Irkutsk Authorities Move to Restrict Tourism on Lake Baikal

Local authorities in Russia‘s Irkutsk region have adopted new rules for the organization of tourism and recreation in the central ecological zone of the Baikal natural territory, which will limit tourist activity in Lake Baikal, Sibnovosti reports.

In accordance with the rules, 11 places will be allocated in the ecological zone where tourist areas will be created. For each of them, the type and specialization will be determined, as well as the potential for accommodation of tourists and vacationers and the recreational activities.

The main purpose of the rules is to comply with the maximum permissible environmental stress standards. Priority will be given to environmental tourism with a limited flow of travelers, said the press service of the Government of the Irkutsk region.

“The basis of the document was the research work calculation of the norms of recreational load for organized and unorganized recreation in the central ecological zone of the Baikal natural territory of the Irkutsk region, which was conducted by the Geography Institute named after V.B. Sochava of the Siberian Branch of the RAS. This document is the basis for the regulation and organization of tourism in Lake Baikal. And now our most important task is to launch all the mechanisms defined by the rules,” said Ekaterina Slivina, head of the regional tourism agency.

The document prescribes the rules of conduct for tourists. They are not allowed to wash cars in open waters or set up tents outside the designated areas. The authorities want to create conditions under which there will be no increased anthropogenic load in the region, and tourists will receive quality service.

The new rules come as locals are concerned that an influx of Chinese money and tourists in the region was making matters worse for the nationally treasured lake. “One of the leading causes of problems on Lake Baikal is the development of the lake shore for tourism these days, which, at least in the Irkutsk region, is greatly driven by Chinese business,” said Simonov, who has worked extensively on the area’s environmental issues.

He pointed to the “not legal” hotels opened by local and Chinese businesses that cater to the increasing number of tourists from China.

“The real driving force is the desire of locals to privatize the lake shore, illegally, but the Chinese demand is one of the reasons they want to privatize it, while Chinese businesses are among the most visible because they are foreign,” he said.