(Bloomberg) -- Russian billionaire Alexey Mordashov is offering a new attraction to tourists looking to go beyond the well-trodden path to Saint Basil’s cathedral and St. Petersburg’s Hermitage: the steelworks in his home town of Cherepovets.
Following the start of an $8 million face-lift devised by the studio of Artemy Lebedev -- whose credits include redesigning Moscow’s metro map -- Mordashov’s Severstal PJSC opened the doors of the steel plant in July. Groups pay less than $12 a head, while an individual tour can cost more than $170, including a visit to a new 30-meter (98-foot) viewing gallery and a metallurgy museum.
Mordashov is also leveraging his wider business empire in the cause of the tourism venture. Severstal’s airline provides connections with the city, while travel company TUI AG -- in which Mordashov’s family is the biggest investor -- is promoting the steel plant as a destination.
On a tour dubbed “Cherepovets -- the hot heart of the Russian North,” tourists can round off a visit to a painter’s house, a monastery and museum with a trip to the blast furnace. Younger visitors to the historic Vologda region can also travel to the home of Father Frost, Russia’s Santa Claus, in the town of Veliky Ustyug.
Mordashov has good reason to push Cherepovets: after graduating in 1988, he returned to work as an economist at the steel mill and now his stake in Severstal accounts for more than half his net worth of about $19.3 billion.
While Mordashov retains a residence in the city, the initiative goes beyond a billionaire’s nostalgia for more humble beginnings. Russian regional tourism quadrupled in the five years through 2018, according to the federal statistics.
The tours are also intended to burnish the appeal of a career in Russia’s steel industry, which suffers from a shortage of skilled labor, according to a spokeswoman for Severstal.
“The stereotype that metallurgy is a very conservative industry, where processes do not change over the years and there is no place for innovations and digital technologies, really hinders us,” the spokeswoman said. Trips to the smelter can help to break those stereotypes, she said.
Mordashov’s company is not the only Russian steelmaker to develop industrial tourism.
Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works PJSC has started to offer tours to its smelter in the Ural Mountains. Novolipetsk Steel PJSC offers free excursions for schools and industry colleges, with an itinerary that features the facility’s zoo.
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