The effects of the economic crisis benefit domestic tourism


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НазваниеThe effects of the economic crisis benefit domestic tourism
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Current impact

At present, the territories of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia constitute a single customs territory, with internal customs borders having been abolished since Belarus entered into the Customs Union with Russia and Kazakhstan in 2010. Subsequently, no entrance visa is required for citizens of Russia and Kazakhstan when visiting Belarus, and this also applies to the citizens of the majority of CIS countries, which therefore constitute a substantial proportion of total arrivals into Belarus. During 2010, the two million arrivals from CIS countries accounted for 48% of total arrivals into Belarus, figures which exclude transit entries and crossings of the Russian-Belarusian border. The lack of Russian-Belarusian border control favours the steady passenger traffic between the two countries. Moreover, the comparatively low prices charged for recreation services and sanatoriums in Belarus and the fact that the Belarusian population consists almost entirely of Russian-speaking people makes Belarus a highly attractive destination for Russian tourists. According to the National Statistics Committee of Belarus, citizens of Russia accounted for 80,900 organised tourists, 67.4% of the total number of organised inbound tourists in Belarus during 2010.

Outlook

During 2011, the Ministry of Sport and Tourism committed itself to its proposal to the government to alter and simplify the country’s visa regime. However, the prospects for this simplification and alteration of Belarus’ visa regime remain unclear. However, the attitude of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus is already known to be hostile. The Ministry of Foreign of Affairs does not consider the country’s visa regime to represent a barrier to the development of travel and tourism in the country. Furthermore, following international condemnation of the elections which were held in Belarus in December 2010, during 2011 the EU issued a list of Belarusian companies which are forbidden to operate within the EU and expanded the list of Belarusian officials which are banned from entering EU Member States. The EU’s stand is likely to contribute to the reluctance of the Belarusian government to undertake any serious positive changes to the country’s visa regime during the forecast period.

^ Future impact

In spite of the negative position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the matter, the reality is that any relaxation of Belarus’ visa regime would be most likely to exert a notable positive influence on tourism flows inbound in Belarus and would stimulate strong development in the country’s travel and tourism industry. While the government’s plans for Belarus’ visa regime remain rather unclear, the growth of inbound tourism from those living in the border areas of neighbouring countries, which is currently poorly developed in Belarus, appears to be a more realistic solution to the conundrum of how to boost tourism flows inbound in Belarus. According to data provided by the Ministry of Sport and Tourism of Belarus, approximately two million of Belarus’ annual inbound tourists live in close proximity to the Belarusian border in neighbouring countries. The implementation of visa-free 50km border zone would encourage more inbound arrivals from those living in close proximity to the Belarusian border.

^ Online travel and tourism services continue to emerge

In spite of growing internet penetration in Belarus, the online booking and payment of travel and tourism services in the country remains underdeveloped, mainly due to the high numbers of Belarusians who have absolutely no confidence in the safety and security of online payment methods. However, the progress which was made in terms of improving the image of online payment methods in Belarus during the review period suggests that the prospects for increasing the popularity of online travel and tourism services and, crucially, the online booking and payment for these services, remain positive in Belarus.

^ Current impact

Belarus’ national airline Belavia can be considered a pioneer in offering online travel and tourism services in Belarus. Since Belavia introduced its online booking and payment system for air tickets in February 2010, the online consumption of air travel services has increased dramatically in Belarus. For instance, between 95% and 97% of tickets on Belavia’s popular London-Minsk route are now purchased online. In February 2011, the Belarusian national railway also began selling tickets online via its website at www.poezd.rw.by. This resource also permits passengers to check railway schedules and ticket prices as well as available seats on popular services. Initially, these services were only available in Russian language and payment was only an option for holders of the Belarusbank card. However, it is expected that further development will soon extend the scope of these services.

Unfortunately, Belarus has not yet been included on the priority lists of the major global online booking systems. Minsk’s hotels benefit from excellent online presentation, although travel accommodation in Belarus’ rural regions suffer from their lack of online visibility and the lack of online information, not to mention the absence of online booking facilities. Belarus’ first online accommodation booking resource, Hotel.by, currently includes around 30 hotels.

