Putin fans get a chance to holiday like him in Siberia

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By Maria Vasilyeva

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russians will be able to retrace President Vladimir Putin's footsteps in his beloved Siberian holiday spots under plans being developed by the state travel agency Rostourism.

In response to public demand, the agency said travel companies are putting together an itinerary covering several Siberian regions where Putin has relaxed over the years.

His wilderness leisure pursuits have long formed part of his macho image, with the Kremlin releasing photos of him swimming, horseriding and hunting, often bare-chested. Last month he was shown hiking in forested mountains and fishing with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

"This encourages millions of tourists to discover Russia's beauty," Rostourism boss Zarina Doguzova said in an Instagram post for Putin's 69th birthday last week.

"Thanks to your support, the tourism and hospitality industry have entered a new development stage."

In street interviews, several Russians expressed enthusiasm for the idea, while worrying such trips might be expensive when compared to package holidays abroad.

"Anyone in their right mind will certainly be interested because the places our president chooses are really unusual," said Muscovite Alexander Ilyin.

Tatyana Lukach, 37, said: "It seems to me such tours would be very useful for Russia to bring together the people and maintain national spirit."

The government has pledged to support the COVID-hit travel industry, including by offering cashback for trips booked using the country's card payment system Mir. Doguzova said in July she expected internal tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021.

(Additional reporting by Svetlana Ivanova; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Andrew Heavens)