Next Winter Olympic Spot: Sochi, Russia
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In many ways, Sochi was a curious choice. It's known more for beaches and sun than for snow and ice. The city does not even have an ice rink. It has just one summer stadium and there are not nearly enough hotels or even roads to accommodate Olympic size crowds. Well, to learn more about Sochi, we called on Slava Shirokov. He's a travel agent who has already been making travel arrangements for those looking forward to attending those 2014 games. Thank you so much for being with us.
Mr. SLAVA SHIROKOV (Travel Agent): It's a pleasure to be here.
NORRIS: Now, first of all, let's think about the map of Russia. Where exactly is Sochi on that map, and how do you get there?
Mr. SHIROKOV: Okay. It's on the south tip of Russia, right in the footsteps of Caucasus Mountains.
Mr. SHIROKOV: So, if you imagine Russia being on the U.S. continent, it'll be somewhere around Southern California.
NORRIS: Mm-hmm. So, when Russians think about Sochi, do they think winter?
Mr. SHIROKOV: No, no. They think about beaches, cocktails, swimming, ocean, sun, palm trees. That's the typical perception of Sochi in Russia.
NORRIS: So, it sounds like holding the Winter Olympics in Miami.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SHIROKOV: Yes, kind of. Actually, Sochi is the southernmost point where Winter Olympics have ever been held.
NORRIS: So, how did Sochi win over the Olympic Committee?
Mr. SHIROKOV: Well, there are a lot of rumors about it. They say that Russian President Putin lobbied extensively. And since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has never had a chance to host the Olympics. So, this is a big show for Russia, a big opportunity for the country to say hello to the world.
NORRIS: So, big opportunity, also big challenges. What are they going to have to do to get ready for all those Olympic crowds?
Mr. SHIROKOV: They basically have to build all infrastructure from scratch: roads, airports, hotels, ice rinks, stadiums. They estimated $14 billion a couple of years ago. Right now it looks more like $20 billion that they'll have to spend on it.
NORRIS: So, is the goal here not just to create this moment of pride for Mother Russia, but also to create an international resort destination at the end of this?
Mr. SHIROKOV: Well, that's the idea. That's the plan. They're hoping that after the Olympics, Sochi will become Russia's Alps. The place does have a unique natural habitat and unique climate. It's warm, and you drive for 30 minutes and you're in the mountains and you can snowboard. And then you go back to the beach and you can swim. That's quite unique about Sochi. Remember, Russia is a huge country and has a lot of tourists. And these tourists these days travel to Turkey, to Egypt, to Alps. Russian government prefers to have something domestic, where Russians can spend their money.
NORRIS: What's going to be the biggest challenge to ready the city?
Mr. SHIROKOV: I think hotels are going to be quite a challenge, having enough hotel rooms. Right now Sochi has - claims to have 48,000 rooms, and they say that they'll have 10 more thousand rooms ready in four years. Of course, I will personally travel to Sochi this summer to see what kind of rooms these are because, you know, one thing is two-star rooms, another thing is Olympic standard rooms.
NORRIS: How's business? How many people are actually making early arrangements for Sochi?
Mr. SHIROKOV: You would be shocked. Yesterday, after the closing ceremony in Vancouver, our phone lines, our emails, they were overloaded. People started planning Sochi already.
NORRIS: Really? And right now there's not quite enough hotels, so I guess the construction crews better get busy over there.
Mr. SHIROKOV: Right now we don't even know what hotels will be working. We will know the hotel availability only later this year and early next year.
NORRIS: So, are you actually able to make arrangements for people if you don't know where you can book their hotel?
Mr. SHIROKOV: Not at this point. At this point, we only have waiting lists. As soon as we find out what hotels will be offering and as soon as we take a look at the actual rooms so we know what we're offering, only then we will reach out to the clients who are on the waiting list and tell them what their options are.
NORRIS: A lot of trust.
Mr. SHIROKOV: Yeah.
NORRIS: Well, thank you very much for coming in to talk to us.
Mr. SHIROKOV: My pleasure.
NORRIS: All the best to you.
Mr. SHIROKOV: Thank you.
NORRIS: That's Slava Shirokov. He's a travel agent, and as he's been telling us, he's already making travel arrangements for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.