During May 2011, domestic online travel and tourism services were elevated to the next level following the launch of the national online booking system Kali-laska.by, which can be also accessed through the travel and tourism section of the official Belarusian portal Belarus.by as well as the portal of the National Tourism Agency. At present, the resource provides tourists with the opportunity to book excursions and various types of travel accommodation, including over 50 hotels, cottages and apartments in 11 Belarusian cities and town. The number of hotels in Belarus is expected to double in the near future, suggesting that there will soon be more hotels to promote through this resource. Furthermore, the resource is expected to be expanded to include car rental and transfer services as well as the opportunity to book local recreational facilities. According to Belarus’ travel and tourism officials, the national travel and tourism online booking system is ready for integration with international consolidators in order to make Belarus’ travel and tourism products and services available to foreign tour operators.

Outlook

The household penetration of broadband internet in Belarus is expected to increase by almost 40% between 2011 and 2015 to reach 40.6% of Belarusian households. Along with the increasing number of internet users, the level of internet commerce is also expected to increase. Moreover, due to growing urbanisation in Belarus, greater demand will emerge for services which save consumers time and offer higher levels of convenience, which is certain to result in online services becoming more popular during the forecast period.

^ Future impact

As consumer confidence in the security of internet commerce and online transactions is expected to continue increasing in Belarus over the forecast period, online sales in travel and tourism are likely to continue experiencing rapid growth. The development of online booking services will be of great benefit to inbound tourists, many of whom prefer to book tickets, accommodation, car rental and taxi services, tourist guides and excursions before arriving in Belarus. For this reason, Belarusian online travel and tourism services are likely to become more integrated during the forecast period, with a wider range of services offered within one website. The success of local online travel and tourism services will also depend on foreign promotion and the cooperation of Belarus’ travel and tourism stakeholders with global online resources. The image of Belarus as a viable international travel and tourism destination has the potential to benefit from the development of the country’s online travel and tourism infrastructure.

^ Belarus attracts investment in its travel and tourism industry

The Belarusian government has recognised the importance of attracting both foreign and domestic investment to its travel and tourism industry and is prepared to offer preferential tax terms to investors involved in developing the country’s travel and tourism infrastructure, including restoration and reconstruction of the country’s many historic landmarks.

^ Current impact

The development of Belarus’ travel accommodation infrastructure has proved to be the most attractive target for foreign investment in the country’s travel and tourism infrastructure. Towards the end of 2010, Iran-based multinational construction company Kayson announced that it would be investing €250 million in the construction of the Magnit multifunctional business and hotel complex in Minsk. Construction on this hotel began before the end of 2010, although work later slowed down due to the economic recession which plagued Belarus throughout 2011. The construction of the second building in the Hotel Victoria complex also began in Minsk during 2010. The investment for this project amounted to €47 million, which was provided by local bank Belarusbank and Poland-based Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego. During 2011, Latvia-based RBSSKALS announced its intention to invest US$100 million in the construction of a Hyatt Regency Hotel in Minsk, and this facility is set to enter into service during 2012.

However, it is Russia from that a significant amount of the investment capital for the development of Belarus’ travel and tourism infrastructure still comes. During 2010, AMAKS Hotels & Resorts, the owner of one of the largest hotel chains in Russia, invested a total of US$2.5 million for the controlling stake in the company behind Bobruysk Hotel and 25% of the shares in OAO Gostinitsa Mogilev, the company behind the Mogilev Hotel. This resulted in each of these hotels being redeveloped and refurbished to 3-star level. At present, the company is engaged in talks over partial privatisation of other hotels in the Gomel, Grodno, Vitebsk and Minsk oblasts. During 2011, the construction of the Hermitage Hotel in Brest was also completed thanks to significant investment from Russia-based ??? Invest-M. The same investment company has taken interest in the construction of a chain of small roadside hotels, each consisting of 12-13 guest rooms, along the M1 Brest-Moscow motorway, which forms part of the E30 expressway, the major arterial road route crossing Belarus and connecting eastern Poland with Moscow. In spite of Belarus being little more than a transit country for travellers using the E30 route, roadside accommodation in the country is seriously lacking, making the development of a chain of small travel accommodation facilities along the route a potentially lucrative operation and an excellent option for investment. The investment required for the construction of each roadside hotel is expected to be in the region of US$2 million.

