Russia Day Seven

Kids Talk Radio Sports:

Notes for my Kids Talk Radio Student Backpack Journalists

Today was a very exciting day in Russia for Kids Talk Radio.  We go to shoot video of two very exciting volleyball teams that hired Americans Cynthia Barboza and Destinee Hooker of the USA Women’s National Volleyball Team.  Both players are on teams that speak only Russian. Could you imagine what it would be like to stand next to a player that you cannot speak to?  Well Cynthia and Destinee are learning Russian as they go.  I could see both of them talking to their teammates during the games.  I had no idea what they are saying.   The Russian teams are allowed to have two foreign players on each team.  Cynthia Barboza plays for Ufimochka.  My translator told me that this stands for women of Ufa.  Now this team name makes perfect sense to me.  Destinee Hooker’s team is called Dinamo Krasnodar.  This is the team that Cynthia plyed for last year when she played for the Russians for the first time.  To help you to get a better understanding of all of this we have posted some video on Kids Talk Radio YouTube.  We will provide links soon.

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This photo was taken right after the volleyball match.  The plan was to take Destinee Hooker out to dinner and then to a DISCO.  The next day the team will have to travel all the way to Moscow and then to Krasnodar.  Take a look at the map, Russia is a very big country and these teams have to travel long distances.

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These two Russian ladies were sitting right behind me.  They were very excited about the game and they kept calling out Cynthia’s name in Russian.  It sound like “Chinnnthia”.  I had fun speaking to them after the game. They spoke Russian and I just kept shaking my head in agreement.  They allowed me to take their photo and now I can share it with you.  I always ask permission before I take someones photo.

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Kids Talk Radio Guide to

Understanding Russia Today

13 November 2012
By Alec Luhn

Alec Luhn / MT

As the government invests heavily in the development of ski and beach resorts in the North Caucasus, questions about tourist safety remain amid continuing violence in the region.

The sun was finally burning through the cloud cover over Mount Pastukhov in the Karachayevo-Cherkessia republic on an October afternoon, lighting up a range of snow-tipped peaks beneath a blue sky worthy of a Pixar movie.

The scene was so beautiful that even some of the armed Dagestani guards broke from their usual perimeter formation around the party of journalists to briefly snap photos of themselves near the outlook.

Even as hotels and infrastructure for the Sochi Olympics continue to rise in Krasnodar region, a state-supported initiative with a total budget of 1 trillion rubles ($32 billion) is developing tourism across the rest of the North Caucasus, with plans to build eight mountain resorts by 2020 as well as beach resorts in Dagestan. Government money is funding infrastructure development, with the expectation that private investors will join in to develop hotels and other amenities.

With underdeveloped ski infrastructure and relatively few skiers, Russia is ripe for mountain tourism development, and the Caucasus mountains feature many potential seasonal and year-round skiing destinations, including Europe’s highest peak, Mount Elbrus.

However, the Vympel security detail of guards armed with pistols and an assault rifle on a recent press tour to the Arkhyz resort in Karachayevo-Cherkessia highlighted uncertainty over the safety of visitors to the Northern Caucasus, which has suffered two wars and a still-simmering insurgency. The region continues to experience terrorist attacks, hate crimes and kidnappings and killings, including the 2011 killing of three tourists from Moscow on their way to a ski resort near Elbrus in Kabardino-Balkaria. In mid-October, the nonprofit International Crisis Group called violence in the North Caucasus “Europe’s deadliest conflict today,” noting 574 deaths so far in 2012.

The leaders of the project acknowledged that safety is an issue in some of the North Caucasus republics, but they said that the resort areas will be secure and that increased employment opportunities will reduce violence in the region.

“Of course, at base we have a political task, which is the creation of jobs,” said Akhmed Bilalov, former Federation Council member and chairman of the state-controlled developer Northern Caucasus Resorts, which is spearheading the project.

“As long as the local population doesn’t consider it necessary to ensure safety, we would be unable to implement a tourist project,” Bilalov added. “The task for our company is to create jobs so that [locals] work and have their interests here.”

Mountain-Resort Infancy

Although Russia has 170 ski resorts, only 31 of these have five or more chairlifts, according to the 2012 International Report on Mountain Tourism by consultant Laurent Vanat. In total, local resorts attract about 3 million skier visits annually, putting the country in 15th place in the world, well behind leaders the United States and France, with about 58.5 million and 54 million skier visits, respectively.

