Tourist study boom

November 30, 2001

Tourism is one of the hottest areas of study in Russian universities as the country's tourist potential rises up the political agenda.

More than 50 institutions throughout Russia offer degrees with a component of tourism studies, including established institutes of tourism in Moscow and Sochi. Admissions tutors report stiff competition for places.

In Saratov, where the state university's history faculty offers a combined tourism and history degree, places are five times oversubscribed - an occurrence more often seen in law or economics faculties.

University courses are attracting top students keen to revive Russian tourism from its post-Communist torpor.

Attempts to develop eco-tourism or ethnic-interest tours of areas such as the old Volga German region - where westerners keen on tracing family trees can still find villages, churches and graveyards dating back centuries - are at the heart of the courses on offer.

The popularity of tourism degrees might surprise many visitors and travel agents with experience of Russia's visa regime, absence of reasonably priced and decent hotels and crumbling transport infrastructure, but exponents argue that ten years after the collapse of communism, a turning point is approaching.

Velikhan Mirzekhanov, dean of history at Saratov State University, which launched a history and tourism diploma in the mid- 1990s modelled on that of Angiers University, France, said middle-class Russian families increasingly saw tourism as a viable and potentially lucrative career path for their children.

"Tourism has become popular first of all because so many Russians have travelled in the past ten years since the country became open; now everyone believes that it is a very good business.

"Our aim is not only to give a good education but to encourage enterprise - we don't want our students only to be good specialists, but to be able to develop projects on the protection and development of historical sites of interest and tourist potential."

Dr Mirzekhanov said Russia had a wealth of fascinating historical and environmental sites of interest, but unlike in other parts of the world many remained the province of archaeologists and other academic specialists.

The unique ecosystem of the wild steppe-desert area in the Saratov region and archaeological remains dating back millennia were among the unexploited sites with potential for both domestic and international tourism, he said.

Nearly half the first graduating class of students last year found jobs overseas, he added.

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