The indoor food market in Nikel is one of the places Norwegian visitors find exotic and tend to leave more and more money. Photo: Trude Pettersen(Photo: Trude Pettersen)
The Russian border town of Nikel is experiencing a high increase in the number of Norwegian tourists after the introduction of visa-free travels for border zone inhabitants. Local authorities see a large potential in developing tourism.
Since visa-free travels were introduced in May 2012, more than 1200 Norwegians living in Kirkenes and the surrounding area have obtained the border zone inhabitant certificate, which gives them the right to visit the towns of Nikel and Zapolyarny without having a visa to Russia. Over the last five months the number of Norwegians crossing the border at the Storskog border-crossing point has doubled, from 2,279 in May to 4,917 in October.
Irina Neverova, Mayor of the Municipality of Pechenga, sees large opportunities for the local communities on her side of the border, and urges authorities and businessmen to take action. “We need to make the tourists feel welcome”, she says.
Local authorities have great plans for the future of Nikel. These are not only aiming at drawing foreign tourists to the town, but also at making living conditions better for the local population. People in the mining towns of Nikel and Zapolyarny have higher incomes than the Russian average, but the limited choice of shops and services make many people spend their money in Murmansk or on the Norwegian side of the border.
Local authorities have developed a program for social-economic development of Nikel that includes a general up-grading of the town’s appearance, help to local business, tourism and infrastructure. The multi-billion rubles program includes amongst other things upgrading of the town’s swimming hall and ice hockey range, modernization of the palace of culture and a new center for arts and crafts.
Grand plans for tourist center By 2015 an old recreation complex for workers at the Kola Mining Plant will be made into a modern tourist complex for locals and visitors. The complex “Russkaya Sloboda” will be located on the shore of Lake Kuetsjarvi only a few kilometers from the Norwegian border.
The complex will have a hotel with 250 beds and a conference hall for 200 people and offer dog sledge riding, snow mobile trips, Russian banyas, restaurants etc.
“Russkaya Sloboda” will be constructed in old-fashined Russian design with buildings made from timber. Illustration by Dali-Group.