Agro-tourist project “Zaulomskoe” in the Vologda District, Russian Federation

 

Project RU-WOLMOR 32345

 

I would like to thank Oleg Podmorin, director and owner of the complex Bolshoie Zaulomskoe, for his help and hospitality in supplying information and showing me his farm. Particularly, I am indebted to Irina Tchernycheva who not only ably translated for me, but also introduced me to her wonderful Russia. Without her constructive comments, unquenchable optimism and professional knowledge this report would have been much less complete and my stay not so memorable.

To Marina Svobodnikoa must go special thanks for her varied and delicious cooking and I am also grateful to Jeny, farm administration, and milkmaid Sveta for their patience in answering my questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments, conclusions and recommendations

 

My task was defined as to give assistance in setting up an agro-tourist enterprise. The viability of such an enterprise would, in this case, be closely dependent on the viability of the farm as a commercial entity and the success or failure of other unconnected enterprises conducted by Oleg Podmorin. Since I have no access to information concerning the latter ventures, I can only suggest as a precautionary measure that legal separation to protect the individual enterprises should take place.

In reality, the farm and the agro-tourism would be inextricably bound together. At the present time the farm is not ecological or commercially viable and will remain so without further investment and improved managerial measures. Much of my time here has been concerned with making suggestions to bring the farm management up to a basic standard of efficiency – in essence a guide book for beginners. No doubt the farm could be commercially viable, but this can only be achieved with a change of practices and a more professional approach. Neither the owner nor the managerial staff have suitable qualifications in farm or business administration.

As with the farm, applying European standards as criteria to the concept of agro-tourism is unhelpful. Russian tourists may be prepared to accept other conditions, although their demands will become increasingly selective in the future.

A serious drawback to making a realistic assessment on the potential for agro-tourism is the lack of market research into pricing. Most income projections I have heard are based on the prices advertised by other institutions which, if they themselves reflect real price levels, are in any case unlikely parallels to Zaulomskoe.

Although the environmental situation here is attractive, bordering on the romantic in some places, it is hardly unique and ideas about raising charges for services which have been traditionally free are not founded on anything but wishful thinking. There is a lot of local competition in the Kirillov region both from hotels and private accommodation.

The intention to use the two houses as accommodation for Russian tourists is on firmer economic ground, but here again little research into competitive pricing and market demand has been done. In addition, the houses hardly offer much in the way of comfort or modern amenities. Particularly, services offered in Zaulomskoe are not designed for couples who wish to sleep together or for families who desire privacy.

Much will depend on cooperative tourist agencies in Vologda and elsewhere making specific recommendations to their clients, perhaps a website and positive feedbacks building a long-term customer base.

Taking an optimistic attitude, I have made recommendations below, in the appendices Farm Management, Marketing, Accounts analysis and expressed them in the Priorities and a brief SWAT breakdown. The most generous comment I can make about my own work is that everything is theoretically possible, even if there is little solid financial underpinning and few grounds for believing it will be professionally implemented.

 

 

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The province of Vologda lies to the north east of Moscow. The regional seat of government and capital city is Vologda which lies 540 km from Moscow and 450 km from Saint Petersburg. The ancient university city, which can trace its history back to the 12th Century, has a population of about 350,000 and is well serviced by air, rail and road. Vologda District is particularly known for its vast green forests, 4,200 lakes and 1.270 rivers, which cover together over 75% of the district, and its main industrial complex centred on the city of Cherepovets. Wildlife in the region includes European brown bear, grey wolf, European lynx, wild boar and elk as well as over 250 species of birds and 232 species of fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project location

 

The project site is near the town of Kirillov which lies 130km to the north-west of Vologda city. There is a main trunk road of reasonable quality connecting the two towns, but no rail or air links, although Kirillov lies near the Volga-Baltic Channel and can be reached by medium sized passenger ships and commercial craft. It is 90km away from Cherepovets which has the nearest airport and rail station.

The town has existed since the 16th Century and has a number of important historical sites of interest both in the town itself and in the surrounding area. It lies in the “Russky Sever” national park and is a focus for national tourism. Due to the many local lakes and rivers, fish forms a major part of the traditional Kirillov diet.

The small village of Zaulomskoe has only fourteen houses, of which four are part of the project farm complex “Bolshoie Zaulomskoe”. Access to the village from the main Vologda-Kirillov trunk road is signposted and over a gravel-surfaced road suitable for heavy vehicles and well maintained. In winter this road is kept free of snow.

