Skift Take

That no one dug deep enough to find out that the "Keep Calm and Visit Ukraine" message was not published on a government website says a lot about the state of the internet today. Disorienting tourists when uncertainty already rules over travel is downright irresponsible.

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A destination promoting tourism at a time of potentially imminent armed conflict: a joke, a marketing campaign gone awry or a political statement perhaps? The theories are flying on the internet about a tourism message that was released out of Ukraine days ago, by a website called VisitUkraine.Today.

Keep Calm and Visit Ukraine,” the website’s blog post announcement says, adding that “there is no reason to panic, and the situation on the Ukrainian border remains under control,” and “therefore, feel free to plan a trip to Ukraine and around Ukraine – the country is open and safe for tourists.”

It’s easy to see why viewers would assume it’s coming from the tourism board — the website looks and sounds just like one, and details all the travel entry requirements for Ukraine. 

But here’s the kicker: VisitUkraine.today is actually an insurance company that sells policies to travelers who venture to the Eastern European nation. Don’t panic in case Russia invades and it rains bullets because hey, we’ll have you covered!

Beyond being click and bait, it’s a confusing and misleading message for consumers and businesses that may not discern that this website is directly owned and operated by an insurance business. In fact most news outlets and social media have run with the interpretation that “Visit Ukraine.Today” is equivalent to the Ukraine tourism board and that therefore the government is behind the campaign.  

Skift received confirmation from the National Tourism Organization of Ukraine (NTO Ukraine), the equivalent of a tourism board, that it was not involved in the campaign. NTO Ukraine was established in 2016 as a non-governmental organization to represent the tourism sector and market Ukraine as a destination. Its activities focus on the “development of regional and local DMOs, marketing, quality management, statistics, knowledge and e-learning for the tourism sector and destinations.”

NTO Ukraine further confirmed that it does not work with the VisitUkraine.Today, the insurance company, nor with the State Agency for Tourism Development, which sits under the Ministry of Infrastructure.

So is a higher level of the Ukraine government behind this tourism message? The State Agency for Tourism Development’s logo appears on the insurance company’s website, and vice versa, the official government page for Ukraine run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs links to the insurance company as a site to visit “for the most recent information on travel restrictions and requirements.” 

But there’s no clear indication in the “Keep Calm and Visit Ukraine” announcement that it’s the government aiming to lure travelers to Ukraine at a time of potential armed conflict.

Skift reached out to VisitUkraine.Today and to the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine for further clarification, but did not hear back in time.  

Meanwhile governments in Canada and the U.S., among others, have warned for weeks against non-essential travel to Ukraine, citing “increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19” and that the U.S. Embassy in Kiev may not be able to assist travelers in case of any such attack by Russia.

It’s true that news of imminent war abroad have been overblown by the U.S. in the recent past. But this marketing ploy is a great example of how quickly misinformation can spread and potentially harm a destination’s brand, and why DMOs must play closer attention than ever to their partners’ messaging platforms as well as their social reputation.  

Travel in a pandemic is already as complicated and uncertain as it gets — must an overzealous insurance company add to it?

Tags: tourism campaigns, tourism marketing, ukraine

Photo credit: A travel insurance company invites tourists to stay calm and visit Ukraine Charles Fred / Visual Hunt