The travel industry needs to play an important role in combating Russia's aggression in Ukraine, but its power should be deployed immediately and in a unified manner to punish Russia.
For our Viewpoint series, Skift invites thought leaders, some from the less obvious corners of travel, to join in the conversation. We know that these independent voices are important to the dialogue within the industry. Our guest columnists will identify and shape what global trends and through lines will define the future of travel.
Despite the Covid pandemic, the Ukrainian tourism industry was showing signs of recovery and we expected more tourists to come in 2022. But those plans were totally ruined on February 24 when Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine.
No one could believe it would look like this a month ago. The price Russia pays for this “tourism” is thousands of dead Russian soldiers. Meanwhile, the price Ukraine pays is thousands of civilians killed while beautiful towns, historical buildings and museums have been destroyed.
Is this kind of tourism we all were looking for?
Ukrainians are united like never before despite the fact that we are living in our hardest period ever. Our hospitality industry cannot do what it always did the best — welcome tourists. Now they are doing what they have to do — feed our army in the “hot” areas and host refugees in the western part of the country. We are grateful to the global hospitality industry for hosting Ukrainian refugees all around Europe. It is not the way we wanted to travel, but it’s a new reality where women and kids have no place to stay.
Things Tourism Can Do
We are confident that very soon Ukraine will prevail and and open the doors for tourists again. There will be a lot of people who want to understand the nation that stopped Mordor. In addition, a lot of historians, military specialists and politicians will look for answers.
The world should not make a mistake now while Ukrainians pay the highest price for your freedom. A lot of people blame crazy Putin for starting the war. It is not true. It’s not the tsar that is bombing our cities and shooting at the maternity hospital in Mariupol. It’s not the tsar that keeps the city under siege and destroys the green corridors. This is done by Russian citizens. They could simply choose not to execute these criminal orders but they enjoy it.
But the values of humanity are not just empty words for civilization — we expect politicians to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine and to provide us with air defense systems. At the same time, there are things tourism industry can do.
My Appeal to You
I appeal to the entire global travel industry for action — to stop all travel to Russia and to cut off any cooperation with the aggressor country. When you bring travelers to Russia, when you cooperate with Russia, you also bring them dollars — dollars that would support Putin’s aggression. It is a terrible crime against humanity and today, Russia has decided to threaten the whole world with nuclear weapons.
I am grateful to those of you who stopped cooperation with Russia. But in many cases, there are half actions or no actions at all.
I am grateful to the United Nations World Tourism Organization General Secretary and those members of executive council that support suspending Russia’s membership. I appeal to all member states to vote for this decision at the General Assembly that will take place in the near future.
As I write this column, the Russian war machine is surrounding us in Kyiv with the intent of destroying this fantastic city, our people, our hoteliers.
We ask international hotel and tour operators to please act now. Please be on the right side of history, don’t just ride out this brutal massacre of Ukraine, but make an immediate and tangible stand against this war.
We are confident that such a ban will help to stop the disgraceful military aggression.
Stop Russia! Stop war in Ukraine!
Mariana Oleskiv is a chairperson at the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine.
Photo credit: Support for Ukraine is enormous worldwide GoToVan / Flickr