Travel to suit all tastes
[b]History and nature are major tourist attractions of Belarus [/b]Having travelled through our country, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland to Belarus, H. E. Mrs. Rosemary Thomas, notes that British people could be attracted to holiday in Belarus. She is convinced of the broad possibilities offered by Belarusian nature and history regarding tourism. “Belarus is a country for niche tourism, attracting lovers of history, art and ecology,” explains Mrs. Thomas. The diplomat is correct in her observations; in recent years, the state and entrepreneurs have been developing these very directions. In 2010, new complexes were launched, while roads were reconstructed. Plans for 2011 are now being outlined.
Having travelled through our country, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland to Belarus, H. E. Mrs. Rosemary Thomas, notes that British people could be attracted to holiday in Belarus. She is convinced of the broad possibilities offered by Belarusian nature and history regarding tourism. “Belarus is a country for niche tourism, attracting lovers of history, art and ecology,” explains Mrs. Thomas. The diplomat is correct in her observations; in recent years, the state and entrepreneurs have been developing these very directions. In 2010, new complexes were launched, while roads were reconstructed. Plans for 2011 are now being outlined.
Infrastructure is vital Mrs. Thomas notes that, recently, Belarus has been doing much to develop its tourist infrastructure. More citizens now speak English — both in cities and villages — and over a thousand private guesthouses are welcoming visitors; these offer the true spirit of local life, national cuisine and the opportunity to hear the Belarusian language.
The President of Belarus has demanded that agro-tourism be developed more actively, warning officials not to create obstacles to potential investors. Speaking during his visit to Belovezhtour Farmstead agro-tourist complex in the Pruzhany district, Mr. Lukashenko stressed, “We need to develop agro-tourism promptly, as we did regarding agriculture previously, realising our goals before it’s too late.” He chatted with Nikolay Burnov, an entrepreneur and resident of the village of Kletnoe who has funded Belovezhtour’s construction.
The President’s words give a ‘green light’ to investors from the East and West; such businessmen tend to be more cautious than Russians, who better understand our traditions, having enjoyed a common past with Belarusians.
Mr. Lukashenko believes that good profit could be generated from deve-loping the tourist branch. According to the Sports and Tourism Minister, Oleg Kachan, exports of tourist services in Belarus have risen 10-fold over the past five years. Despite the world crisis last year, international tourism revenue grew one percent in Belarus — a small figure but, significantly, not a loss!
The state continues creating infrastructure to support the growth of the tourist industry, building sites such as the Museum of Beekeeping in Minsk region’s Volozhin district, located in the village of Borok. This is part of the existing Valozhynskiya Gastintsy (Volozhin Paths) green route and has been part funded by a joint EU / UNDP project entitled Sustainable Development at a Local Level. The Museum’s Director, Vasily Frolov, believes this 200km long green route is enjoying great popularity among local residents and guests, while the Beekeeping Museum should attract funds into the village. It enhances the level of ecological education locally and, no doubt, such attractions are a draw for tourists.
Mr. Lukashenko is also keen to see good quality roads built, meeting the latest standards. “From now on, we’ll inject a great deal into road building,” he stressed, noting that the quality of our roads should match those in Germany. “If a road is newly built, it should not need repairing for 15 years,” he asserts.
Individual entrepreneurs are also making interesting proposals. Falkat-Service employee Sergey Kotchenko believes caravanning could be a promising avenue, since such auto-tourism is extremely popular across the rest of Europe. According to the European Federation of Campsite Organisations, auto-tourism is annually chosen by over 20 percent of all holidaying Europeans.
Mr. Kotchenko considers that the creation of infrastructure for auto-tourism would require little expense, since the most important feature is providing sites on which people can park their caravans. Some stay only overnight, while others choose to stay longer, allowing them to explore the surrounding area. Caravanners expect to find clean water, sewage flushing facilities, gas fuelling and various other services at a campsite. Initially, most caravanners would be expected to arrive from Russia.
In line with the President’s order, Brest airport is to be expanded to allow international airlines to make use of the runway, with the largest jets being welcomed. This would generate income for the airport and boost tourist revenue locally, with people coming to visit Brest’s Hero-Fortress and the Belovezhskaya Pushcha.
Fortress of global significance
As the Secretary of the Co-ordination Council for the Protection of the Historical-Cultural Heritage at the Brest Regional Executive Committee, Leonid Nesterchuk tells us that Brest Fortress is soon to be included in a Baltic project entitled Fortifications and Their Role in Tourism Development. Brest has already been visited by specialists from Holland, Germany and Ukraine, who have inspected the fortified facilities.
A file is now being prepared for the inclusion of some of Brest’s fortifications on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. At least seventeen such structures are known worldwide. Brest Fortress is now open to visitors, with its fifth building housing a branch of Brest Hero-Fortress Memorial Complex. Three other sites are hosting warehouses, workshops and offices and some fortifications, half-destroyed, need to be reconstructed.
It is hoped that this historical monument will be developed, to gain international status. Brest Fortress comprises four fortifications situated on separate islands: the Citadel, Kobrin, Volyn and Terespol. It includes forts in Brest, the Brest district and Poland. The Polish side could also join the project, bringing a pan-European dimension to the idea.
