Upper Reach interviews Ilsur Metshin, Mayor of Kazan, who discusses his city’s upcoming plans, its attraction for tourists and entrepreneurs and its business-friendly environment
How has the city of Kazan been preparing for the upcoming Universiade 2013 event?
We have less than 160 days left until the opening ceremony of the Universiade 2013. It is an important event, not only for the city, but also for our republic. This will be the most important event in the history of our city, and we have a very rich history; in 2005 we celebrated the millennium anniversary. We look forward to the visit of more than 170 countries and about 15,000 athletes from around the world, from the five continents. This is a good and important event that has given great impetus to the development of our city. We are building 30 new sports facilities, such as a 45,000-seat stadium and a 5,000-seat water sports stadium. These venues meet the highest international standards. This will serve as a legacy for future international sporting events. Today we have already been selected to hold the World Aquatics Championship that will be held in 2015 in Kazan. Kazan will also be one of nine cities that will host the FIFA 2018 World Cup Championship. I hope to see the respected readers of The Times in Kazan in the audience, and the England team as a participant.
Regarding Universiade, besides sport facilities, we are completely rebuilding the Kazan International Airport. The airport had capacity for 500,000 passengers, but today it is already built and will have capacity for 5 million passengers. We finished a railroad to get from the city centre to the airport in 22 minutes. We constructed new metro stations, new interchanges, new pedestrian crossings and new roads. That means very serious infrastructure development. It will be a different city.
What expectations do you have for Universiade to boost the republic’s tourism industry?
Over the last four years, we have received investment of $10 billion, and of that one-third has been investment in the Universiade. It is the highest rate in the Russian Federation. We have been market leaders for the past five years in per capital investment and Universiade opens up new opportunities. We are one of the three most visited cities in Russia. We grow 18% per year regarding the flow of tourists and this is also one of the highest rates in the Russian Federation. During the period of preparation for the Universiade alone, 11 new hotels were built. The tourism industry is developing very seriously. For the past four and a half years we have increased the performance of volume of tourist guests twice. We hope that after the Universiade this flow will increase even more. We are creating the conditions for this. We worked with British consultants, the TMI Company, and the work with them was successful.
We have a big offer of activities to attract tourists; we host a lot of cultural events. Kazan is the birthplace of Feodor Chaliapin. We have had the Shaliapin annual spring festival for more than 25 years. Rudolf Nureyev danced on our stage in the opera house. We are proud that he is our brother, that he is Tatar. These are the events that attract our tourists from outside the country.
We have the beautiful traditional Sabantuy festival, which takes place in summer and marks the finishing and the harvest seasons. This celebration brings guests from all over Russia and abroad.
Another very interesting thing to do is to visit the Kazan Kremlin, which is protected by the UNESCO. We have a 200-year old imperial university where famous writers studied, people such as Tolstoy. Lenin studied also here, as did the great mathematician Lobachevsky. World discoveries were done here.
Kazan is great in sports. We have ten clubs in the first leagues in different sports. Our football club Rubin Kazan is a permanent member of the Europe League and the Champions League. Thanks to sports people can learn about the city. An example was when we beat Barcelona 1-2 in the Camp Nou, everybody was wondering where Kazan was, where these players came from.
Our hockey club Ak Bars is champion of the Kontinental Hockey League; our volleyball club Zenit is winner of the European Cup; the basketball club Unics is a permanent member of the Champions League; and our water polo team Orgsintez is also well known. Through sport we are quite a recognizable city. These competitions are also attracting tourists to Kazan.
When Medvedev was still president of Russia, he came to Kazan on the Presidential Council for Sport, when we had won the right to host the Universiade 2013. He said in his speech that Kazan is the Sports Capital of Russia. These are the words of the ex president of Russia, and we are now well known for that. As the mayor of Kazan I want it to be more a tourism capital and an educational centre. We are committed to this. We have outstanding universities with good professorial staff, with good traditions and a rich history.
Please tell us about SMART City Kazan.
We have the advantage to be in a very good geographical position, in the centre of Russia, and where Europe meets Asia. We have a good chance that we will use: to be the centre where all business life develops. We will host exhibitions, business forums and conferences. The president Mr Minnikhanov made the decision and now we are developing two satellite cities, Innopolis and SMART City Kazan.
SMART City Kazan will have a congress hall, conference centres, entertainment centres, commerce and housing. A country like Russia should have at least five of these major centres. Not only in Moscow or St Petersburg, and Kazan claims to be the business centre for exhibition.
Please discuss the housing boom Kazan is experiencing.
Kazan is breaking records for the construction of housing. We are the leaders in Russia. Last year we broke three records. We built over 1 million square metres of new housing. We have planted 50,000 new large trees; we pay great attention to the environment, urban greening and beautification.
And 21,000 children were born. We have witnessed a real baby boom. This speaks about the social wellbeing of people, they are confident of their future and they want to have more children in this city. For us it is a change indicator. And the birth rate exceeds the death rate by 25 per cent.
How has the Metro grown in the recent years?
The first subway line is completed. We began to build the Metro for the millennium anniversary. Five years ago, 5,000 people used it every day, and today the passenger flow raise to 90,000. Three more stations are planned to be up to the Universiade, and we plan to triple the passenger flow. The construction of the second metro line will be done in the next five years and it will have six new stations.
Kazan is one of the most economically developed cities in Russia and is a big contributor to Tatarstan’s impressive economic progress in recent years. The World Bank has identified Kazan as the fourth best city in Russia for starting a business. Why do you believe that Tatarstan and Kazan are the best places to do business in Russia?
We are working hard for this. We are very pleased that such respected institutions as Forbes and the World Bank have repeatedly named Kazan and Tatarstan as the most favourable region for business. We are always in dialogue with our businesses – not only with the big investors, but also with small and medium-sized businesses. We meet them in person and for each specific project we secure a person in charge at the City Hall, in the government. And our handshakes are stronger than any signed document. We highly value this because we want all to know that the word given to any investor and any interested person will be necessarily satisfied. We create tax incentives within the powers possessed by the municipality and the republic. This is a daily job, and that is why the World Bank and Forbes called us the best place to do business in Russia.
What kind of advantages can you offer to British investors to operate here?
Everything related to the post-industrial development of Kazan, there are many opportunities. We are a very serious growing market for consumption. And the spheres of hotel business, IT and all that is connected with the development of education and engineering.
A good example is the Russian-British joint company ICL. They have shown excellent performance, they are very happy with the investment they did. My motto is you can talk a lot but it is better to do and to see the results. Therefore, to all the investors, to all the readers, we suggest to familiarise with the successful experience of all the international companies that invested in Kazan in the last ten years, from chemicals to petrochemicals, IT or retail. As mayor, I can assure all those who wish to establish a new business, to invest in our region, and that want to create partnerships, that we will create the most comfortable conditions for business. Our handshake is strong, short and long term.
What final message would you like to send to all our readers in order to encourage them to come here, be it for business or tourism?
We are one of the most successful regions in Russia. I believe in the great future of our republic. We have a very rich history and nowadays we are experiencing huge growth. It is nice to live here, and we have very friendly people. Over five centuries more than 100 nationalities lived in Kazan in harmony and peace between each other. There is a mosque 100 metres away from an orthodox church, and 300 metres from them there is a synagogue, and another 500 metres away we have a Catholic church. And this geographical proximity is not an accident.
Welcome to Kazan, the heart of the Volga River. You will not see the coast from one side to the other. Endless fields, wonderful forests, historic buildings, kind and sympathetic people from different nationalities, excellent cuisine – all this will make your stay in Kazan memorable.