How I realized that I work in ecotourism:
I was born in the north of the Tomsk Oblast in 1950, still during Stalin's lifetime. In this place half a century ago, our austere leader served a term in exile, which in Russia was long the principle form of tourism.
My Grandpa Kuzma was also decent traveller. During the period of collectivization, as soon as they started to pressure him into joining a collective farm, he put his twelve children into two carts and left for a place that was still without collective farms. But, none-the-less, they eventually took him away to a place from which he didn't ever return.
When I was young, my main form of outdoor recreation was fishing. Once, in the early 1960s, I was deeply struck by a group of people I met on the river. They were students from Tomsk. They were building a raft in order to sail on a huge journey along the great Siberian river Oba to the ocean!
The student town of Tomsk in the late 1960s and early 1970s became my Alma Mater and drew me into the world of romanticism, mountains, risk, and the stunning beauty of nature and human relationships. Hikes; nights spent sleeping in the snow; mountain passes; the emerald lakes of Altai; the songs of Vyzbor, Vysotskii, Krupp; my first love.
In school, I was chosen to be the counsel representatiuve of our Pioneer troup, which completely put me off of community service work. But, after studying construction in college, I ended up being sent to a small town in the Urals, where there was astounding nature but nobody to go hiking with, so I suddenly became very involved in community activities.
First in the Urals, and then here, while building the new city of Severobaikalsk on the BAM railway, I had occasion to start organizing hiking teams, hiking clubs, and the School of Tourism and Ecological Education; and conducting competitions, hiking rallies, festivals, bard concerts, conferences, seminars, athletic trekking, and research expeditions.
I came to realize that the Soviet mass orginizing of hikers was a unique phenomenon, which attracted millions of people to a very positive, egrossing activity, which is good for the body and the soul. The most valuable aspects of outdoor tourism are:
1. A healthy way of life
2. Highly ethical norms for building relationships
3. A love for and a proctective attitude toward nature
4. A high educational and nurturing effect
5. A high level of hands on professional workforce training
6. The highest level of enterprise and self-organization, which is very valuable in the in a team leadership system.
In 1990, Severobaikalsk conducted the first international ecotourism conference to be held in the Baikal region. Reading the conference material, I realized that what I do is in fact eco-tourism, it's just that the Americans (who came up with the idea) don't know this.
From 1992 to 1994, I studied in Moscow at the Labor and Social Relations Academy. At that time I was able to get to know some American ecotourists visiting Baikal, and also to personally see real ecotourism in the national parks of the USA. In my cumulative final project as a Nonmaterial Sphere Manager, I endeavored to analyze and summarize my acquired knowledge and experience.
The principles of Soviet tourism:
1. Before a hike, you must study the environment, way of life, traditions, and culture of the local population where you will be going;
2. During the hike, treat the environment gently; respect the local culture and traditions; study, photograph, and record, but don't cause harm.
3. After the hike, you must write a detailed report and present it to a commission, offer it to the library, and publicize and present it as much as possible.
Our Soviet tourism developed under the conditions of a planned economy. With the onset of a market economy came the understanding of an economic aspect to tourism:
1. Ecotourism should be financially beneficial for local people and the local economy.
2. It is necessary to hire local guides and to buy shop locally for groceries and souvenirs.
3. Ecotours should be conducted by small local specialized tour agencies.
4. Part of the profits from ecotoursim should go towards saving the environment.
In 2003, as a part of a group of ecotourism organizers from all over Baikal, I went to the USA for the second time. This time the goal of our travels was to study the idea of hiking trails as the basis of ecotourism. As a result of that trip, we created a new NGO, the Great Baikal Trail (GBT). After six years it has become clear that GBT projects, on which parts of the GBT are built in different parts of the Baikal region with the help of hundreds and thousands of volunteers from Russia and from dozens of other countries around the world, are the most basic (реальный) ecotourism. The mechanism, which allows us to create with minimal expenditure an ecotourism infrastructure in specially protected land areas and other areas, relying on the experience of previous generations of Soviet tourism and the new ideas based in the market economy. Thanks to the close relationships we formed with our guest volunteers, we valued the real level of recreational value in the nature on and around Baikal, the local cultures, and were able to advertise our region around the world.
After the construction of the BAM railraod was completed, I was forced to change my profession in the construction field to a teacher of tourism and outdoorsmanship. From 1990 to 2009, I tought ecotourism to future instructors of ecotourism and during this time I believe I came to really understand what ecotourism is.
The following rules are important in our company:
We profit not from vice, but from good deeds.
We don't entertain, but help people discover new things
We love what we do very much.
We are friends with our partners and trust them.
We are friends with many of our tourists.
There are three children in my family. My ex-wife Klavdia and I in many areas were able to avoid many mistakes, thanks to spending time outdoors in ecotourism. But it would be better if they themselves told the story of their involvement in ecotourism and how they eventually became our partners in the field.