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Russia is betting on Arctic tourism

The country's tourism agency has announced its intent to tap into growing interest in travel to the region.

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Arctic fox on Hooker Island in Franz Josef Land. (M. Ivanov / Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation)

Tourism to the Arctic has grown in the last decade, and the Russian region is no exception. Despite having few routes and virtually no real ports of call, the Russian Arctic—particularly the region comprising the Russian Arctic National Park—is preparing for a travel boom.

Already, between 1,000 and 1,500 tourists visit the park annually, particularly the Franz Josef Land archipelago; just 10 years ago the number of visitors was virtually zero. Buoyed by growing interest from the cruise sector and Chinese travelers, who account for a majority of visitors, the country’s tourism agency, Russiatourism, recently announced the creation of a department to develop its infrastructure in the region. It believes there is potential to welcome more than 80,000 people a year. These efforts are shared by other government. In 2017, Viktor Matasov, head of the regional Taymyr wildlife reserves, said in a press release that “tourism can become a development driver for the region.”

Murmansk, the largest ice-free port in the area, currently serves as a touchpoint for many Arctic cruises that set sail from Tromsø in Norway. But it aspires to become the primary gateway to a region that holds a lot of interest to adventure travelers as well as tourists eager to explore remote environments.

Polar bear in Franz Josef Land. (D. Banin / Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation)

The Far North is believed to be home to more polar bears than any other region in the Arctic—population estimates are unavailable—as well a host of other wildlife such as Arctic foxes, walruses, and bowhead whales.

Only a handful of arctic cruises currently travel to Franz Josef Land. The main operators are Seattle-based Quark Expeditions and U.K.-based Poseidon Expeditions, though bigger players are on the way: Hurtigruten and Lindblad Expeditions both have announced routes for the 2019 and 2020 summer seasons.