By Roman Movchan and Elizaveta Palshina
When people in Russia hear about business in the Arctic, they often think about the work of large oil and gas companies, such as Novatek and Rosneft, which extract the resources of the region and present their work at status events, such as the St. Petersburg or Eastern Economic Forums.
But what is the situation with youth Indigenous entrepreneurship in the Russian Arctic?
It can be said that the conflict in Ukraine has had little impact on tourism in the Russian Arctic. The tourist flow of foreigners here was small as a typical tourist for the Russian Arctic is a resident of Russia.
There have always been a lot of tourists from China but have been prevented from coming by restrictions related to the coronavirus. Now Chinese tourism to the Russian Arctic is gradually recovering.
Among the 40 groups of Indigenous peoples within Russia, twenty-eight-year-old Alexey Kudryakov, a Dolgan, Indigenous of Siberia, has been working to overcome barriers for tourism of Indigenous peoples in the Russian Arctic.
Alexey with his sister Milana at the Forum of Youth of Indigenous Peoples of the North Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation Russian in Moscow. Submitted by Alexey Kudryakov
For example, most tourists flock to southern Russian resorts in Sochi on the Black Sea to sunbathe. Kudryakov and other Arctic residents have been working to make the Arctic more accessible and appealing to explore, such as the Taimyr region connected to the Arctic Ocean.
Part of the community of Indigenous minorities of the North ‘Kou-Kun’, which means the ‘Sun’ in the languages of the two ethnic groups, Kudryakov is leading the development of a mobile app to connect and preserve traditional economic activities of Indigenous peoples through tourism.
The project is called the True Travel Service ‘EthnoCombo’, a mobile application designed bridge culture and services of Russian Indigenous communities. As described, the service will help tourists choose an ethnic tour at any time of the year and arrange planning and accommodation through the app. The development vision is to have an online marketplace that allows travel companies to present their products such as dog sled ride, camping, and language courses.
As stated on the EthnoCombo site the service will help tourists choose an ethnic tour at any time of the year and arrange it in a couple of clicks on their smartphone. The built-in marketplace allows all interested travel companies to present their author’s products.
Kudryakov is also a part of the Coordinating Council of the local non-governmental organization Dudin Indigenous Peoples of the North; Youth Council of the Association of Indigenous Minorities of Taimyr; and Coordinating Council of Communities under the head of the Norilsk Division of Norilsk Nickel.
We spoke with Kudryakov to learn more about the projects he’s driven to develop.
1) Dudinka is a port city in the north of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, which is located beyond the Arctic Circle on the 69th parallel. Why didn’t you leave for Moscow, St. Petersburg or any other city?
The answer is obvious – be of use where you were born.
In fact, there was a time when I planned to leave to study and progress on the mainland in some prosperous city, but at that time I did not understand the potential for self-development my native region could give me.
Actually, the North draws you in, try it yourself.
2) How did you become an entrepreneur? Have you always worked in tourism or has there been a different experience?
All my life my father and I have been engaged in traditional economic activities – hunting and fishing. Sometimes we hosted friends and acquaintances, whom my father called ‘tourists’. At that time there was no goal to make profit from it or move in this direction.
At the beginning of my path to tourism I was engaged in a lot of social activities – I attended various forums, conferences and round tables. To be honest, sometimes I did not even understand what it would give me in the end. As time went on, I understood my purpose and began to join various structures that in one way or another dealt with issues and problems of Indigenous peoples.
I discovered such problems as the financial insolvency of many Indigenous peoples, which subsequently leads to the loss of the national code. As a result, I decided to try to solve it through the tourism sector, as I see people are interested in it. It remained to figure out how to make them get such information in a convenient way.
3) How did you come to this decision to introduce IT to tourism in the Far North?
This is one of the most interesting ideas in my experience. It all started with the fact that I began to analyze ethno-tourism in our region. It turned out that there were practically no offers at all, except the Taimyr House of Folk Art, the Museum, the City Center for Folk Art and a couple of people like me.
While analyzing it and raising these issues at various forums and round tables, I noticed that the demand for the ‘Ethno’ issues began to grow, and some offers already began to emerge. So, the development of the ‘Ethno’ area began to gain stream.
I also visited other regions where Indigenous peoples live. In some of them this field was already quite developed, but one still had to carefully analyze where to go to get acquainted with the life and culture of the Indigenous peoples living in this territory, because there [little] information about it in the streets, while billboards promoting taxi companies hang almost on every corner. Of course, you can surf the Internet and find a little about it, but the information is scattered across various tour operators’ and travel agents’ websites.
That’s how I came up with the idea of creating such a project.
In the course of development, we went through such stages as searching for like-minded people, analyzing supply and demand in the market (by participating in various accelerators, exhibitions, etc.), developing a project on paper, searching for funding (through the Taimyr Development Fund), transacting with programmers from St. Petersburg, drawing up technical task and now we are at the stage of developing the platform.
By the way, we still have a lot of work ahead, but according to the plan the platform will run this fall, then we will go on developing it according to the needs of suppliers and end-users.
Ethnocultural tours to the Arctic. More information on ethno.arctic-russia.ru website
4) What prospects for the development of tourism in Dudinka do you see? How do you plan to grow your business?
The Far North is becoming a very promising destination for both citizens of our country and foreigners. Dudinka is no exception. Of course, there is not enough infrastructure to receive a huge flow of tourists everywhere, but we do not need this at the moment. Our goal is to introduce Indigenous peoples to [other] citizens who are interested in the ethno-component of our region and to enable communities to express themselves and subsequently compete (in the good way), and therefore develop.
I plan to develop myself and compete with other communities and organizations on this platform for the benefit of Indigenous peoples.
5) Is investing in tourism infrastructure in the Far North risky or promising in your opinion?
You know, there is always a risk, the main thing is to know about it at the initial stage of entering this industry, but the further result depends on what decisions you make. In my opinion, the development of ethno-tourism in the Far North is rather promising, and not only in the North.
6) You are a representative of the Indigenous peoples, the Dolgans. Are there many Indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic engaged in business, according to your observations?
Many of my friends and acquaintances among the Indigenous people run enterprises (family tribal communities and farm households). They created them in order to conduct traditional economic activities more effectively. Some of them have succeeded, while others are looking for a new course of development, many combine and introduce new ideas to preserve their way of life.
7) Do you work at national or international level? Do you hold events to increase the popularity of the region?
No, we are not working either at all-Russian level, or let alone international level yet, but that’s what is coming.
We do not hold any events on our own, but we actively participate in them. Sometimes there is an opportunity to become a co-organizer of such events, and this is a very cool experience. For example, I personally organized the preparation and holding of the Youth Forum of Indigenous Peoples of Taimyr three times. It takes place annually and it acquired a regional status in 2021.
Until then there were guys only from Taimyr among the participants. We also took an active part in arranging ethnic venues at various city events. We can say that we are just getting started, and everything still lies ahead.
Navigating barriers of cost, Kudryakov says he hopes to have the app available in 2024.
The authors lead Russia’s ‘Arctic Youth’ collective, check out their social: