Interview Svetlana Pantyukhina: Rural Tourism Development
Svetlana Pantyukhina is an expert in rural tourism development, affiliated with the Autonomous non-profit organization “Agency of rural community development” and an expert of the national project “Adaptation Accelerator. She is trengthening community-based tourism CSOs for sustainable development of rural and marginalized areas of Russia in post-COVID reality” delivered by ARCD in cooperation with RuralTour.
With a Master of Business School specializing in rural tourism management (Royal Agricultural University, UK), an experience of being Tour guide (for about 10 years) and as co-founder of a family guest house in the Altai mountains (for about 10 years), Svetlana worked on several projects.
- Development of the professional community of NGOs and their partners in the field of rural tourism: from dialogue to practice 2018-2020 (Russia)
- Sparks of hope for Russian villages 2014-1016 (Russia)
- School of rural tourism and traditional crafts 2012-2013 (Republic of Altai)
- Ecopaths of Altai 2013 (Republic of Altai)
- Lake Teletskoye: protection of nature and human rights 2011-2012 (Republic of Altai)
Rural communities development is the first step for raising rural tourism
”When we moved to our village we didn’t plan to be involved in tourism activities. At that time rural tourism was a new idea in Russia and not many people were involved. But it happened that our area has historically been popular among tourists due to its natural beauty. So in time we started to work with tourists. Later international projects came to our area that used rural tourism as an instrument for rural development, a good instrument to preserve traditional lifestyle of local indigenous people, at the same time giving them alternative occupation to such activities as hunting (where it was the case) to preserve the wildlife and extra source of income. I was invited to be one of the lecturers with the focus of how to work with tourists, what are their demands and expectations, how to make tourists’ stay in local houses enjoyable for both tourists and hosts.
A few years later I was invited as an expert at the national-level projects, expanding my experience in other Russian territories. At a certain point I felt I needed more theoretical knowledge to be higher level expert, I therefore applied for the British governmental award Chevening and thanks to it obtained training and professional experiences at the Royal Agricultural University, Business school in Rural Tourism Management.
In each project I participated I my knowledge. I gained better understanding of the trends and directions. But one of the key moments in my career related to an international experience, when I was invited to assess the effectiveness of a three-year project with the focus on the development of rural communities in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. It was a rather challenging project, but extremely interesting and rewarding in terms of gaining new knowledge, meeting new people, and it significantly expanded my professional horizons. In 5 years’ time I would like to carry on doing what I do both in Russia and internationally, I would love to see other territories, see common trends, be helpful in rural development projects, help people to learn from each other and achieve real success in their businesses.
Being an expert, you never stop learning – new things, new territories, you always have to update your knowledge about current trends and changes in the area of your expertise, especially now, when the world changes so quickly and sometimes in an unusual way.”
Helping people to develop their business without destroying the environment
”When I only started to work as an expert, I wasn’t that experienced both as an expert and as a guest house owner (I was supposed to share my experience in this activity with other people). After years of working in different territories, I can now analyze, present and discuss with people not only from my family experience but also the experiences of other people who live and work in different countries. My portfolio of best practices is more diverse and includes many practical cases. But at the same time people – who we try to help as an expert team – also are more experienced now and in order to remain helpful we have to work harder, we have to expand our knowledge beyond the tourism industry, we have to teach ourselves about marketing, promotion, sustainability, etc.
However, the main task is still the same – to help people to find the best way to develop their business without destroying the environment.
Challenges and obstacles are good things, they motivate you, and encourage you to constantly work on your level of knowledge. You just learn always to be able to share your knowledge. Sometimes there may be difficult times like when the tourism industry was going through pandemic restrictions and here, we all had to accept the situation and find solutions to save the business.”
Everyone has a choice to contribute in a positive way concerning climate change
”When we are talking about rural tourism – there are a few things that are very important. First of all, it should remain a small size and personal approach, and the conception of “people visit people” means that tourists want to communicate with hosts, feel the spirit of a village, community. Authenticity, local cuisine, culture, and traditions should also be there, as a part of tourists’ experience.
We can’t avoid the new trends but must use them for the benefit of the people and territories. During the last two years, we all moved a significant part of our work online, so we are now able to work in remote areas (many of them now have at least mobile internet) without the need to travel there which is better for the environment and more effective time-wise. But of course, online communication is not the same as face-to-face, and for some reasons, face-to-face meetings are still important, face-to-face visits to a territory if we plan serious development is still a must.
Being aware of preserving the environment and being sustainable is crucially important nowadays. And yes, it should be even more so in the future. We all observe climate change, we all know that the human population is growing quickly, and we all want future generations to live in this beautiful world. We all know that planning the future starts today. Not planning for the future and ignoring global processes to safeguard global, climate l, and economic stability I believe is highly irresponsible. Each and every one of us has a choice to contribute to future changes in a good or bad way, nobody is neutral. So, what we choose to do today will impact our children’s future.”
Information about the author: Francisco Javier Cansinos Cabello, Eurogites-Ruraltour