Russia ‘gunning’ for tourists with MiGs, tanks, AK-56s

Moscow, May 2 (IANS) Firing Kalashnikovs, flying gunships, stomping about in tanks and sweating it out in army fatigues, that’s Russia’s cutting edge arsenal of ideas for attracting tourists. Amid the annexation of Crimea and the conflict with Ukraine, “military tourism” appears all set to boom in Russia.

Inbound tour operators are offering tourists a quasi-combat experience, be it firing AK-47 assault rifles in underground firing ranges, roaring on in T-90 tanks or an edge-of-the-space flight in a MiG-29.

And tourists like Japan’s Toshihiro Yokoi and his friend, who are willing to shell out upwards of 15,000-18,000 euros for a spin in the MiG-29, are relishing the opportunity.

“The emotions (we felt) during the suborbital flight were both exciting and interesting,” Yokoi said, shortly after the flight, where he experienced the 9G (G-force).

Next on his agenda is a zero gravity flight experience in a four-engine IL-76 at Nizhniy Novgorod in the Volga federal district.

For those who would feel peevish in a fighter jet and more at home close to land, there’s Uralvagonzavod, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of tanks located around 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from Moscow, which has been offering tourists a ride in the mighty T-90 from April this year, or a visit to the armour museum in the national capital, where tanks from the great war, armoury and other military equipment are on display.

For those with vintage taste and World War buffs, Russian leader Joseph Stalin’s bunker in Moscow is now a tourist attraction too.

If one wishes to have a live and feel about what’s it to be like in the army, a new tourism circuit allows you to spend a day in a military training camp and train with soldiers in fatigues.

The objects of war and the thrill of handling tanks and weapons is catching up as a tourism offering.

Three years ago Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu even offered to organise a new sport-military show – a tank Biathlon for tourists, which involves a speed race through manoeuvres and taking precision shots from the tank’s canon.

“All guests can witness military flight, fireworks, military music and tanks across many models. The military museum is also popular with Russian and China tourists during summer,” Marina Solokov of the Moscow-based Indigo Tour told IANS.

Paresh Navani of the Russian Information Centre, says Defence Tourism in Russia is just about to zip off the blocks.

“Defence tourism is also taking off in Russia with options like MiG 29 flights to the edge of space where passengers are also allowed to control the aircraft, World War II bunker visits, firing Kalashnikov rifles, visits to battle tank ranges with the ability to control the systems. In the region of Crimea tourists can also visit nuclear submarines that are in active service,” he said.

Chinese tourists, who top the list of tourists visiting Russia with a million of them visiting Russia in 2015, have already cottoned to military tourism and are driving the demands, says Pavel Kretov of Academservice, an inbound tour operator based in Moscow.

“It (military tourism) has just started. Chinese tourists are very interested. It was started because of the demand fuelled by the Chinese tourists,” Kretoc says, adding that in Moscow there are numerous shooting galleries where one can spray a few live bullets from a pistol to an AK-56.

However, while the guns and tanks await, revved up for tourists, there’s one issue which continues to niggle the tourism administration, which can prove to be a dampener to takers of such tourism: pricing.

It is something which Valery Korovkin, head of the International Development division of the Federal Agency for Tourism, believes will be levelled out over a period of time.

“You have to start with something. It’s expensive now, but in a year it can go down if there is enough demand,” Korovkin said.

(This correspondent visited Russia at the invitation of the Russian Information Centre, India. Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be reached on mayabhushan.n@ians)

–IANS

maya/mr

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