Attempt to revive regular passenger river transportation gives a tilt towards commerce

The “reanimation” of the Tatarstan river fleet is complicated by the “flaw” of the new Meteors and the insuperable formalities for today

Attempt to revive regular passenger river transportation gives a tilt towards commerce
Photo: Динар Фатыхов

The Tatarstan State Committee on Tourism, the Ulyanovsk Oblast Tourism Agency, and the Ministry of Economic Development of Chuvashia held an online meeting at which plans for the upcoming river navigation were presented. About new ships, new routes, as well as incidents and difficulties associated with the implementation of joint plans for the development of tourism in three neighbouring regions — in the material of Realnoe Vremya.

And the thunder struck

The head of the Republican State Committee for Tourism, Sergei Ivanov, opened the meeting with an optimistic message that last year and the year before test trips of new Tatarstan high-speed vessels aroused great interest among tourists, that Tatarstan is reviving interregional high-speed routes and that in this difficult matter the republic very much hopes for the support of the federal centre — for budget subsidies within the framework of the interregional tourism project The Great Volga Way.

Ivanov then added that the new Meteors still need to be improved and technical shortcomings eliminated. Later, when the microphone passed to the director general of Fleet of the Republic of Tatarstan JSC, Roman Lizalin, a legendary captain and enthusiast who dreams of reviving passenger navigation on the Volga, he had to voice a very sad reason why in 2024 only the third journey of the brand-new Meteor to Ulyanovsk ended prematurely due to engine failure, and not at the best moment, but when it got dark on the Volga.

Talking about this, Roman Lizalin noted that “the equipment is new” and that the manufacturer is now promptly troubleshooting the problem. This is not the first problem with the new Meteors. Last year, Roman Lizalin in an interview with Realnoe Vremya said that the second Meteor, Mikhail Devyataev, is “being finalised at the plant” and that a decision on its use “will be made as soon as it is ready”.

As a result, only the very first travels to Ulyanovsk scheduled for May 1-5 and 9-12 took place, and the Meteor, which returned to service, will resume them only on May 17. If, of course, it is repaired.

A dark matter

During the meeting, two of the most pressing problems of the project implementation were clarified. The first is related to the limitation of the time of movement of high-speed vessels — it is allowed only during daylight hours. The schedule has to be adjusted to the movement of the sun, as a result, tourists have little time to see the sights in, for example, Ulyanovsk, and if you subtract at least an hour for lunch from the 3 hours that the parking lasts, then there is absolutely no time to walk around the city and museums. Even the fact that in reality, in good weather conditions, it takes 3 and a half hours to travel one way, not 4 hours, but 3 and a half, does not make it better.

An alternative is offered by local authorities, who are ready to create additional comfort for tourists in the form of minibuses from travel agencies meeting at the pier and giving them the opportunity to stay in the city overnight — in a hotel. Denis Ilyin, the director of the Ulyanovsk Region Tourism Agency, assured them that the programme of visiting not only city museums, but also the Sengileevsky Mountains National Park, and the famous Undors, as well as a variety of entertainment, travel agencies are ready to offer them.

However, a second problem arises here, which is no longer so easily solved. As Lyubov Kovaleva, the director of the Kazan Tourist Information Center PLC, pointed out, “it is possible to provide a guaranteed tour to a guest” only on the condition that the guest is guaranteed to be delivered to the right point on the route, and for this the travel agency must have a guaranteed opportunity to “load” guests on the ship at the right day and hour — the same “Meteor”. After all, if you wait for guests, reserve hotels and restaurants, book excursions, not knowing whether tourists arrive in sufficient numbers or not, the tourist business will quickly fail.

This means that the carrier must guarantee to provide the travel agency with a certain number of seats on the ship. But rivermen cannot provide the agency with places for unknown tourists — a ship ticket is sold on a passport and the carrier is obliged to enter the data of each passenger into a special register, and violation of such an order threatens with huge fines.

“We cannot give you a quota for inter-regional trips without knowing who it is allocated to," said Alexey Vasiliev, the head of the Department of Tourism and Crafts Development, and added that even if it became possible, rivermen risk failing. “And if you reserve 10 seats, and there will be only 5 passengers — what to do? Or will you buy all 10 tickets?

Does commerce and the dream not converge?

“We need to learn to listen to each other," Sergey Ivanov tried to reconcile the commercial interests of the two structures and fantasised aloud on how it would be possible to book places for tourists in advance, and then, for example, 3 days before the trip, to remove the reservation unsold by travel agencies. “Otherwise, tour operators will not work.

However, the question of how agency contracts will be drawn up and how it will be possible to combine the idea of organising tours with the requirements to register each individual passenger remained open. And it is not surprising, because the root of the problem is that there is an attempt to cross, as they say, a bulldog with a rhinoceros — to use a fleet designed for a different purpose — for regular passenger transportation to organise tours.

It remains to recall that from the 1960s until the destruction of the Soviet Union, river passenger transportation experienced a boom in our country. River (and not only river) cruises were a separate topic, while many citizens preferred to travel not by tourist, but by scheduled passenger ships, as it was much cheaper and sometimes much more interesting due to the large number of long stops.

In Tatarstan, until the late 1990s, it was possible to get to Chistopol and other local ports by boat, to sail not only to Cheboksary and Ulyanovsk, but also to Penza, Moscow and Astrakhan. And Meteors and Rockets during navigation generally transported passengers in a similar way to regular buses.

In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, Roman Lizalin spoke about his dream to revive regular passenger shipping on the Volga and other rivers of the republic. However, now there is a distinct tilt in a different, purely tourist direction to the detriment of “classic” passenger transportation, in which many residents of the republic are interested. And it seems that the question of where we will sail next is being decided right now.

Inna Serova
Tatarstan