Interview for Expert North-West
Mikhail Piotrovsky: "With the new projects, we can increase the number of visits to the city, the intensity of life, and the appeal of St Petersburg".
The tourism potential of St Petersburg is not realized in full. It is obvious that tourism should be a priority in the development strategy of the city. The difference of views is rather manifested in the approaches to the qualitative component of tourism. Cultural and educational tourism, of course, has always been and will be dominant for the northern capital, though the potential of the city in other niches of the tourism industry needs to be exploited more effectively (see "Stable reception", Expert North-West No. 6 dated February 14, 2011). Director of the Hermitage, President of the Union of Museums of Russia Mikhail Piotrovsky tells about the role of museums as a factor of the tourist attraction of St Petersburg, the challenges of interacting with the tourism industry and authorities in an interview to a reviewer of Expert North-West".
- Representatives of the tourism industry often complain that the insufficiently flexible and proactive position of museums impedes the attraction of tourists to St Petersburg...
- Museums exist not for tourists as they fulfill much broader tasks, and this should be remembered by every museum worker. Museums exist to collect the cultural heritage, preserve, study, restore, and exhibit it for everyone, including tourists. And if we begin to focus on tourists, it will bring no good. They come to the museum for a short time, and much of what is available in the museum is absolutely not needed to them. It should always be remembered that tourism is only part of using the cultural heritage, and often, perhaps, not the best one.
In fact, tourism is a very corrupt thing, including for the state. We know dozens of countries, including Egypt, which tried to live by servicing visiting foreigners. In this regard, I even like the most what Iraq did. There, monuments and ancient cities were restored, cultural heritage was preserved but, first and foremost, for its citizens. Of course, for tourists as well but there was no special enthusiasm in attracting them. For us it is important that, unlike the Louvre, the majority of visitors of the State Hermitage are Russians: over the past year, out of 2.5 million visitors of the Hermitage only about 500 thousand account for foreigners. And we are proud of this.
There is another fundamental aspect: much is being said now that the city needs to increase tourist flows. But let us think: how much are we to increase them and is it necessary? Do we have the conditions for people to come to St Petersburg as they travel to Paris? There, one may not go to the Louvre: Paris is a city where it is just nice to stay for two or three days. Do we have such conditions? No, we do not. For this, environment, infrastructure, opportunities to have a good rest, go shopping, go to different museums need to be set up.
We are sure that people will still come to the Hermitage, and we always try to make it more comfortable. Also, the city has to bring itself in order rather than trying to recoup on the museums. Provide common cleanliness, landscaping, and museums will decide themselves how to attract people.
We are told that museums should be open in the evenings. But it is expensive, and, besides, our attendants are afraid to go home too late: it is scary at night even at the Palace Square!
Common order is needed so that people waiting in line to the museum feel comfortable. We try to stop the crooks and speculators who revolve around the Hermitage and offer illegal tours, but we get little help from the police. In general, to attract tourists, it is necessary that there is a good feeling in everything. Our country is, unfortunately, angry, and every visitor to the Northern capital feels anger that hangs in the air. It should be removed, and then everything will be fine.
Not for the travel industry
- One of the components of quite an expensive tourist package when visiting St Petersburg, referred to by the tourist industry, includes high prices for entrance to museums, and very often these criticisms are addressed to the Hermitage...
- We are used to seeing museums suffer from two types of attacks. First,
they demand tourist companies should get lower prices. Second, the tickets
for foreign and Russian citizens should cost the same. This happens regularly.
What is more, over the recent years there have been talks that despite
the world crisis tourists should be attracted to Saint Petersburg...
The ticket to the Hermitage should cost as much as it costs at other museums of the world level. Our museum is one of the most democratic ones now. It is a little more expensive than the museums in Prague (yet, they began raising prices) and is almost the same as the ticket for the Louvre. Yet, it is cheaper than many famous museums of the world. Even at the Hermitage on the Amstel in Amsterdam the ticket is 15 Euro while in Saint Petersburg it is 10 Euro.
- Still, why are you so strongly against the suggestion of having the same ticket price for Russian and foreign visitors? Some people see it as discrimination and damage to the tourist image of Saint Petersburg...
- Indeed, it has become a popular subject, especially among different provocateurs and swindlers. There are no different prices. The full ticket price is the same but we have a discount for Russian citizens and everyone should understand that this is the decision of the Hermitage. It is the museum that gives this discount (while it is the state which must have done it) because many Russian citizens can not afford to pay the full price for the ticket.
On the other hand, some people can afford it. Those who do not want to show their documents can pay the full price of 450 roubles. Soon one will be able to buy the full price ticket from the ticket machine and will not have to queue to enter the museum. Besides, we have the "zero" prices for children, schoolchildren and pensioners. Finally, there is a day when the entrance is free. All this makes up the Hermitage's social policy. We can not abandon our social policy to support tourism and tour agencies which do not have any social programs.
