A drop in the ocean. Did Lviv manage to preserve its tourism despite the war?

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We asked experts, officials and tour operators how the war affected tourism in Ukraine and Lviv this year, how the portrait of the tourist changed, and whether we should expect any changes in this industry.

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500 million hryvnias in the past

Lviv has always attracted tourists in a special way, it was a magnet city. Tourism was one of the key development points in the city’s strategy. Hotels, restaurants, ancient architecture, wonder trains and numerous festivals were the hallmarks of the city. According to the deputy mayor of Lviv, Andrii Moskalenko, all this brought 500 million hryvnias to Lviv’s budget every year.

In pre-quarantine times, 2.5 million people visited our city during a year, last year we had one and a half million guests. During the pandemic, Lviv became popular among tourists from Saudi Arabia.

Read also: Lviv becomes a centre for tourists from Saudi Arabia

However, with the war’s beginning, tourism in Ukraine and Lviv has changed significantly. Journalists and volunteers became tourists, one of whom is Jordan. He came to Ukraine from North Dakota even before the war, but despite the call of the US government to its citizens to evacuate from Ukraine immediately, he decided to stay and become a volunteer.

Jordan does not have Ukrainian roots, but in the USA, he lived in several monasteries of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is why Ukraine and religious tourism became important to him. In a month, he plans to start studying in a psychotherapy program at one of the Ukrainian universities, and in two months – to start a formation program for accepting the rank of a deacon in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.

«I am interested in religious buildings in Lviv. I spend a lot of time at UCU, in the monastery and the Saint George’s Cathedral. I do a lot of different things here. I also do like the Carpathians. I love America, but at this point, my life here is where I need to be. Especially, my relationship with God and understanding people, myself. People around here are more a family to me than my family in America,» – says Jordan.

He crossed the border with a tourist visa. Ukraine is now cheaper than any city in the US, says Jordan, partly because of the war. With the money he earned while working for six months on an oil rig in the USA, the boy can live in Ukraine for four years, he says.

The number of tourists has more than halved

Now, 30-40% of the number of tourists in 2021 is observed in the Lviv region, says Ihor Hubilit, director of the tour operator «Vidvidai» («Visit»).

«If we compare it with the situation in other parts of Ukraine, for example, Kyiv Region, Chernihiv Region, Shatsk Lakes in Volhynia region, or the south of Ukraine, where tourism activity is currently almost abscent, we can say that the tourism industry in our region does not stop working. For the first two months, we were actively engaged in volunteering, four of our employees went to fight. Already in May, we resumed our professional activity. Now, we have 30-40% of tourists compared to 2021. Now, the most important thing is to pay the salary for our employees, help the army and save tourist businesses in the local environments,» – he believes.

Currently, there are practically no tourists from abroad in Ukraine. Instead, there are foreign journalists, volunteers, and representatives of international organizations. However, this is a drop in the ocean, says Maryana Oleskiv, head of the State Tourism Development Agency of Ukraine. According to her, due to the war, receipts to the state budget from the tourism industry in the first four months of 2022 decreased by 18%, compared to the same period of the last year.

«There is virtually no inbound tourism in Ukraine today. There are foreign journalists, volunteers, representatives of international organizations currently working in Ukraine, and our tour operators provide them with certain services for entry into the country and settlement. But this is a drop in the ocean. Domestic tourism is starting to recover little by little. Tour operators specializing in domestic travel began to renew their activities by 20-50% compared to last year. Someone just started working, someone has been working since May,» – says Maryana Oleskiv.

There were fewer tourists a week before the start of the Russian full-scale invasion, and the Tourist Center of Lviv reoriented itself to work with foreign journalists, of whom there were more than two thousand in our city since February – says Khrystyna Lebed, the head of the tourism department of the Lviv City Council.

Now, the Tourist Information Center has started working again, and the townspeople themselves have begun to take an active interest in the city because they have no opportunity to go elsewhere, the head of the Lviv tourism department believes. At first, it was expected that refugees would come here, but the Tourist Center is actually visited by Ukrainians travelling through Ukraine, for instance, going on vacation to Transcarpathia or the Carpathians and staying in Lviv. Those who return from abroad and stop here also enter.

Read also: Public Forum: How to stop destroying the Carpathians

The specifics of the rest of domestic tourists have also changed. Now, people prefer short-term weekends – a maximum of a week.

«Journeys have become short-term: they are mostly designed for the weekend, which is better to describe not as a rest, but as a «reboot», which helps to restore strength and return to work again, to work for victory and contribute to the Armed Forces. One day, the rockets will stop flying, and we will feel the consequences of the damage caused by Russia for many years,» – explains Maryana Oleskiv.