In order to attract new external private funding sources for the development and preservation of Belarus’ cultural heritage tourist attractions, in March 2011, the Belarusian government decided to introduce boards of trustees acting under the auspices of various cultural organisations, and this initiative has already proved to be rather effective.

Outlook

According to public travel and tourism officials, Belarus’ travel and tourism industry currently takes advantage of less than 10% of potential investment opportunities and relies almost entirely on the state budget for its development. The Belarusian government expects to attract more private investment from domestic and foreign sources in order to make possible the comprehensive redevelopment of the country’s travel and tourism industry. According to the state tourism programme for 2011-2015, 80% of travel and tourism development costs are expected to arrive from non-state sources. The programme also provides for the construction of 19 new hotels, the majority of them 5-star operations, with total investment required for the achievement of these objectives amounting to US$1.3 billion. Apart from local investors, several foreign investment companies and foundations have already announced investment plans for Belarus’ travel and tourism plans including multinational hotel developer Kempinski, Turkey-based Al Construction, Cyprus-based Prudenko Investments Ltd, the Investment Fund of Qatar Armed Forces and the State General Reserve Fund of the Sultanate of Oman.

By 2014, Minsk National Airport—previously Minsk-2—will have been completely reconstructed, with this projected funded by Chinese investors which enjoy considerable tax concessions from the Belarusian government. The reconstruction project has also attracted Chinese citizens, who are able to reside in Belarus and work on the project without the need for residence and work permits, while the materials used in the construction are not subject to the normal import taxes and duties.

^ Future impact

The preferential treatment for companies involved in the development of Belarus’ travel and tourism infrastructure, specifically exemptions from certain regulations and generous tax concessions, offered by the Belarusian government are expected to boost the amount of investment in the country’s travel and tourism industry during the forecast period, with special emphasis given to the development of the country’s travel accommodation. Due to increasing investment, the level of service on offer in Belarus’ hotels is also expected to increase. However, the most positive changes are expected to be focused on Minsk, which is set to host the Ice Hockey World Championships in 2014. Belarus’ other regions are most likely to retain high potential for further development and improvement during the forecast period. Furthermore, due to the majority of hotels currently under construction in Belarus being 4-star and 5-star hotels, the problems stemming from the lack of low-priced and mid-priced travel accommodation in Belarus is to remain during the forecast period.

The investment which has been allocated for the development of rural tourism facilities in Belarus is also set to boost the already growing popularity of agro-tourism in the country and contribute to the development of Belarus’ rural infrastructure generally, including improved roads, road signage and hospitality provision.

^ BALANCE OF PAYMENTS

Inbound tourists arriving in Belarus generally spend less whilst in the country than Belarusians do when travelling abroad. The deficit in the tourism balance of payments, which amounted to BYR434.0 billion in 2011, can also be explained by the high number of outbound departures, which exceeded arrivals in Belarus by 1.2 million in 2011. Another reason for the negative balance of payments results from the low proportion of business tourists among arrivals in Belarus, with business arrivals accounting for just 9% of total arrivals in 2011. Business arrivals tend to be more lucrative for their host countries as they are prepared to pay significantly more to travel in relative comfort as their expenses tend to be covered by their companies. The majority of inbound arrivals in Belarus are visiting family and friends, an activity which does little to generate growth incoming tourist receipts.

Table 1 Balance of Tourism Payments: Value 2006-2011

^ BYR billion

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011






















Incoming Receipts 

575.6

662.5

798.6

1,058.7

1,233.3

1,416.6

Outgoing Expenditure 

1,166.6

1,264.6

1,469.4

1,682.9

1,715.1

1,850.7

Balance Of Payments 

-591.0

-602.1

-670.8

-624.2

-481.8

-434.0
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