Leading off this well-kept road after 3km is a narrow dirt track, badly in need of repair, winding through the village and ending at the farm. The complex is isolated at the entrance from the rest of the village by a spiked metal gate which requires urgent attention to facilitate an easy entrance by visitors. The gate is very heavy and must be lifted to enable access and during the winter months is certainly of little security value, despite the adjacent guard-dog, since it must be left open.

Almost the entire complex is encircled, perhaps two kilometres in total length, with 2m high, galvanised, corrugated sheeting and although the silvery shine is distinctive at some distance, it has little aesthetic appeal and is hardly in harmony with the landscape. While it may reduce the incursion of natural predators into the farm livestock enclosures, it can be considered an effective barrier to unwelcome humans and was probably installed with this primary objective.

The surrounding countryside is lightly undulating marshy, deciduous forest interspersed with sizable lakes and very attractive. This is not a very old forest, although there are some individual old patches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Observations on the farm complex facilities

Inside the farm area there are four houses built in the 1990s, more in the 1960s European style inside, and have some modern facilities. Two of the houses are inhabited by farm workers and two are available for tourists. Additional buildings next to the tourist houses contain “Banja”s, a Russian type of bath-house, with extra facilities for the temporary containment of young or small animals in the first one.

The accommodation may meet average Russian standards and be perfectly functional, but would require some improvements to satisfy more critical visitors, including couples or families who do not wish to share basic amenities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drinking water is drawn from a well at the entrance to the complex while general water, of uncertain quality, is supplied from a gravity tank on the upper floor. This general water serves washing and sanitation, but has little pressure and is unable to fulfil more than very basic needs. Ablutions are very difficult under these conditions and they urgently need improvement.

Washing and sanitary waste is collected in an underground biological septic tank. It is not certain that this tank would have the necessary capacity for an extended use with a high tourist volume. At the moment there are only infrequent visitors, three at present, at the farm while the bed-space capacity is in excess of twenty. The fear of blockages is evidenced by the placement of soiled toilet paper and not just sanitary towels in a plastic bucket for disposal elsewhere. While this may reduce the risk of blockages, it is unhygienic, unsightly and instils little confidence in the stability of the installation. A spare toilet roll should be conveniently left near the toilet.

 

 

Although modern showers are installed in the bathroom they are not functional yet. Since there is only one bathroom, guests have little choice but to be patient. Currently, perhaps due to preference, bathing is mainly done in the “Banja” in the style of stand-up washing in a hot room – a novelty for those accustomed to drawing hot and cold water from taps and not different buckets. In the house designed for the farm owner, but also available for tourist visitors, the “Banja” also has a sauna included and, thanks to the local abundance of birch trees, masochistic pleasure is guaranteed. Towels supplied are of a suitable size for drying hands and thought should be given to complementing these with ones designed for larger body surfaces.

Mains electricity is 220v-240v and sockets are everywhere of the two-pin European type. Television reception is possible for two programmes and sets are installed in the lounge (colour) and kitchen (b/w) of the first house, although the one in the lounge does not work. In the “Banja” belonging to the owner there is a colour television, a billiard table and a dart board. There is no internet access and although telephone facilities are installed in the owner’s house they do not work. Everyone seems to use mobile phones here since reception through the providers MegaFon and MTS is reasonable and international calls are possible, if expensive. The local post office in Kirillov does not have internet access although it is advertised. There is no public transport available although transport can be obtained from Kirillov taxis and usually from someone at the farm.

Heating is through wood ovens which, when on, give rapid and strong heat. The radiators in the rooms seem to be dependent on another oven in the front room. In the “Banja” there is initially a smoky feedback. The extensive use of wood fuel can hardly be described as environmentally friendly, although sustainable.

All beds in the first house are single (90 x 190) although the front-room couch can be pulled out to make a double bed. This situation does not favour married couples or tall people. The mattresses are firm and the covers warm, at least in the nights when it is not too cold.  

The houses are internally smoke-free zones and smokers have to use a back room or go outside – fresh air at sub-zero temperatures is good for the lungs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proposed agro-tourist attractions

 

Until now, the guests at the farm have not been tourists and their demands have been suitably constrained. With fee-paying guests some account should be made of the points mentioned above.