“If you look at Russia, which is in its mountain-resort infancy compared to Europe, there are tremendous growth opportunities,” Brett Million, destinations category director of the brand management firm Extreme Sports Company, said at the Russia and CIS Hotel Investment Conference in October.

Northern Caucasus Resorts was created following an October 2010 decree by then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and 98 percent of it belongs to the government, with state banks Sberbank and Vneshekenombank owning the other 2 percent. The developer is building resorts in Karachayevo-Cherkessia and five other republics: Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Dagestan and Ingushetia. In September, Northern Caucasus Resorts and officials from Kabardino-Balkaria signed an agreement at the Sochi Investment Forum to develop a resort on Elbrus, which the developer said would be the highest resort in Europe.

Arkhyz, in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, became the first resort to start operating when it opened two ski runs and a chairlift in March. The first phase of construction will include three hotel complexes with a capacity of 700 beds and an administrative and service complex. The entire project is planned to be completed in 2018.

The other resorts are at various states of planning and construction, with Armkhi, in Ingushetia, slated to be the next to open some slopes this winter. The project is geared toward Russian tourists, who the company expects will make up to 75 percent of the guests.

“We are doing international-level resorts. We are oriented to the Russian market, but of course we also think there is a potential for foreign visitors,” Bilalov said.

According to Northern Caucasus Resorts, more than 1,100 kilometers of ski runs and 228 chairlifts will be built, along with four new airports and several new roads, to facilitate an expected tourist flow of 5 million to 10 million people per year. It estimated that the capacity of hotels, apartments and villas will reach more than 172,000 people and that the whole project will create 330,000 jobs.

In addition, the project aims to encourage health and environmental tourism and foresees the building of spas and hiking trails, including the restoration of a route between Arkhyz and Sochi, Bilalov said.

Over the past two years, Northern Caucasus Resorts has invested 2 billion rubles ($64 million) in infrastructure, and the total budget for the project is 1 trillion rubles up to 2020, said deputy director Rostislav Murzagulov.

The large outlay is necessary, since the initial construction “has to be done by Russia,” said Gernot Leitner, CEO of the architectural and planning firm Masterconcept and a Northern Caucasus Resorts board member who also was a professional volleyball player and chairman of the Salzburg 2014 Olympic bid. “No investor will come if the starting elements are not in place.”

In addition to Leitner, about 40 foreign experts are working on the project, he said.

International Investment

Alec Luhn / MT

To attract investors, the government is establishing special economic zones around each of the resorts offering tax exemptions. In addition, the Russian government will guarantee companies up to 70 percent of their total investment in the case of a force majeure, and Bilalov said companies would be able to receive collateral-free government loans at reduced rates. He estimated that the buyback period for a hotel at one of the resorts would be five to 10 years.

Agreements have been signed with international partners, although no international investors have actually put money into construction yet. Following a meeting between then-presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011, Northern Caucasus Resorts and French state bank Caisse des Depots et Consignations created a joint venture to attract up to 1 billion euros in investment for the project.

The Korean companies Korea Western Power and CHT Korea have also entered into a joint venture with Northern Caucasus Resorts to develop heating and electricity infrastructure following a trip by Bilalov to Seoul. Korea Western Power has commissioned a feasibility study of the Caucasus resorts and, pending the results, may invest $500 million in the project next year, it said.

Finally, the Chinese companies Dalian Wanda Group and China Oceanwide Holdings Group and the Italian company Rizzani de Eccher have signed a protocol of intentions with Northern Caucasus Resorts, indicating billions of dollars in planned investment.

Meanwhile, two Russian companies are investing in Arkhyz: Sinara Group is developing the resort, and the North Caucasus Development Corp., a 100 percent subsidiary of Vneshekonombank with a purview to invest in various economic sectors in the North Caucasus Federal District, is a minority shareholder in the resort. The corporation also plans to invest in the development of trekking, mountaineering, rafting and long-distance ATV travel in the area, said director Andrei Zubkov.

Indeed, local officials hope that the Northern Caucasus Resorts initiative will spur the development of nearby tourist destinations.

“We also have resorts like Teberda, and we will not forget to develop these resorts,” said Karachayevo-Cherkessia head Rashid Temrezov, referring to an area known for its sanatoriums and the Teberdinsky Nature Reserve, where the World Wildlife Fund recently released eight European bison in an attempt to reintroduce the species to the region.

