Russia plans to increase Arctic tourism, with a focus on responsible travel. Tourism experts attending the annual International Arctic Forum in St Petersburg this week have outlined ambitious plans to maximise revenue from the polar region.
Russia has the largest share of Arctic territory and approximately 1,000 people visit the Russian Arctic National Park each year, but only 5% of those are Russian. According to the park's figures, 30% of visitors come from China and 17% from Germany. In 2018, Norway's Spitzbergen Archipelago hosted more than 120,000 tourists.
Tours for Russians are still extremely expensive, ranging from €8,250 up to €27,500 (600,000 to 2 million rubles), depending on the type of cruise.
The director of the Russian Arctic National Park, Alexander Kirilov, said: "Here we can see polar bears, arctic foxes, narwhals and whales in their natural environment. It's a very interesting feeling one gets there, it feels great. Animals come to have a look at you, it's like in a zoo only it isn't you who comes to look at the animals, they come to look at you.
"Many people want to visit the Arctic but simply can't afford it financially. There is also a lack of well-planned tours. Only a few travel companies understand the specifics of organising tours to the Arctic."
Polar regions expert Inge Solheim said that although he would love to see tourism develop in the Russian Arctic, he agrees that there is a long way to go in terms of infrastructure, marketing, investment climate and accessibility of the region.
"Russia has all the ingredients for a massive tourism success. But of course regulations, border controls, visa requirements – all of that is making it difficult for providers to offers products in Russia. Also, the infrastructure, the logistical challenge of just getting to these amazing places, when there's no road and no airport available, is difficult, it's a big challenge," he explains.
"On a governmental level, they have to really want it, to really facilitate this, to make it easy for local providers to sell a good product."
The Economic Development Minister announced at the forum that Russia hopes to develop port infrastructure, routes and programmes of activities on the shore to promote Arctic tourism.
Although Solheim agrees the Arctic region should be more accessible to tourists, he adds that this must be carefully planned so as not to have a negative impact on the beauty and ecology of the area.
He said: "Since the first time I went to the Arctic – about 25 years ago – there has been a big change in Arctic sea ice. The sea ice has been shrinking, especially the summer sea ice has been shrinking a lot, and for me, it is interesting to see and quite scary, the big change."