Currently, among those who want to learn more about Lviv are volunteers who have been living in the city for some time, says the head of the tourism department of the Lviv City Council. However, they are usually interested in free services, although there are cases when foreigners come with a specific purpose to financially support Ukraine, Khrystyna Lebed adds.

«There are people who have been in Lviv for a certain time and want to learn more about the city. There are also foreigners, primarily volunteers who came here and have time to get to know the city. We have to understand that they are primarily interested in free services, for example, the parks and museums we have. There is no such financial possibility, which was usual for us in previous years. There was a case when a middle-aged Portuguese man came to us and said that he deliberately came to Lviv for the purpose of tourism in order to support us with his money,» – she says.

Tours are mainly booked by Lviv residents. The share of internally displaced persons in tourist groups is 20%, says Ihor Hubilit. However, he noted the trend that, despite the lack of inbound tourism, Lviv has become a tourist hub again due to the suspension of air traffic.

«Excursions are ordered mainly by Lviv residents, but there are also people who come for a few days to distract themselves from the war, from the same Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv. There are also those who temporarily live in Lviv, they draw up almost 20% in groups.

There is an interesting trend: Lviv has again become a tourist hub, which it hasn’t been for several years. Many citizens of Ukraine who want to go abroad do it through Lviv, get on tourist buses and go to travel in Europe. These are rest on the seas, pilgrimage and excursion tours. We see this because a large number of Lviv carriers are involved in outbound tourism. This is, of course, a temporary phenomenon that arose due to the suspension of air flights, especially low-cost ones,» – says the director of the «Vidvidai» tour operator.

Read also: Virtual Tour of Lviv, Ukraine: A city of spiritual nourishment. Photos

Guides conduct most tours in Lviv for volunteers. Some of them also noticed a phenomenon: foreigners ordered excursions from abroad just to support them, says Diana Borysenko, director of the public organization «Union of Lviv Tourist Alliance».

«I personally led several hiking foreign volunteer organizations from Finland, there were Americans, various national teams. Several Kyivans ordered me tours of Lviv. A colleague of mine did tours online, but then said it wasn’t very relevant. It’s interesting that foreigners booked my tours from the USA in order to transfer funds to me and support me. They did it for the majority of Ukrainian guides,» – Diana Borysenko assures.

What about sanatoriums and hotels?

According to unofficial information, the hotel occupancy rate has dropped to 40%, the head of the City Council’s tourism department believes: «According to hoteliers, the occupancy rate has dropped to 30-40%. Hotels had a good occupancy rate in April and May when a large number of journalists were in town. People who had a certain financial cushion also stayed there. Refugees were also settled there and assisted. Now, the situation is difficult.»

The medium level of occupancy of hotels is also observed in the Carpathians because internally displaced persons are still staying in some of them, Ihor Hubilit continues.

«We can say that Lviv and the Carpathians currently have a medium load. Refugees still live in some hotels and sanatoriums, but there are more than enough places for settlement in the Lviv region. There are places in different hotels, both by price group and by the specifics of rest.»

Due to the decrease in demand for hotels, accommodation in them has become significantly cheaper, Maryana Oleskiv explains. And this is a negative phenomenon because due to this, they’ll have to be closed. The state is looking for help from international funds.

«At present, many Ukrainians have been able to return home, and sanatoriums in the west of Ukraine, which were recently overcrowded, are now half-empty. Prices for services and accommodation fell even in Bukovel. If this continues, most of these institutions will have to be put on hold, and employees will have to be sent on forced vacations.

This will have an extremely negative impact both on the resorts themselves, which may lose highly qualified specialists, and on the tourism industry as a whole. That is why we are engaged in the development of special rehabilitation programs for both military personnel and civilians who suffered as a result of hostilities. We are preparing appeals to international funds that are ready to contribute financially to similar programs,» – says Maryana Oleskiv.

Read also: Public Forum on Tourism: How Lviv Offers «Safe Rest, Clean Air, Delicious Food, Good Emotions, Culture

In an interview with Lviv Now, the mayor of the resort town of Truskavets, Andrii Kulchynskyi, noted that compared to March and April, the number of people staying in sanatoriums and resorts has decreased. Some of the displaced people from regions far from the front are still staying in sanatoriums, but in general, the occupancy of the resort fluctuates at the level of 30-40%.

According to him, there are a number of institutions in Truskavets that deal with the treatment and rehabilitation of wounded Ukrainian soldiers. The mayor says they are ready to offer recovery for military personnel after the latter finish their military service.