Suggestions of having an average price which would be the same for everyone is another opportunity for tourist agencies to make their business easier at the expense of the Russian citizens. The ticket cost may become the same in only one way and that is through gradual elimination of the discount for Russian citizens when it becomes clear they do not need it any longer. At the moment it is too early to discuss it. Russian citizens in general are not prepared to pay the full price. A good example of this is the Picasso exhibition (and the Prado exhibition too). We held it at a convenient time in the evenings but there were no discounts (the ticket was 300 roubles). The result we had was surprising: in the cultural capital of Russia only dozens of visitors attended such a wonderful exhibition in the evenings.
In general, we can not and will not reduce the Hermitage ticket full price (10 Euro is not a high price internationally) only to give the tour agencies an opportunity to make money! I am convinced that the price of museum tickets, while the museums have a right to fix them, must be fixed basing on the market situation in its general meaning rather than interests of tourist agencies. I would like to note, by the way, that tour agencies are, in fact, the only representatives of the Russian business that do not participate in the museum life as sponsors and art patrons. They simply earn money at our expense.
- Do you give discounts to tour agents?
- Yes, we do. We give a discount of 1-3 Euro for tickets which cost 10
Euro. We have developed the criteria which take the number of visitors
brought by the tour agency into account. However, agencies sometimes state
a big number of visitors and get a considerable discount but then sell
- Why does not the museum participate in the project called 'Saint Petersburg visitor's card' the launch of which after a long years of talks is an important instrument of increasing the city's attraction for tourists, officials believe?
- It is because we do not see a reasonable scheme the Hermitage could benefit from it both financially and in terms of advertising the museum. There is a queue to enter the Hermitage. We can not receive more people. Why should we give privilege to anyone at a reduced price? What is more, this will discriminate against those who buy full price tickets (including those who buy them on the Internet or from the ticket machine) and have a right to enter the museum without queuing. This system is clear to everyone, including the people in the queue (it's like the privilege business class travellers have at an airport). Besides, there is no calculation system to participate in the visitor's card project and, to be honest, I do not believe in the validity of such a system. Even if we agree that we get at least 9 Euro instead of 10 for each ticket, how are we going to assess the number of the Hermitage visitors? Obviously, there is a private company which needs this project, a company which is going to sell it in big numbers and make money. Where is our interest, I say it again? We implement our social project by taking care of those who find it difficult to visit the Hermitage, i.e. half of the visitors we have visit the museum free. However, we do not have social responsibility for promoting the city in this way.
- Can you feel the number of visitors is growing looking at the situation at the Hermitage? According to some representatives of the city authorities, the number of tourists has exceeded 5 ml people and almost half of them are tourists from abroad.
- Honestly, no. I won't believe Saint Petersburg is visited by 5 ml tourists
or more, as they say. I am well aware of the proportion of the city visitors
who are most likely to see to the Hermitage. At least half of foreign
In summer there is a queue to enter the museum and this is a certain objective regulator. In the evening the queue gradually disappears as people understand there is no sense in queuing and go away. At least half of the visitors, especially foreigners, visit the museum during the peak summer months. At the same time we can see it very well that the majority of them are one-day tourists, those who simply want to tick the Hermitage on their tour program.
For dear tourists
- Anyway, can museums contribute to the increase in the number of tourists, especially in the low season?
- I am convinced that Saint Petersburg first of all needs recurring business tourism as it is more expensive and contributes more to the city's economy. It is necessary to create an atmosphere which will encourage people to visit the city over and again. In this context museums can become one of the most attractive factors. Museums, as the Hermitage experience shows, can offer interesting cultural projects and organize special exhibitions timed to coincide with different events or conferences.
For example, people from all over the world fly to visit the opening of our exhibitions. We organize music programs at the Hermitage Theater and invite the best musicians to participate in them. A lot of interesting projects can be accomplished under the Hermitage aegis. It is not only about reducing prices and increasing the number of tourists.
Business tourism must become a priority but to develop it the necessary conditions must be created. Anyway, it is important that the authorities and the tourist industry should listen to museums and not simply prioritize making money "for the good of the city". It is this excessive self-confidence which makes vulgar advertisement showing bears running in the Hermitage possible. They don't think that even if someone likes it, they won't go to Saint Petersburg to stay at such hotels as the Europe Grand Hotel, visit theaters, music festivals and so on.
Some time ago to make Petersburg more attractive during the low season,
a number of museums and hotels developed the White Days program. To coincide
with it, a wonderful festival called White Days was organized. At first
it was bad because too often there turned to be plenty of rain in winter.
The program would work well when there was snow, they said. There was
snow - for two winters Petersburg had wonderful white snow but you can
By the way, when the eastern wing of the Main Headquarters is opened
after the reconstruction, visitors will have an opportunity to spend more
time at the Hermitage and I am convinced many of them will be more motivated
to spend more time in Petersburg. We have Rembrandt here and we plan to
have impressionists, Matisse, at the Main Headquarters which means people
will have to visit both. I would like to note that when we were launching
the project of the Hermitage on the Amstel the Amsterdam authorities supported
us as they understood the Hermitage created a real chance that tourists
would stay in their city for another day. In the same
Demand for diversity
- Is it realistic to introduce new museums, including private ones, to tourists? People working in the tourist industry often complain that it is difficult to go beyond the standard program popular with the majority of tourists which is usually limited by such Petersburg symbols as the Hermitage, St. Isaac's Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fortress, Peterhof...
