Can Crimea Expect 6 Million Russian Tourists?

Vladimir Savelyev, 18.04.2014 07:18
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Situation is complicated with the Crimean destination. On the one hand, hotels and health resorts of the peninsula are ready for tourists, and Russian tourists themselves are ready and willing to go to Crimea. The only problem – the issue of carriage remains unresolved. Most Russians used to travel to Crimea by train, but now many fear using railroads due to the volatile situation in Ukraine. Russian authorities are hard at work trying to set up some safe and cheap way by which to transport tourists. The success of the tourist season in Crimea hinges on how fast this way will be found.

TRN magazine spoke to a number of experts in order to get the full picture.

Crimean authorities put their trust in Russia, hoping that the country will mobilize its resources and muster up at least 6 million tourists for the peninsula. But can it be wishful thinking?

It is important to note that 6 million was last year’s tourist flow, when there was no turmoil in Ukraine, and even then it was a record high result for the post-Soviet era. Also, Ukrainians constituted 65% of this number, and it is unclear exactly how many of them would come this season. Many will forego going to Crimea in order to get back at Russia, which they consider an invader. Others are biding their time, despite actually wanting to bathe in the Crimean sun. And, finally, there are those who are already booking rooms in the Crimean hotels and health resorts. However, according to  Director of the Kiev division of Kandagar tour operator Svetlana Shust,  demand for this season is much lower than it was last year. The company’s drop in sales amounts to about 40%.

In an interview with TRN magazine Director of Kandagar’s Sevastopol office Evelina Rusnak confirmed that the tourist flow from Ukraine has dwindled a lot. “I have yet to analyze exactly how much it has decreased, but if we compare the number of Russian and Ukrainian tourists who have already booked accommodation in Crimea, we get the ratio of 30:1,” she said.

Belarus also saw a drop in demand for Crimea, albeit due to other factors. For instance, Director of Kandagar’s Minsk office Yelena Finskaya told us that the volume of sales there dropped 50%.

She told TRN that last year about 200 thousand Belarus citizens spent their holidays in Crimea, and this is only counting those who used the services of travel companies. Of course, such tourist flow will be unreachable this season. “The main issue at hand right now is how to get tourists to Crimea,” she said. “A couple of weeks ago Belavia canceled flights from Minsk to Simferopol due to commercial reasons, and other airlines are not servicing this route. The only other available option is land transport. The majority of Belarus citizens used to travel to Crimea by bus, but now not one Belarus transport company wants to organize bus trips to the peninsula. Many are under the false impression that Ukraine has turned into a hot spot.”

According to the expert, tourists are unwilling to travel to Crimea through the Kerch Strait, since the trip takes two days. The only thing left is railways. “Trains from Belarus to Crimea are still in service, with the same frequency of trips; yet people are remain wary,” she said.

Now let us turn to Russia. It faces the same problems as Belarus – the lack of safe railway routes for tourists. The government has already tasked the Federal Passenger Company with devising alternative routes both through Ukraine and bypassing it though the Kerch Strait.

 

Also, this just in – the State Administration of Railroad Transportation in Ukraine has called on Russian Railways to cease selling tickets for all trains that travel through Ukraine starting May 27 due to schedule discrepancies with Crimea-bound trains. Russian Railways officials have started negotiations with their Ukrainian counterparts in an effort to resolve the situation.

Russian authorities are also counting on air carriage. Rosaviatsiya has already put forward a funding plan for flights from Russian regions to Simferopol, which will help to significantly reduce ticket prices. The Ministry of Transport expects the funded flights to be available in 20-30 cities, but the government has not approved the plan yet.

The only airlines that do offer cheap prices right now are the Aeroflot Group. In June, the carrier will provide 8 flights a week from Moscow to Simferopol, and it also plans 2 flights from St. Petersburg by Rossiya Airlines and 2 flights from Rostov-on-Don by Donavia. Aeroflot’s representative Yevgeniya Skorobogatova says that the company plans to transport about 350 thousand passengers to Crimea, which is 100 thousand more than in 2013.

Also, Head of the Committee of the Crimean State Council for Tourism and Resorts Aleksey Chernyak said that Social Insurance Fund of Russia will pay for no less than 400 thousand tours to Crimea’s resorts and hotels this holiday season, but this information remains unconfirmed by the Fund.

Chernyak also said that there are plans to bring 32 thousand children from Russian regions to Crimea for the purposes of improving their health and acquainting them with the peninsula’s history. Moreover, almost all government institutions of Russia plan on sending their employees on a holiday to Crimea this summer.

Still, Head for the Ukrainian destination at Astravel Igor Velikiy believes that it will be impossible to send 6 million Russians on a holiday to Crimea this season.

The best we can hope for is 1.2 million, 1.5 million tops, if all goes well. This is precisely last year’s result,” he said.

The expert bases his forecast on the following assumptions. First of all, last year bookings started at the end of February, this year – with a two-month delay.

Second, the prices for rooms in Crimean accommodation facilities have fluctuated a lot since the beginning of the year. Many of the facilities, despite the claims to the opposite by the Crimean tourism minister, have not lowered prices; some have even ramped them up, and only a small number of hotels and health resorts are offering accommodation with a 5-7% discount.

Basically, prices remain the same as last year,” he summed up.

Third, according to Velikiy, 80% of Russian tourists used to travel to Crimea by train, and now even that seems dangerous to people ‘thanks to’ fear-mongering in mass media.

In reality, there are few problems when travelling through Ukraine on a train. The worst that could happen is that suspicious young people travelling with no family might get detrained,” he said.

The expert thinks that the option of transporting tourists on a boat through the Kerch Strait will not be too popular, since it takes a long time to travel through the Kuban, and it requires changing boats a few times.

According to Velikiy, tourists this year will mainly be transported to Crimea by air.

We have reviewed the planned flights in order to find out how many people planes will be able to carry. Turns out – no more than 800 thousand people,” he said.

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