Interestingly, the fortified constructions were built from bricks strengthened by earthworks, each able to host a garrison of 250 men and 20 weapons. Each was unique, since the military engineers who built them added their own corrections to the standard design. Brest and Brest district host 35 Brest Fortress sites, each at a different level of preservation. Eight are fully preserved while eleven boast 50 percent preservation; seven have less than 50 percent preservation and nine remain only in small parts.
From megapolis to province
Kopyl district, among the less developed tourist areas of Belarus, is gaining an interesting project — attracting tourists from Poland, Lithuania and Russia. These countries are united by the name of Edvard Voinilovich (1847-1928): a politician, public and economic figure. This Russian Empire governmental figure helped found the Polish state and was born in the Belarusian Kopyl district. He also did much for agricultural development in Belarus and Lithuania.
In Belarus, Mr. Voinilobvich is primarily known as the founder and patron of St. Simon and St. Elena’s Roman Catholic Church (on Minsk’s Nezavisimosti Avenue), with his wife, Olimpia Uzlovskaya. They dedicated it to the memory of their children, who died at a young age; in 1897, Simon died of Spanish influenza, aged 12, followed by 19 year old Elena in 1903.
A new excursion route has been developed in the Kopyl district — The Homesteads of Edvard Voinilovich — devoted to the 100th anniversary of St. Simon and St. Elena’s Roman Catholic Church. It includes a trip to Lopukhi (burdock) farmstead in the village of Dunaevo, which belonged to Mr. Voinilovich in the late 19th century. Money from its sale in 1903 funded the construction of the church. Its well and lake remain today, in addition to household buildings and a barn. Several dozen trees grow where the park was once situated, near the house, with some of true dendrological value — such as Populus canadensis Moench and rare varieties of oak.
The excursion passes through the Voinilovichs’ family estate to Savichi farmstead (situated in the village of the same name). It belonged to the family from the 16th century and is now a winery. Its small hill is home to several tombstones and bears a wooden cross honouring the memory of the Voinilovichs.
The excursion then moves to the remains of St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church, in the village of Timkovichi; the family tombs of the Voinilovich family are situated in its crypt. Vladislau Zavalniuk, dean of the parish of St. Simon and St. Elena in Minsk, believes Edvard Voinilovich’s memory should be preserved jointly by the state and public. He praises the work of Kopyl district administration, Kopyl District Local History Museum and the Education Without Borders public organisation; the latter has developed excursion routes to take in Voinilovich family sites in Kopyl district. He is also grateful to those volunteers who have been revamping Lopukhi farmstead for the past few years. Such actions show that tourism has a promising future, aided by business circles, official structures and the public.
Investors are now being sought to revive farmsteads in Lopukhi, Savichi and Mokrany, as part of an interesting route to visit sites linked to Edvard Voinilovich: beginning at Minsk’s Roman Catholic Church in Nezavisimosti Avenue and continuing to the Kopyl district. Travellers will be able to experience city and country life, while gaining a glimpse into the past.
The Minsk City Executive Committee says that, in 3-4 years’ time, the capital should be able to annually welcome at least one million tourists. Sports and business tourism are developing rapidly. At the moment, about two-thirds of all visitors to Minsk come from the former USSR republics, primarily with middle incomes. However, the Deputy Head of the Physical Culture, Sports and Tourism Department at the Minsk City Executive Committee, Vitaly Moshechkov, considers that EU states are likely to send more tourists in future, with Arab states also showing greater interest. In 2010, income from Minsk’s tourist-excursion services rose 30 percent on last year; in 2009, this figure fell by 10 percent.
Minsk has now allocated about four dozen sites for hotel construction. The Chairman of the Minsk City Executive Committee, Nikolai Ladutko, says that — in line with economic calculations — 10,000 hotel places are an optimal figure for the capital. At present, there are enough beds to sleep 4,500 guests each night. “Those coming into this business over the next 2-3 years will benefit,” he asserts. The Mayor notes that the city authorities are ‘making certain concessions regarding payments’ to investors, adding that ‘this is profitable for the city since it is developing infrastructure while creating new jobs’.
As part of the Excursion Minsk project, residents and guests of the capital are to be offered almost four dozen excursions. Additionally, a 90 minute basic excursion through the city is being organised daily; anyone can take part after registering with the Minsk dispatcher service (017) 328-49-29. Participants gather at the top observation ground on Svobody Square, near the Cathedral, then tour the capital by bus, visiting its major avenues, squares and historic sites from the past and present: the National Library, the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, Minsk Arena and the Central Railway building.
Other excursions through the city are also being developed: Theatrical Minsk, Sporting Minsk, and Orthodox Minsk. Additionally, new routes are soon to open as part of the project, taking guests from Minsk to Khatyn, the Mount of Glory, Loshitsa and on to the cities of Brest and Grodno. A basic excursion through Minsk will cost just $5-7 while weekly tours are being organised for English speakers, costing $10. If demand allows, then regular excursions in German and Chinese could be launched. About 50 attested guides, with good knowledge of foreign languages, work in Minsk at the moment.
By Viktar Korbut