Natalya Vokhmintseva: ‘Is it bad if more tourists come and leave more money?’

The owner of the boat and organiser of river excursions in the Tatarstan capital about the hard fate of the water leisure business

Mari entrepreneur Natalya Vokhmintseva who was the first to launch a wooden boat in the Kazanka River and whose tourist business went aground in the fight for the river area is looking for a site for berths. In an op-ed column for Realnoe Vremya, she explains the circumstances of an argument with the Tatarstan University Sailing Federation, why businesspeople’s work is no less important for the city’s development than the activity of public organisations and shares her plans for organising water holidays in the capital of Tatarstan talking about her social projects.

Everybody has one’s own tasks

Representatives of the University Sailing Federation often indicate the difference between our goals: we, businesspeople, work to make profit, while they implement social projects for the good of the society. Yes, we run a commercial activity — otherwise, the business cannot exist. But charity is an important part of our work. And not only in words but also in deeds.

We have been running our activity in different cities for several years now and we cooperate with charity foundations everywhere, we have a lot of letters of gratitude from them. Yes, we don’t teach children to steer a sailboat — but everybody has one’s own tasks. Besides high-quality services for tourists, we organise river trips, including for disabled people, parentless children, large families, and all this is gratis, on a charity basis.

This work is well-oiled here, there was created a timetable of charity trips. During the high season, they are organised every day before the noon from Monday to Friday. There are charity foundations that weekly bring people they supervise at a specific time (for instance, 50 people come from one of the foundations on Thursdays, and we receive them, accommodate, take them on an excursion, another foundation comes on Mondays and so on).

We cooperate with the Kazan City Executive Committee, the city administration. When urban festivals are held, according to the programme, a khan with Syuyumbike must pass by in a boat, we provide such an opportunity, no problem. We provide the youth with jobs with a very good salary. I think it is no less important than engaging teenagers into sailing.

As for the business, I recently saw Vladimir Putin’s speech in Tver Oblast, in Zavidovo, on TV. A huge tourist complex for 7 billion rubles is created. And Governor Igor Rudenya stressed that this was done with the money entrepreneurs invested and that was grated. It is true, why is it bad? The city doesn’t spend its money, entrepreneurs agree with the city on what, how and where will be built, this is done by entrepreneurs, and in the end more tourists will come to the city, they will leave more money here and taxes will go to the city treasury.

The most important thing is that having the necessary infrastructure an entrepreneur can decently provide the high-quality service they are offered.

While we were asking for a place, they occupied the whole bay

When our berth was removed from the Cup Family Centre, it was clear and explicable. For me, our enterprise is big and important because it is my brainchild. For a huge city, it is just a small enterprise, one of many, whereas the construction of a mosque of regional significance is a priority. But now, when it became clear that the mosque is going to be built in another place, we would really like the issue of what the surrounding area of the Cup will be like to be resolved. As we remember, The Park of Seven Horizons was going to be built there — the landscape park with access to the water. The project that was announced earlier last year implied that the bay near the Cup would stay where our berth was located, walking areas near the water and in the water, but we don’t know how to transform these plans now.

In reply to our numerous petitions, the Lower Volga Basin Administration explained that it wasn’t possible to register the water zone where our boat station was located near the Cup because it was an area of bays and it was allocated to create an artificial land parcel. We learnt just recently that the site in the bay near the Cup or, more precisely, the water zone of all bays, which is 46,200 square metres, was registered by guess who? The University Sailing Federation! Now we try to find out the plans for park improvement and fit in them, they simply take the whole bay. When we ask the Lower Volga Basin Administration to give us a free parcel on the other side of the Cup, the Kazan region of water ways and navigation replies to us that the water zone near the headwall cannot be provided.

Manzara Park — from the would-be mosque instead of Kyrlay Park to the Kirov Dam — must have access to the water with piers and boat and catamaran rent in its remote part according to preliminary plans. But we nothing for sure here because according to explanations, the final decision doesn’t have its shape. While it is necessary to prepare to develop these services, even purely financially: to make plans, calculate price sheets, look for money... We need to understand that when and how much we will have to invest in this business.

Catamaran is needed for romantic, not sunbathing

Our opponents say that no boats and catamarans are needed in the embankments because it is improper if people “in trunks and swimsuits walks in the city centre — it is aesthetics!” Yes, boats and catamarans have been rented at the beach since the Soviet era as addition to the beach holiday but not only.

We don’t submit applications for beach territories in those cities we work, in Izhevsk, Cheboksary, Yoshkar-Ola, Kazan because people take a boat or catamaran at the beach as addition to the holiday when they sunbathed and swam enough. It is romantic in the embankment and in the park. There aren’t any trunks and naked bodies here.