Directions and locations, which are most in demand 

Currently, these are short-term and seasonal trips for several days in natural reserves, as well as those that help to understand history better.

«Short trips are in demand. For example, a three-day tour of the Ternopil region or a tour of Podillia, climbing Hoverla and seasonal so-called lavender tours. Excursions to historical places that help to understand our history better are also popular, such as a one-day tour to Pereyaslav and Kaniv, which includes a visit to the monument to Prince Volodymyr, as well as a lecture on the Pereyaslav Council, which changed the course of Ukrainian history. There is also a demand for trips to places of military glory of Ukrainians, in particular to Chernihiv,» – says Maryana Oleskiv.

Khrystyna Lebed expresses the same opinion. Tourists in Lviv very often visit the Memorial to the Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred. In order to interest tourists, the city also plans to organize a trip on SUP (standup puddleboarding) on city lakes:

«Now, people are very actively visiting the Memorial to the Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred. Also, parks and Lviv’s centre. We understand that it is time to think and work on the development of the culture of local recreation, so we want to organize SUP recreation on city lakes. We’ve already tried to get on our feet on Levandivske Lake, and we’d rather try on Stryiske Lake as well.»

Tours to the Carpathians are quite popular – to mountain peaks and waterfalls, to the Tustan fortress, as well as to the «Golden Horseshoe» – Oleskyi, Pidhoreskyi and Zolochivskyi castles, Ihor Hubilit assures.

«Most people want to go to the Carpathians, hiking in the mountains is especially this year. There is also great interest in «lavender» tours in July: we take those who wish to five different lavender fields. Taking into account the fact that people are afraid to go to the Black Sea and Shatsk, and sea vacations abroad are either expensive or unavailable, there is a demand for vacations near the thermal waters of Transcarpathia, swimming in rivers and lakes. As for natural tourist spots, I think the Tustan fortress, Kamianka waterfall, Parashka, Pikuy and Kamula mountains are the leaders here. As for the historical and cultural ones – Zvenyhorod with its interactive tour in VR glasses, Zhovkva and partially the castles of the «Golden Horseshoe,» – the director of the tour operator «Vidviday» says.

This year, tour operators opened several new locations for themselves.

«Among them is Lviv region’s picturesque place – Turkivskyi Quarry, Trynih Rock in the Voronyaky Mountains, interactive entertainment in Havarechchyna, Laznyi Waterfall, the water park in Stara Sil and the new location «Mshanetski Kolyby,» – he notes.

The cost of services, excursions and accommodation

Prices for tours have increased due to the cost of fuel, says Ihor Hubilit.

«Taking into account the increase in the cost of fuel, the cost of transportation has increased significantly and, accordingly, the cost of tours and excursions has increased. But we raised prices by 10-20% because we know that our tourists have not become richer. Also, the price of entrance tickets has increased significantly in many places, because of this we have compiled routes with panoramas of the Carpathians, where there are no entrance tickets at all.»

In Lviv, prices have not changed, says Khrystyna Lebed, people are looking for either a cheaper alternative to an available option, or a free one, or something that is carried out for charitable contributions: «There can be from seven to 20 people on one excursion. We cannot talk about raising prices for tourist services now, because people are not ready to spend money on it.»

Does the state plan to develop tourism?

Tourism is an important industry for the country’s economy, as it provides a lot of jobs for people involved in related fields. That is why the President’s Office is currently working on a plan to restore Ukraine, says Maryana Oleskiv.

«One job in tourism is four to 10 jobs in other industries. Currently, the President’s Office is developing a 10-year recovery plan for the country. It included all the most important sectors of the economy, including tourism. We’ve created a separate working subgroup, which develops a plan and determines the priority directions for the recovery of the industry,» – says the head of the State Tourism Development Agency of Ukraine.

Working with international journalists, volunteers and opinion leaders is very important, as they form an impression about Ukraine, and when we win, they will be the first to have the desire of coming to Ukraine again, Khrystyna Lebed says.

It is Lviv that will become the «entrance gate» of the state when Ukraine wins the war. Therefore, the experience gained by Lviv will be needed by other Ukrainian cities.

«When we win and everyone goes to Ukraine, Lviv will become the gateway. We all understand that. We can create a qualitatively new service during this time. This is the experience that we are getting here and now and which we are obliged to pass on to Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Odesa, Sumy – cities that are holding on and fighting for freedom,» – says Khrystyna Lebed.

Roman Tyshchenko-Lamanskyi, translated by Vitalii Holich

Photo: Tvoe Misto/ Ivan Stanislavskyi

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Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.

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