Courchevel, St Moritz, Zermatt . . . or perhaps Chechnya?
The Daily Telegraph, 28th January 2010 15:10
By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
CHECHNYA is to market itself as "a Swiss-style'' ski resort in an improbable bid to attract Russian and foreign tourists.
If the plan succeeds, it will be one of the most radical transformations in the history of tourism.
The southern Russian republic is better known for suicide bombings, kidnappings and two brutal wars than for après ski parties and designer ski wear.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the former warlord turned Kremlin-backed president of the troubled region, believes the small mountainous republic has huge tourism potential.
"We have a good climate and wonderful scenery,'' he said. "We have places that, when equipped with the necessary infrastructure, will be in no way inferior to Swiss resorts.''
Mr Kadyrov is not joking. He and his aides have earmarked a scenic area called the Argun Gorge for a large ski resort with a luxury hotel, mid-priced chalets and a spa complex. Ruslan Baisarov, a wealthy Chechen businessman who is one of the project's main backers, has been quoted as saying he thinks the gorge is even more beautiful than Courchevel in France, a favourite resort among Russia's moneyed elite.
And, after years of lobbying, the airport in Grozny, the capital, is fully operational for international flights.
There are, however, a few loose ends to be tied up before "Ski Chechnya'' can become a reality. The main one is capturing or killing Doku Umarov, the leader of the Chechen Islamist underground who is thought to be hiding in the area. Mr Kadyrov has said he hopes to achieve that goal before the summer is out so that building work can begin.
"By then the mountains must become the safest place in Chechnya and in Russia,'' he said. A squad of some of his most battle-hardened fighters has already begun scouring the mountains for the terrorist leader and his accomplices. Russian tourism experts believe issues of personal safety mean the plan is ahead of its time and the Foreign Office appears to concur.
It advises against all travel to Chechnya, saying terrorism and kidnapping remain a serious threat.