Raising Service, Protecting Nature

Alec Luhn / MT

Service standards and cost will pose some of the biggest challenges in developing the resorts, according to Leitner. Although the ski resort Dombai has been operating in Karachayevo-Cherkessia for half a century, the prices and service here and elsewhere in the North Caucasus are less than desirable, he said.

“Service standards in Russia are one of the biggest challenges, those and price levels,” he said.

“Mountain tourism has a thin line between profit and loss,” he added. “It has to be operated well.”

Pricing will be vital, according to Leitner, since the resorts must offer a cheaper alternative to European resorts now popular with Russians. As resorts and hotels open up, educational programs will need to be established to teach local staff how to serve guests, he said.

Putin also stressed raising the level of service during a September meeting with Temrezov, saying the North Caucasus resorts’ “gimmick” should be “service of the very best class, the kind that is found nowhere else.”

Although it may currently be expensive to ski in the North Caucasus, the opening of new resorts will gradually drive down the cost of tourism, said Zubkov, of North Caucasus Development Corporation.

“When there’s serious competition, Dombai will think about lowering its prices,” he said.

Another concern is preserving the local environment during the development of the North Caucasus, which a United Nations Environment Program report noting the threats posed by Olympics-related construction called “one of the few great mountain ranges of Europe almost undisturbed by man.”

As development ramps up, protected areas will need to be expanded and environmental standards will have to be observed during construction, said Igor Chestin, head of World Wildlife Fund Russia. He said a range of projects could be done in an environmentally responsible way.

“Masses of tourists aren’t going to be in nature. They will be in the individual hotels and on the ski slopes,” Chestin said. “There won’t be masses of people in the ecotourism projects.”

Northern Caucasus Resorts and the World Wildlife Fund signed a cooperation agreement on environmental protection in October, and the environmental organization will consult the company in particular on protected areas, the European bison program and the growth of ecological tourism, Chestin said.

It will also offer advice on environmental standards during the construction phase of the initiative, he said. Bilalov said his company would likely develop its own set of environmental standards similar to the ones developed for Sochi Olympic projects.

“They don’t need to work out new standards; they need to use existing ones,” Chestin said.

“It’s still early to talk about this because they’re still not building anything,” he added.

Finally, although more than 20 percent of the mountainous parts of the North Caucasus is protected territory, more forest areas must be protected, Chestin said.

Chestin said he was confident the resort initiative would proceed in an environmentally responsible manner, based on the World Wildlife Fund’s successful cooperation with Northern Caucasus Resorts thus far as well as the presence of international investors.

“For the French, ecological factors are going to be important,” he said.

Security Risk?

The specter of violence in the North Caucasus continues to make safety a salient issue. At the same time the reporters were visiting Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Russian police bombed a mountain hideout  in Dagestan. Later that month, a suicide bombing killed a police officer in North Ossetia, and Russian security forces announced the death of 49 militants in an operation across the Northern Caucasus region.

The resorts will have their own internal security forces, and Israeli general Mickey Levy, who has overseen the security of Jerusalem since 2004, is consulting on the project, according to Northern Caucasus Resorts. It also said it is in talks with the French company Thales to do a master safety plan.

Even if the resorts are secure, popular perception of safety risks must be overcome to bring in guests, said Ben Martin, economics principal at Aecom, which consulted on the master plan of the Arkhyz resort.

“It’s probably safe, but getting over people’s perceptions of safety is a whole other matter. It’ll take time,” Martin said.

As the media coverage builds up to the Sochi Olympics, perceptions may begin to change, he added.

In addition, the level of security differs between the various republics, Zubkov of North Caucasus Development Corporation noted.

“We are not investing in projects where there is a big security risk. Our projects are in regions where there’s no risk of terrorism, for example Arkhyz,” Zubkov said.

“In Dagestan, security is clearly an issue,” he added. “We’re not investing there, but we may in the future.”

At an Arkhyz souvenir market, the vendors dismissed notions that Karachayevo-Cherkessia might not be completely safe for visitors. They welcomed the resort project and said tourism is already on the rise.

“Each year, more and more tourists come,” said Boris Chochayev, a pensioner from the capital, Cherkessk, who sells clothing and traditional hats.

“The more tourism, the better,” he added.

Read more: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/realestate/analysis/article/apres-ski-on-elbrus/471393.html#ixzz2CdyhTv8s
The Moscow Times

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