Public Forum: Domestic tourism in Ukraine in Corona-Time

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In July 2020, held a public forum on how businesses can benefit from the corona-crisis and develop new opportunities.

We also talked about what challenges businesses face, in particular local companies, what solutions should be implemented and how to build partnership ecosystems. We discussed the possibility of the dialogue between entrepreneurs, the government, and the public.

This time, it was about how Ukrainian cities and businesses, especially in Lviv, can properly use the potential of domestic tourism, which surged in the context of Covid-19, when it became more difficult to travel abroad. 

The opening of Lviv and a new view on the internal tourism

Initially, the American journalist Joe Lindsley, who was obliged to stay in Ukraine during the quarantine period, narrated about his discovery of Lviv.

«This was a good period when I got closed in Lviv. The longest time I stayed in one place in two years. I had a lot of great collaborations here during the last five months», – he says.

Also, the investor from the USA Ryan Brown was one of the few Americans who at that time decided to come to us. According to him, Lviv is a special city, there is good energy here. Local journalism, business – this is what he enjoys and what he thinks is important in the world. And this is what needs to be spread. «More knowledge is always positive. That’s why I’m here to meet», – he said.

According to the head of the State Agency for Tourism and Resorts Mariana Oleskiv, everyone started to view domestic tourism differently. «Previously, only Lviv and Odesa were two cities where Ukrainians usually went on weekends. Now, they’ve started to discover other parts of Ukraine more», – she says.

Mariana Oleskiv said that she headed the agency a day before the quarantine, so it was necessary to immediately activate crisis management. «There was no team, no funding, no tourism itself.»

Therefore, she decided to organize an initiative with the hashtag «Travel Ukraine», during which one hundred opinion leaders shared their favourite spots of rest on social networks and encouraged Ukrainians to join it.

As for the number of visits, no one knows it for sure, as currently, Lviv is the only city in Ukraine that keeps statistics. «There are some claims to it, but at least it shows a certain picture,» explains the head of the State Tourism Agency.

Simultaneously, at the national level, it doesn’t exist at all. The data presented as annual reports are completely irrelevant, everyone understates it, including tour operators. «That’s why we can’t estimate the industry’s losses», – she said.

So now, the agency does everything to implement it, in parallel explaining to the business why this data should be submitted.

Maryana Oleskiv emphasizes that now, new tourist products are especially urgent. This is especially relevant for Lviv because the city could not get many tourists. «The city needs to make special efforts toward the marketing of new products and explaining why it’s worth going to Lviv during quarantine», – she explains.

Lviv is the victim of its own honesty

According to managing partner of the «Kumpel Tour» company Ihor Lylio, who’s also a well-known Lviv tour guide, many residents felt at the end of the year how their well-being depended on the tourism industry (even if they never thought they were involved in the business).

He believes that Lviv is largely a victim of its honesty because it’s impossible to first tell the media what a bad situation we have with the coronavirus, and then encourage people to visit the city. «For example, the situation with the coronavirus isn’t better in cities near the Black Sea, but the quarantine has never been followed there. Everyone knows about it, but they pretend it doesn’t exist», – he says.

Lylio is also convinced that talks about domestic tourism started in Lviv very late. The truth is that no one paid attention to it before. The main revenue came from tourists from Poland, Germany and Belarus.

«My 20 years of experience in this field show that we’ve had a crisis with domestic tourism for a long time. The products owned by Lviv had to be renewed 3-4 years ago. We were late because we thought that all our life, we would move with the old offers», – he said.

According to his calculations, it takes two years to get out of the coronavirus crisis and return to normal indicators. «God help that in 2021, we at least make up for the losses, and the next year, we could return to the level that was before,» – predicts Ihor Lylio.

According to him, domestic tourism in Ukraine can be developed only if there is a strategic program for its development.

Crisis as a stimulus for creativity and a special emphasis on the service

As a restaurant company, we have reoriented ourselves to the Lviv client, to whom we used to pay less attention earlier, said Yuliia Stefaniuk, managing partner of the «Just Lviv It» and «Fest Catering» projects. «We are strengthening the formats interesting for the city residents. We’ve even repurposed our tourist tram as a coffee shop to give people jobs», – she says.

The company also considered travel programs for Lviv residents, but this is more for internal stimulation. «Unfortunately, it’s not about business», – the top manager explains.

The company tries to provide interesting offers to transit tourists passing through Lviv, for instance to Transcarpathia. However, this is only 10% of employment.

«Therefore, unfortunately, I can’t add any optimistic moments, except for what we expect. And honesty, objectivity – I hope, we will benefit from them», – she said.

