What's Next for Sochi's $50 Billion in Facilities?

This is Russia's semitropical southern corner, where you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon -- in midwinter!

For the Winter Olympics, Russia spent $50 billion on an international airport, new docks for cruise ships, a railroad and highway from the sea to the mountains, four world-class ski areas and almost 50,000 hotel rooms -- all for 17 days of sports competition.

Now the crowds are going home, jamming the new airport terminal, and residents left behind worry that the resort was overbuilt.

The press center next to Olympic Park -- five times larger than Moscow's Red Square -- is to become a shopping mall

One Olympic rink is to be dismantled and shipped to Siberia. Other facilities will be kept intact, to train future Russian Olympic skiers, skaters and sledders.

◆ A oon for Sports Enthusiasts

The new winter sports areas are a hit with Russian skiers and snowboarders used to substandard facilities.

Sasha Geraskovski, a skier from Moscow, paused to chat atop Gornaya Karusel, the only ski area open to tourists during the Olympic Games.

"I always used to go to Europe, to Austria or France," for skiing, said Geraskovski, a marketing specialist. "Now I see Russia can give me all I need. I have good hotels, good food and good hospitality right here, and great snow. Next time, I will spend my vacation right here."

But is a 40,000-seat stadium too big for a resort city of 340,000?
 
◆ An Expensive Trip for Russians

Russians accounted for an estimated 90 percent of all visitors to the Winter Olympics. But will they come back to Sochi without the Olympic Games as a draw?

City tourism officials complain that taxes make a flight from Moscow to here more expensive than a flight to Turkey.

Yulia Malorodnova, deputy chief of Sochi's tourism office, said high air fares account for 70 percent of the total cost of a typical package tour.

"Unfortunately, we feel, airline flights are very expensive," she said. "It's because of taxation... there is an 18 percent VAT on all domestic flights. But if the same company flies for example to Egypt, there's no tax on that flight."

◆ Stalin's Dacha a Hotel?

Anatoly Pakohomv, Sochi's mayor, said market forces will solve the problem of too many hotel rooms.

"The most important regulator is competition, and competition is very tight right now," Pakhomov said. "The problem of high prices that we've had, I think the market will even that out."

Exemplifying Sochi's preference for market-led solutions, local authorities have a novel plan to finance a museum at the hillside dacha that Stalin once used. Next year, they will open a boutique hotel in a wing of the dead dictator's Black Sea retreat.

VOA News / Feb. 25, 2014 08:21 KST