for example, a German citizen is traveling on a boat on the Polish side, (s)he is followed by convoy, has a sanitary stop after some time, makes camp, has shower, dinner, and rests after that the journey continues. As soon as (s)he gets on the Belarusian side everythings gone. The desirable wildness is gone; however, civilization didnt step in either. Theres no disco, no souvenir shops, or anything else that might keep a tourist in this area."

According to Plytkevich, the lack of comfort scares away many potential visitors: "People get used to a certain pace of life; a foreigner is used to the fact that he can travel to any country without suffering, without the extra work, all the more unpleasant. Well, the same goes for border. For a foreigner Belarusian border is a test. They got used to good things."

But, at the same time, "there is no way but to move forward." "There will be a simplification of both visa and border regime there is no way to escape it, because we have no oil, no gas, but we are still in the center of Europe, Belarus is a transit country, we should develop tourism, whether someone likes it or not, these are the rules of economics. If we dont do it, we are going to be poor and miserable, - says Siarhei Plytkevich. - But we cannot link everything to the simplification of the visa regime comprehensive change of the whole tourist policy of the country is needed."

According to Valentin Tsekhmeister, until the Ministry of Tourism and Sports is not the leading organization, while it has no economic significance in Belarus there will be no results." "In those countries where tourism has economic significance, the authorities realized that this industry requires investment. Whereas the Ministry of Sports and Tourism has nothing against tourism and even welcomes it, but doesnt do anything until someone else in the government welcomes it either. Today, tourism occupies 0.5%, 1.5% at maximum of our economy. Therefore, we cannot expect anything substantial without changing our attitude to tourism. There are issues where we are powerless,"- Valentin Tsekhmeister concludes.