Rural tourism to boost
Last year Belarusian owners of farm stay facilities earned Br12.7 million each
More than 180,000 people have visited Belarusian rural retreats this year – a 25% rise on 2011. Locals show the highest demand for countryside retreats, accounting for 86 percent of the total number of agricultural tourists. Foreign countries have been represented by Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Poles, Moldavians and Germans. According to the Ministry of Sports and Tourism, 70% of 1.9 thousand registered farmstay accommodations, i.e. more than 1.3 thousand, are ready to host visitors. 182 major agricultural firms are also engaged in agritourism.
“We always quote statistics provided to us by tax authorities. But before newly registered farms, of which there were 350 this year, start receiving tourists, some time might pass,” explains Vadim Karmazin, Director of the Ministry’s Department of Tourism.
While someone makes the first steps in farmstay business, others unite into clusters. “The time when farmsteads offered only bed & breakfast has gone. Vacationers now want to have entertainments and interesting excursions. If a person plans to spend just one night at a farm, the host’s task is to make him want to stay for another 3 or 4 days. It is not easy to make tourists’ leisure time diverse if you work alone. That is why we worked out Volozhinskie Gostintsy (Volozhin roads) itinerary on the basis of the area’s farmsteads. At first it was difficult to convince people that the project would benefit everyone. One year has passed, and we see that our idea is beneficial to all,” says Anatoly Ganez, the owner of the Hanka manor.
An information center that provides information about government agency and country club services in the area was opened two months ago.
The best representatives of agritourism are beginning to work as mini tour operators. They offer a comprehensive rural activities program which has a positive effect on the attractiveness of countryside holidays. “Our climate is unstable and we do not have many monuments of architecture, as, for example, Italy has. But we want to offer diversified tourist activities,” says Valeria Klitsunova, head of the Country Escape organization. She is convinced that in the near future the country will launch the first rural resort. Perhaps, it will appear in Volozhin region. Another possible destination is Rossony district. “These lands have a huge potential. For example, Dribinsky area is known for its felt boots. We need to find and promote something unique in each area,” she says.
Meanwhile, farmstay facilities are faced with problems that must be solved in the years to come. One of them is related to construction of two guest houses on one plot. Lending to rural retreats owners remains the most painful difficulty. Starting from 2007, landowners could take a 5% loan from Belagroprombank for seven years. Expected income was one of the criteria for loan approval. Soft conditions aroused interest among rural tourism service providers, and 193 loans were granted in 2008. Because the requirements for credit applicants were tightened, in 2011 this number dropped to 32, in 2012 – to 18.
“Our principle is to receive guests the way you would like to be received yourself,” says Andrey Nizhnik, host of one of the best farmsteads. “We charge Br 400,000 per night, three meals included. Our guests are happy to stay here Friday to Sunday. We invest the money earned in the development and modernization of the farmstead”.