Skift Take

Ukraine is not letting the ongoing war stop its efforts to build back a tourism base, especially for when foreign tourists eventually return. The tourism dollars would help the country rebuild its economy faster.

The war with Russia may have decimated tourism in Ukraine, but Mariana Oleskiv, chairperson at the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine, is optimistic that the country would fight to win back all its territories and would then work to rebuild the tourism sector in those places.

Even as war continues, people have started coming back to Ukrainian cities and with them domestic tourism is also coming back, albeit slowly, said Oleskiv, who will be speaking at the Skift Global Forum in New York City this month.

Ukrainians are now travelling to domestic destinations — like the Carpathian Mountains and to some natural attractions, which, according to Oleskiv, pose low risk against Russian attacks.

Tax revenues from the tourism industry in the first six months of 2022 decreased by 26 percent compared to the same period last year, according to the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine.

But till the war is over, Ukraine does not encourage foreign tourists to visit the country. “With misslies being fired even in city centers, it’s not safe for tourists to visit the country right now,” Oleskiv said.

In 2019, Ukraine received almost 13.7 million international tourists.

Last month, Visit Ukraine — which describes itself as a “unique information portal for tourists traveling to Ukraine and Ukrainians planning a trip abroad,” launched guided day tours to the country, claiming to offer travelers a glimpse of how the country is living amid conflict.

“Visiting Ukraine is about following the footsteps of defenders, seeing how cities are recovering from the horrors, looking into the eyes of people for whom life will never be the same as before,” the company’s website reads.

The country, however, is not in favour of receiving foreign tourists for now. “If you don’t have any urgent reason to visit Ukraine, we request you to wait till we can be 100 percent sure that you are safe, and then we shall invite you to visit,” noted Oleskiv.

Mariana Oleskiv, chairperson at the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine.

Lauding the tourism sanctions extended by the European Union on Russian citizens, Oleskiv said, “You can’t invoke your privilege to visit the free world while your country refuses to identify the democratic identity of another sovereign nation.”

Oleskiv said the sanctions send out a very important message to Russians. “They need to know that the actions of their country cannot be justified and the citizens should work to make their government stop the hostilities.”

We support the European Union’s move to restrict entry to Russian citizens, she said, adding, “Those dollars support Putin’s aggression and this is a terrible crime against humanity.”

Last week, foreign ministers of the European Union decided to suspend the visa agreement with Moscow, making it harder for Russians to obtain visas to travel to the bloc.

Ukraine and several other member states had called for a European Union-wide visa ban, however, the bloc was split on the demand.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) has announced that a total of 998,085 citizens of Russia have legally entered the European Union through land border crossing points since the beginning of the war in Ukraine until August 22.

As source markets, Russia and Ukraine represent a combined 3 percent of global spending on international tourism, according to the UNWTO. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, Russians spent $36 billion on travel abroad while Ukrainians spent $8.5 billion.

“I want to appeal to the global travel industry to stop all travel to and from Russia and cut off any cooperation with the aggressor country,” Oleskiv said while speaking at a webinar on the impact of the Ukraine war on the tourism industry.

Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has occupied it since. Once a popular summer retreat for tourists, Crimea has now emerged as the new battlefront as Ukraine advances ahead with its counter-offensive to reclaim the peninsula.

However, Oleskiv was optimistic that Crimea would regain its lost glory of being a tourism destination.“Once we “deoccupy” Crimea, we want to turn it into a truly world-class tourism destination and would look to welcome investments to realise this.”

Tags: crimea, european union, russia, russia outbound, skift global forum, Ukraine War, visas

Photo credit: The Carpathian mountains in Ukraine. Nadine / pixabay