 

 

It would seem practical for guests not to do their own cooking. While one person/couple/family may be able to cook (and clean-up) for themselves, unrelated visitors may be unable to agree on a number of points and cause disharmony. An employed cook, responsible for all meals (perhaps tea and coffee could be left to the guests and they could be sold biscuits, mineral water and fruit drinks), supervision and cleaning would seem to be urgently required. Perhaps an assistant to collect water and wood for the ovens might be obtained free as a trainee hotel/tourist worker looking for practical experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are specific local points outside the farm which lend themselves as attractions for half-day or whole-day excursions and could be charged for. These include:-

1.                  Kirillov monastery

2.                  Ferapuntovo monastery

3.                  Goritzki convent

4.                  Maura and Kiril footprint

5.                  Kirillov market and afternoon coffee/tea/cakes

6.                  Karataijevskoie pottery works

7.                  Holy Spring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within the farm complex, all of the animals and farm activities will be of some interest to tourists, particularly young children. The horses, cows, goats, chickens and geese are objects of interest to visit and maybe the visitors could participate in milking/feeding etcetera. Some forethought should be given to the physical safety of the visitors during their time with the animals: They should never be allowed to be alone, but always be in the company of a trained person used to dealing with animals; an emergency procedure to be followed in the event of an accident should be clear to every employee; a first-aid box should be available at suitable locations for minor cuts and bruises (See farm management appendix).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facilities within the area belonging to the farm, outside of the animal production area, are already used to some extent by local people for recreation. These would need to be enhanced, renovated, extended and charged for.

 

Forests within the farm area are used by local people to pick mushrooms. This is traditional and would seem to be a right which is unable to be controlled or charged for. Despite this, mushroom picking has advantages for the farm in that it is a service which tourists can avail themselves of and at the same time could be used to advertise farm tourist services to mushroom pickers who will spread that information.

 

 

 

The central natural objective for tourism in the farm area is a small island about 750m away from the houses.

There is a rough path to the island, the last 50m of which is over a wooden walkway above the reeds and in need of repair. The island is surrounded by tall reeds and made up of stones while the beach along the lake shore is rough sand. Over the years falling leaves from the island’s trees have created a soft loam substrate and grass has grown in some spots making camping a possibility. A rather dilapidated reed hut for shelter and a small grill-barbeque centre with bench seating exist at the end of the main path to the lake shore. There is a toilet shielded by reeds in the trees which is very basic and should be replaced. On the lake shore there is a small wooden jetty which does not extend beyond the water’s edge.

Visitors come mainly to the island to collect mushrooms, fish and to use the grill-barbeque. These are all attractions which could be developed and improved upon.

Although mushrooms do not require any new work, the facilities already on the island should be improved to better justify the proposed charges. The pier should be extended five metres into the lake and widened at the outermost point so that seating and a small table for fishing could be installed. The extended pier would additionally facilitate boating excursions (for fishing, sightseeing or whatever purpose) on the lake by enabling people to get into boats with their equipment/belongings without having to get wet. By placing fixed seating with sunshades at various places on the shoreline for fishing (and relaxation), uncontrolled fishing would be discouraged and the service offered would be made more comfortable. Small rubbish bins should be placed for refuse at all of these points and strategically elsewhere on the island.

Although there is already a reed hut on the island for shelter from the weather, it could be rebuilt on the lines of a pagoda or summer house so that it gives an all-round view and has the seating capacity around a table. This would help concentrate visitor activity and avoid the creation of several uncontrolled recreational points.

The grill area is perfectly okay where it is, but needs a rubbish bin for the inevitable tins and packaging. The amount of pre-cut wood for burning should be increased.

A camping site should be specified and made as flat as possible with the removal of sharp or prominent stones. Leaving visitors to select their own tent site has the advantage of requiring no preparatory work, but may result in uncontrolled fires, forest destruction and rubbish dispersal. Dried reeds could be collected and placed in piles near the camping site to be used as under-bedding.

A second toilet facility and a small well would be useful and welcome additions to these services, but see the potential income forecast.

 

Other sources of income could come from establishing camping facilities in parts of the nearby forest and in the “Swan lake” area. However, no facilities have yet been constructed or marked out at these places and, bearing in mind the required investment and uncertain public response to future charges at the island itself, it may be prudent to await first season results before making any new commitments.

 

Even those currently proposed activities will necessitate an increase in work and require someone to supervise and manage them. This will not be very arduous and will mostly mean collecting the entrance fees and emptying the rubbish bins when necessary, but it seems unlikely that this will justify a new full-time employee in the light of hoped-for increased income.

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix A                  Farm management

Appendix B                  Priorities

Appendix C                  Accounts

Appendix D                  Marketing

Appendix E                  SWAT comparison

 

Excel table on milk production figures October 2005 – September 2006

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Perron

Oldenburg

12. Oktober 2006