When a boy walks with his girlfriend and says: “Want to have a ride?” While she is well dressed, in beautiful heels... What swimsuit we are you talking about? It is different. When a person is at the beach, they already have access to the water. But when it is impossible to swim and it is hot outdoors — a catamaran or boat in the walking zone can come in handy.

We have a hotel, what do they have?

Our company started to offer excursions along the Kazanka River near the Cup in a wooden sailboat with the figure of Zilant dragon at the front in 2016 and successfully operated until 2022 when the rent agreement was terminated because of planned hydraulic fill for the construction of the Cathedral Mosque. Then, the project was reconsidered, but a new rent agreement wasn’t signed with us, while another organisation — the Tatarstan University Sailing Federation — go the right to rent the Kazanka water area in many places without competition on preferential terms. Now we are in litigation for the rent right — we are convinced the agreement with the federation was signed with violations.

Tour operators or tour agents as well as sports organisations are entitled to the preferential rent right. When a tour operator submits an application, the goal of the use of the water zone must be linked with the development of tourism, and at the same time the tour operator or tour agent must have a hotel or hostel, a health resort — accommodation for tourist. Moreover, this real estate must be registered in the Unified State Register of Taxpayers. The company also must have the right to the land parcel. All this is needed to provide the real activity as tour operator.

We have a hotel in the centre of Kazan, we do our best to develop tourism in Kazan, what do they have? But the University Sailing Federation submits applications for the water zone as a tour operator, not a sports organisation, which could be by far more logical. Why? Perhaps, they don’t have an educational licence required for sports organisations, is it hard to obtain it?

Nowadays the Tatarstan University Sailing Federation obtained several parts of the water zone near Riviera water park (19,700 square metres), the Millennium Bridge (25,500 square metres), areas near Lokomotiv beach (39,000 square metres). So it turns out that the Tatarstan University Sailing Federation monopolises water by applying for many areas in the centre of Kazan. Does everybody sincerely believe that all this water area will be used only for charity?

To be able to immerse the hand into the water

In Kazan, given its huge water area, there is an enormous, ill-considered niche for tourism, services related to water leisure. There is a lot of water here — the Kazanka River, the Volga River and lakes. There are roads to the water in all the cities with water bodies. In Petersburg, in canal embankments, in the Neva river, one can approach the river everywhere. Embankments in ancient Volga cities consist of two levels — upper and lower near the water. And this isn’t accidental: for a person in the city, the close contract with nature, the possibility of immersing the hand into the water, if not moor the boat, is very important. It is very important, it is special feelings, impressions. So why is Kazan worse than Petersburg, Yaroslavl or Kostroma that we don’t have it?

It is necessary to develop boat and catamaran rental, water excursions in Kazan like in Petersburg. This type of services isn’t developed here at all. And it is necessary to diversify their range.

Of course, boat and catamaran rent must be organised strictly in equipped places. Since there is navigation in the Kazanka River, the organiser, first of all, must provide safety of such leisure time. These issues need to be addressed with the city, it is necessary to choose places where it is possible and convenient.

As for excursions, it is also necessary to solve the problem of starting points, provide tourists with a chance of not only going on an excursion but also leave the boat at an intermediate berth with the city. Moreover, these berths must be high-tech and aesthetic so that boats of different ages can be comfortably located. Also, the organiser must be responsible for safety in the water and the technical state of boats.

Projects of new parks are now developed, and we try to participate in this work, we make our offers. We have met with representatives of the city’s Directorate of Parks and Squares, the Architecture Administration to discuss the problem. But we are explained that the concepts of would-be parks have not yet been fully developed, therefore there is no clarity when berths needed to develop this type of services would appear. We were promised they would appear, the question is where exactly, which is a crucial issue.

It is necessary to choose the points that are convenient for people

To make sure a water holiday is attractive for Kazan guests and citizens, first of all, it is necessary to choose the points that will be convenient for them. It is necessary to start with people’s interests. There is access to the water on the left bank of the Kazanka River, between the Lenin and Kirov Dams, but who will go there or go there only to use a catamaran or boat? Who will go there deliberately if there is nothing there? This is why only the right bank of the Kazanka River is interesting for us now, there is public transport, parks, the Cup and cafes there — everything within a walking distance.

What is created for tourists should be located in attractive sites for tourists. During a stay in Kazan, a person should be provided a service, not plan in advance how they will get there in public transport and then go on foot somewhere near Lokomotiv beach. Appetite comes with eating — everything should start with “Let’s go for a walking, see the city,” and then continue at some point: “Let’s go, take a ride,” “Let’s take a seat, have some meal.”

Natalya Vokhmintseva

The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.