Vasyl Mikula, head of the «Dy-Vo» travel agency, sees a positive in the coronavirus crisis, namely that Ukraine is now becoming more interesting to others. «The crisis has opened up space for creativity. And there are great guides, guides, transport in the country», – he says.

As he says, every crisis is the start, it stimulates people to seek new ideas. Because often, when a person follows a well-established scheme, she stops creating and thinking.

The main problem for the development of domestic tourism, according to Vasyl Mikula, is related to service and prices. That’s why Ukrainians went to Turkey, Egypt or Bulgaria, as the price there were roughly similar to ours.

Also, according to him, we need to think of improving the infrastructure. So that, for example, it would be possible to go to a toilet in a civilised way in Zhovkva or Khotyn.

«If we want domestic tourism, we have to focus hard on the infrastructure, on this honesty that we mentioned. The prices we have are also honesty. This is a question for us, for hotel owners and so on», – the head of the travel agency explained.

Father Mykhailo Horodyskyi from the Pilgrimage centre «Rafail» also emphasizes that the crisis is a good opportunity for local tourism businesses to think about the service.

«If everything goes well, there probably will be a nice, comfortable toilet where people can wash», – he says.

Father Mykhailo also pointed out that Ukrainians don’t know how to represent their tourist places. He had been to various forums and was ashamed about how they are presented.

«I think now is the time to reformat the very consciousness of man, as well as travel companies and the government’s opinions. Because it depends on the authorities how good and comfortable the roads will be», – he emphasizes.

He also narrates that he had the opportunity to travel the world and after that, he began to love his land stronger, as it’s unique and beautiful here. And there is something to show not only to foreigners but also to Ukrainians.

The father says that the pilgrimage centre «Rafail» is now more focused on the domestic travel of Lviv tourists. Because people from other regions are afraid to come to us because of the statistics from Covid-19, while the citizens know the real picture and are more open to such trips.

We live in an interesting time now. Huge transformations are going on, the Committee of Entrepreneurs of Lviv Region representative Roman Zafiyovsky says. However, it is still difficult for him to say what they will be in the tourism industry.

He is convinced that those entrepreneurs who feel the trend have a much better chance of «surviving» than those who still live with old ideas.

He also mentions that before the Covid crisis, many people liked to rest in Turkey or Greece. However, now there is a fear of going abroad and it is good for the development of our domestic tourism.

«There are many interesting places in Ukraine. There may be a question of comfort, but now try to find a place to relax in the same Carpathians», – he says.

New models of tourist business and the world isn’t waiting

Oleksander Babiy, the expert at the Office for the development of small and medium-sized enterprises under the Ministry of Economy, says that tourism creates more additional jobs, even comparing to the construction sphere. If you take a travel business model, a person there pays for certain impressions and, usually, they are related to a specific area.

In fact, says Alexander Babiy, a person with a 1,000 euros in Europe can afford more entertainment today than a year ago. The question is what impressions she gets. Therefore, according to him, tourism, which was previously ignored, makes big sense now. «If that’s really what I’m interested in, I’ll be ready to go and spend money there», – he says.

The expert also gives an example of a case that began before the quarantine, but now turned out to be very timely. It’s a project «Culture. Tourism. Regions», which was conceived jointly with the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation. Its essence lies in the development of local cultural tourism. Another condition is that a virtual product should be created. These are online tours, augmented reality, creating websites, portals, mobile applications.

According to him, Odesa and Zakarpattia regions were taken as a basis, and preference was given to the projects not in the cities themselves, but in newer locations.

«Grants for this purpose were received in December, applications – in January, and in early March, everybody was quarantined and it became clear that it’s not for one week,» – said the expert of the Ministry of Economy.

The strategic task for the development of domestic tourism is to create a golden triangle Kyiv-Odesa-Lviv, around which other cities will flourish, ​​the managing partner in the company «Kumpel Tour» Ihor Lylio shared his idea. According to him, these three cities were chosen because they have high-quality airports.

«These are the main magnets that need to be combined so that the plane takes off from Kyiv to Odesa every hour, possibly even every half an hour. Then, tickets will be cheaper and the interest will appear», – he said.

He adds that in this case, it will be possible to create a hub allowing to involve Kamyanets-Podilskyi, Chernihiv, Nizhyn and other cities.

«The world is not waiting. We are surrounded by countries that are using effective tools for Covid-19 and at the same time, opening their markets. We are on the margins in this situation. If we do not strategically build a vision for several years to come, then, unfortunately, we will lose this struggle», – he said.

Translated by Vitalii Holich

> together with Lviv Business School of UCU was implementing the project «Support to Ukrainian Business in Times of Crisis», executed within the Project «Strengthening Public Confidence» (UCBI II), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).


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