For Kyiv, tourism will be “crucial” to revive the country after the war
Seaside resorts targeted by Russian strikes, empty or closed hotels: tourism has ground to a halt in Ukraine, which has been deprived of an important source of income since the start of the war. But for Kyiv, this sector remains promising and “crucial” for the reconstruction of the country.
Mariana Oleskiv, president of the National Agency for the Development of Tourism in Ukraine, a government agency established in 2019, said: “When the war ends, tourism will play a key role in helping Ukraine recover and revitalize its economy.”
At the head of the Ukrainian delegation invited to the Fitur International Tourism Fair, one of the largest events in the sector, held in Madrid until Sunday, Mrs. Oleskiv considers it necessary to “work” already to prepare this recovery.
“Of course, it’s not a question of inviting tourists to come: even if the risk is currently low in some regions of Ukraine, there’s no question of putting them at risk,” the young woman emphasized. this agency since March 2020.
“But when the country is safe again, we want to be ready to invite people to come and visit Ukraine,” he added, which means “promoting” the country and “having enough partners to make it an important destination.”
– “Destruction” –
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), until the early 2010s, the country received an average of 20 million foreign visitors per year, mainly from Russia and Eastern Europe. This made Ukraine the eighth most visited country in Europe.
However, with the outbreak of the Donbass war in 2014 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, one of the main tourist regions of the country, this number dropped to about 12 million. And on February 24, it literally collapsed with the Russian-led invasion of Ukraine.
“There is still domestic tourism, for example in the Carpathian Mountains” welcoming visitors who want to escape for a few days from “stress”, “destruction” and “power cuts in cities caused by Russian attacks”, Mariana Oleskiv explains.
But the foreign tourists have all but disappeared, and it’s impossible to say when they might return, given the evolution of the conflict, mired in a war of positions.
“The hotel industry in Kyiv or Lviv (a city with many displaced people in the west of the country) manages to survive thanks to ‘international delegations’, ‘journalists’ and ‘humanitarian aid’,” Ms. Oleskiv emphasizes.
The situation is “more complicated,” he insists, in cities like Odessa that are “closer to the front lines” as former “tourist hotspots” and were once “very dynamic.”
– The image of the country –
Damaged railway network, destroyed historical and cultural buildings… For Ukraine, which received 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) from tourism before the war, getting this sector back on track will not be easy and will involve huge investments.
“It will take time,” admits Mariana Oleskiv. But Ukraine, famous for its seaside resorts, historic towns or family ski resorts on the Black Sea, has the “potential” to bounce back and “attract visitors”, he explains.
In recent years, thanks to visa freedom and new airlines, Kyiv has started to look for new markets such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. A scalable diversification strategy.
The image problem remains, Ukraine is now associated with destruction and war – probably deterring visitors. “It’s a challenge,” says Ms. Oleskiv, “especially because it’s important for us to show the consequences of the conflict and the crimes committed by Russia.”
But “when the war is over, we will be able to promote a different image,” he insists, betting on another aspect revealed by the conflict: “a brave nation that keeps fighting when no one else is betting on it.” young woman.