Vladivostok: from naval base to tourist and cultural mecca

August 08, 2016 06:00
Craig Ballantyne (right) says the local government in Vladivostok has invested a lot in infrastructure to support the gaming industry. Andrei Folomeev (left) says the gaming zone will create up to 22,000 jobs. Photo: EJ Insight

Vladivostok, known to Chinese as Haishenwai (海參崴), is seeking to transform itself from a naval base into a tourist hub offering gaming, shopping and cultural experience to Russian Far East and Asian regions.

"The local government has made a lot of infrastructure investments in Vladivostok, including road networks, seaport and support for local businesses, to make the city more attractive,” said Craig Ballantyne, chief executive of G1 Entertainment, which is a majority-owned subsidiary of Summit Ascent Holdings controlled by Melco International Development (00200.HK) chairman Lawrence Ho.

“It can’t work without government support,” he said in a media briefing in Vladivostok.

The gaming sector in Russian Far East and the neighboring regions across China, South Korea and Japan, which cover a population of 300 million, is underserved, he said.

As long as the demand keeps growing, casinos can add more gaming tables, unlike the situation in Macau, where the number of gaming tables is capped.

Last October, G1 Entertainment opened its first casino, Tigre de Cristal, in the gaming zone in Muravyinaya Bay near Vladivostok.

It is now operating 121 hotel rooms with rates of 22,000 rubles (US$336) to 110,000 rubles per night, two restaurants, 53 gaming tables and 321 slot machines. It was built by China State Construction International Holdings Ltd. (03311.HK).

At the moment, 60 percent of its customers are local residents while the rest are from Hong Kong, Macau, China and South Korea, Ballantyne said.

Four gaming operators, including G1 Entertainment, Diamond Fortune Holdings, Naga Russia Ltd. and Royal Time Group, will invest a total of 130 billion rubles in the gaming zone in Vladivostok over the next five years, said Andrei Folomeev, general director of Primorsky Krai Development Corp.

The 620-hectare gaming zone, which features entertainment centers, casinos, hotels, villas, a yacht club and other tourist properties, is expected to be completed by 2022.

There will be up to 1,700 gaming tables, creating 22,000 jobs in the district.

Chinese tourists

Vladivostok, which had been a closed military base for more than a century before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, is a major Pacific port city in Russia overlooking Golden Horn Bay. It is known as a terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway, which links the city to Moscow.

Its tourism districts are crawling with Chinese tourists, who create a huge demand for seafood, jewelry and necessities.

That's why some local tourist guides prefer to learn Mandarin, rather than English.

Last year, a total of 677,000 Chinese tourists visited Russia, compared with 158,000 in 2010, Sputniknews.cn reported, citing data compiled by World Without Borders, a travel association.

In general, about 55 percent of Chinese tourists prefer to visit Moscow and Saint Peterburg, 36 percent prefer the Far East region and the remaining 9 percent like the Siberian region.

“In the past, Russian tourists were going out to neighboring countries. Today the flow has reversed,” said Vladimir Miklushevsky, governor of Primorsky Krai, adding that a cheaper ruble has helped boost the local tourism industry.

“Our goal is to turn Vladivostok into a 21st century cultural center.”

Mariinsky Theater, a historic venue of opera and ballet performances in Saint Petersburg, opened a branch in Vladivostok in January.

People who are keen on the culture of Russia and eastern European countries can now visit Vladivostok and do not have to travel thousands of miles to Europe, Miklushevsky said.

Primorsky Aquarium

During the second Eastern Economic Forum, which will take place in Vladivostok on Sept. 2 to 3, the newly established Primorsky Aquarium will be opened to the public.

The facility, while primarily is a research and educational facility, will also serve as a tourist site.

Other tourism attractions include a go-kart facility, operated by PrimRing, in Artyom city in Primorsky Krai. This facility will host the annual D1 PrimRing Grand Prix, a car drifting race, on Sept. 23 to 25.

This is the last of a three-part series that will serve as a curtain-raiser for the second Eastern Economic Forum, which will be held Sept. 2 to 3 in Vladivostok. [Chinese version中文版]

[1] Russia's Far East to boost agricultural ties with China

[2] Russia pins big hopes on free port, economic zones in Far East

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Tigre de Cristal is owned by Melco International Development chairman Lawrence Ho. Photo: EJ Insight
A coffee shop in Vladivostok combines a symbol of the former Soviet Union, the red star, and the brand of a famous US coffee chain. Photo: EJ Insight
Chinese tourists swoop down on a jewelry shop in downtown Vladivostok. Photo: EJ Insight
Vitaly Verkeenko, chief executive of PrimRing, says the D1 PrimRing Grand Prix is a professional car drifting race. Photo: EJ Insight
Retired jets and battleships can help attract tourists. Photo: EJ Insight

Chief reporter at EJ Insight