Bashkortostan: Summits 2015 - Catalyst for change
Ufa’s transport, conference and hotel infrastructure is undergoing a dramatic upgrade as the city prepares to host the world in 2015.
With the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits fast approaching, Ufa is getting ready to host heads of state and hundreds of delegates from across the globe. A key part of that preparation involves upgrading and expanding the city’s transport, hotel and business infrastructure. Explains deputy prime minister Salavat Sagitov, whose remit includes the organization of the summits: "Ufa was chosen to host the summits because of its extensive existing facilities. There were however several areas that had been in need of updating for some time, and the summits have provided the ideal catalyst for modernization."
Work is well under way on a wide variety of projects – indeed, some have already been completed. Construction of the VDNKh-Expo exhibition complex, for example, which was originally started in 2007 and subsequently revived in early 2013, was finished ahead of schedule in January this year.
The facility occupies a strategic location just to the north of the city centre and stands on the site of the Soviet-era VDNKh centre. At 52,000 sqm, however, the new complex is significantly larger than its predecessor and for the first time provides Ufa with an exhibition centre of a truly international standard.
|Salavat Sagitov, deputy prime minister|
"Until this year, larger exhibitions in Ufa were housed in sports facilities that were not designed for such events," says Sagitov. "The new VDNKh-Expo complex, with its modern interiors and state-of-the-art technology, will attract new business and investment to the Republic." Major reconstruction work is also being undertaken on Ufa’s Congress Hall. Due to be completed in November, the newly renovated hall will have capacity for 3,000 delegates and feature cutting-edge design and technical equipment, as well as a dedicated facility for visiting heads of state.
In addition, key cultural institutions in the city are undergoing substantial modernization, including the Bashkir State Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Bashkir State Museum and the Neftyanik Palace of Culture.
Upgrading Ufa’s transport logistics is also high on policy-makers’ list of priorities. As well as a general overhaul of the road network, work began in 2013 on a major programme of expansion and modernization at Ufa’s international airport.
The hub, which is served by more than 40 Russian and international airlines, has seen passenger numbers increase rapidly in recent years. Last year, passenger traffic reached a historic high with more than 2.2 million movements recorded, a 15% increase on 2012. Meanwhile, the volume of freight traffic passing through the airport rose by 6% to 3 million tons.
To meet this upsurge in demand, a new terminal is being constructed that will increase the airport’s capacity to 800 passengers an hour from the current level of 200. A second runway capable of accommodating large cargo and passenger planes is also in the works, as well as new taxiways and aircraft parking stands.
Plans are also under way to streamline the passenger experience at Ufa International Airport through the installation of new software systems. In late January, the airport’s management signed a framework agreement with leading Russian systems integrator Asteros Labs, which has undertaken to implement a new check-in system by the end of May. The new system will dramatically reduce waiting times, as well as improving access for priority and disabled passengers.
In total, more than R3 billion ($84.5 million) has been allocated for the airport modernization programme, with the majority of funding coming from the federal government, and construction is due to be completed by the end of 2014.
The federal government has also contributed to the rest of Ufa’s infrastructure upgrade, along with the Republic of Bashkortostan and the city administration. Private investors are also playing a part in the infrastructure development programme, however, in the form of a plethora of new hotels.
Sixteen new properties opened in Ufa last year, primarily in the budget sector, taking the total number of hotels in the city to 79 and the number of rooms to 2,548. The latter figure is set to double again by the time the summits get under way, thanks in part to the scheduled opening of three hotels by global hospitality firms that will be the first internationally branded properties in Bashkortostan.
Construction has already begun at a site on Ufa’s central city square next to the Gostiny Dvor retail and office complex of a 203-room Holiday Inn, which will feature five meeting rooms as well a high-class restaurant and bar.
Work has also started on what is expected to be the first of two properties from the Hilton Hotels and Resorts Group. Operating under the Hampton by Hilton brand, the new seven-storey hotel on the southern slope of the Belaya River will have 160 rooms, a fitness centre and 75 sqm of meeting and events space.
Radisson Hotels is also due to add Ufa to its extensive list of Russian venues, following the announcement of plans for the opening of a hotel under its three-star Park Inn brand. All three international hotels are due to open their doors by 2015.
Sagitov notes that the willingness of three major global hotel brands to enter the Ufa market is a tribute to the city’s business-friendly environment. "These examples of productive cooperation between the government of the Republic and the private sector demonstrate that the capital of Bashkortostan is open for investment projects," he says.
"Our developed economy and infrastructure, coupled with stability in social and ethnic relations, makes the Republic a reliable partner for business."
Sagitov also stresses that, while the BRICS and SCO summits have provided a welcome impetus and additional funding for Ufa’s infrastructure development, the current upgrades should be seen as part of a long-term and ongoing process.
"We are obviously determined to ensure that we are ready to play host to guests from around the world next year," he says, "but it is not all about 2015. We are constantly working to improve facilities in the capital for the benefit of both residents and visitors."