- Absolutely! In New York we visit not only the Metropolitan Museum but
also the Gagosian Gallery. Of course, those on their first visit to Saint
Petersburg will go to the Hermitage or even the Russian Museum which is,
I have to apologize saying it, is the
There is no such thing as museum competition. Museum projects is a big field where there is no need to jostle. Petersburg has very good new museums of contemporary art which brilliantly represent the Soviet and Russian art. They need active support, advancement and advertisement, including those of other museums. For example, when the Hermitage council board meets, we take the members to Erarta, the New Museum, Floors Loft Project.
A remarkable trend is that galleries in Russia have become typologically
closer to museums as half of them sells nothing. Museums organize exhibitions
of galleries, private collections, etc. It is not easy to build such partnerships
as it is necessary to mind subtle definitions and not cross the line.
Yet, in principle, the art market all over the world is becoming more
- In what way can the authorities and the tourist industry support museums and help to advance them? You know, small museums do not have money for aggressive advertisement...
- It is necessary to build a clear system of what is the advancement of Saint Petersburg and its tourist potential. There is no use building pavilions telling about the Hermitage and the Russian Museum at fairs in different cities. One should, indeed, think well what to tell about and how to do it.
In each case the city officials, tourist companies and museums should
think who and how they can help to resolve certain issues. One museum
may simply need not to be disturbed while another one may need a permission
to do something and a third one may need facilities for the disabled,
Naturally, it became expensive for tourist buses which occupy more space than several automobiles to park in due places. Everyone knows about the problem but we still can not come to an agreement with the city authorities. Now the parking is empty while private cars cram in the square. This is an example which is directly related to tourism when the city has to sacrifice a tiny bit of the revenues to make the whole system work better. We still can not reach an agreement with the traffic police to force buses leave the Million Street. They should bring tourists and then leave the place and get back to pick up the tourists after the excursion; they should not park by the museum and stay there throughout the excursion by any means as this affects the atmosphere with heaters in winter and air conditioners in summer.
- In your opinion, does it make sense to advertise different festivals in order to develop event tourism?
- Before you begin inviting each and everyone to Petersburg, you must be confident the event will be high quality. The main thing is not to do stupid things such as a skating rink or a rock concert in the Palace Square. It is quite clear that our carnival on the City's Day will never become a world event. At the same time the Scarlet Sails is a wonderful thing as the Neva river has a unique water area and everything that is done on water is beautiful. However, it is necessary to think how tourists can see the festival from the opposite bank.
- Why was the decision to give the Hermitage the Exchange Building at the arrow of Vasilievsky Island cancelled on the federal level? As a result, it is possible that the building will host the Commodity Exchange instead of the Museum of Heraldry interesting for tourists...
- When it turned out the Central Naval Museum was moving to another place, there was a problem what to do. You can not have the exchange at the historic building - to make sure the exchange works you, first of all, need computer technologies! To help the city, we suggested something absolutely acceptable for a capital, i.e. to found the Museum of Heraldry. What was the idea like? It could be a museum of state symbols of Russia, the history of the Russian heraldry with banners, emblems, etc. It would be a wonderful public museum. It would be visited by children (and not only children) and teach them what Russia is and what state symbols there are. The big hall could host award ceremonies (like the Catherine Hall of the Kremlin Palace) in a surrounding of authentic heraldic symbols. What is more, the Exchange Building can accommodate a remarkable number of them on a truly capital scale! I suppose the head of state might like the idea of holding award ceremonies here.
Instead, a decision was made which is humiliating for the city, I believe.
As a result we will have an absolutely provincial thing. The suggestion
of founding the Museum of Heraldry supported by the city and the Governor
of Saint Petersburg personally (Valentina Matvienko liked the idea very
much) was passed on to Moscow. The Russian Ministry for Economic Development,
one of the main unlovers of culture, asked if there were other suggestions.
Then important people from the oil industry came up with a suggestion
that the building should be given to them. The Ministry for Economic Development
is well aware that if they gave the Exchange Building to the Hermitage
they would have to restore it, therefore allocate funds to do it (though
in fact this is the duty of the state to restore monuments rather save
money on them). The oil industry people can restore the building themselves
which makes their suggestion more attractive. Pursuing this small bourgeois
interest, the Ministry decided to give the building to the Commodity Exchange.
What shall we have as
There is one more matter of principle in this context. The Navy Museum
will (and must) move to a new place in a difficult and slow manner. There
are very fragile exhibits at the museum and there is an awful danger of
losing them if there is a race to hold a banking forum or something of
the kind as soon as possible at the Exchange Building. However, we do
not doubt that the schedule of approximately eighteen