By Amina Nazarli
Cruise tourism is one of the steadily growing segments of the tourism sector and can make a significant contribution to a destination’s economy.
Generating an estimated $18 billion a year in passenger expenditure, cruise tourism is a luxurious form of travelling, involving an all-inclusive holiday on a cruise ship.
The Caspian Sea, the Earth's largest inland body of water, enjoys good potential to be among the most popular destinations on the cruise tourism map.
Although no sea voyages across the Caspian Sea are available for now, the littoral states seek to join efforts to create the joint cruise tourism product.
The Russian Federal Agency for Tourism (Rosturizm) took the initiative and plans to develop cruise tourism in the Caspian Sea with the involvement of the littoral countries - Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
Head of Rosturizm Oleg Safonov told TASS that the agency is preparing the plan for development of cruise tourism in the Caspian Sea, which is, according to them, is one of the important directions.
This fundamentally new high quality tourist product, which is something new for the region, will be very promising for the Caspian region.
The main problem, in the development of cruise tourism, according to Safonov is the creation of infrastructure -- quay walls, passenger stations, checkpoints, etc., which must be prepared by next year.
“We see a very big interest of our colleagues and friends. I mean Iran and Azerbaijan, everyone is interested, and we are actively moving to create these routes. At a meeting with the head of Dagestan we also discussed this topic, he also supports this idea,” the head of Rosturizm said.
In March, the Dagestan (a federal republic of Russia) authorities presented a project on the development of international cruise shipping on the Caspian Sea at the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi. The new project involved the creation of nine cruise routes "The Caspian Sea - the Sea of Friendship" on the route Makhachkala-Derbent-Baku-Enzeli-Turkmenbashi-Aktau-Astrakhan-Makhachkala.
The talks about creation of a new cruise line in the Caspian Sea arose in 2005, when the sides planned to open the cruise-passenger along the route Astrakhan (Russia) - Baku (Azerbaijan) - Enzeli (Iran) - Aktau (Kazakhstan) - Turkmenbashi (Turkmenistan). However, the cruise line has never opened and the issue was always postponed for subsequent years.
The Caspian Sea, with enormous deposits of oil and gas as well as rich fisheries, can rightfully become popular cruise destination. Fresh water flows into the sea via the Volga River and Ural River in the north, however, the sea remains somewhat salty, central and south.
The flora and fauna of the Caspian Sea is not only rich and diverse, but also different from the fauna and flora of other seas and lakes. The sea is home to 755 species and subspecies of plants, and also inhabits about 920 species of animals, and among them there are many that you will not find anywhere else in the world. For example, the Caspian seal is the only mammal of the Caspian Sea, and this subspecies is not found anywhere else in the world.