If hope had a name, it could be called Ukraine. As the Russian aggression brought tourism development to a halt in the country, the industry's willpower to succeed is evident even amidst the war.
“Russia is fighting for the past, and Ukraine is fighting for the future and the future will win.” With these powerful words, Mariana Oleskiv, chairperson of the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine, addressed the audience at the Skift Global Forum in New York on Wednesday.
Expressing gratitude to those who have stood by Ukraine, Oleskiv hoped that the country would receive similar support as they look to build the future of Ukrainian tourism.
When Oleskiv took on the role of the chairperson for tourism in Ukraine in 2020, she said she had no inkling that she would not just have to deal with a pandemic, but also a war in the country.
However, as the country looks forward to a future beyond the war, Oleskiv said tourism will be an important breakthrough point for the Ukrainian economy. “We have learned to live during the war, and domestic tourism is slowly recovering, reaching up to 50 percent of pre-invasion numbers.”
As Ukraine looks to rebuild its tourism industry, the cost for which is estimated to be around $20 billion, Oleskiv called for support from the world.
Prior to the Russian invasion, Ukraine had been looking to capitalize on its geographical position to develop tourism products for European, American and Middle Eastern markets.
The country welcomed three million leisure and business travelers in 2021 with U.S., Poland, Turkey, Germany and Gulf nations serving as the priority markets.
“A visa-free regime for Gulf nations had a significant impact on the growth of tourism from these countries despite the Covid pandemic,” she said, adding that many tourists also came in from newer markets.
Before the war, Ukraine had also been working on developing infrastructure. Between 2020 and 2021, the country managed to renovate 30 percent more roads than what it had done for over a decade, said Oleskiv.
Echoing the Ukrainian president’s ambitions to liberate Crimea, which has currently been turned into a military base by Russia, Oleskiv called it one of the most notable destinations of Ukraine and was positive of helping the peninsula regain its lost glory.
Charting a roadmap for Crimea’s recovery, with a Crimea 365 brand, Oleskiv said the peninsula’s gross domestic product would grow to more than twice its size over the next decade.
“With a war going on, we know that uncertainty looms large, but we are sure Crimea is a part of Ukraine, and we will rebuild,” she said.
She also shared Ukraine’s plans to transform Crimea into a year-round tourist resort integrating an entertainment and cultural-historical infrastructure into a unique Black Sea ecosystem.
Oleskiv received a standing ovation from the attendees at the finish of her emotional presentation.
Photo credit: Mariana Oleskiv speaks at the Skift Global Forum in New York on Wednesday. Neil van Niekerk / Skift