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

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On 10 November Tvoe Misto («Your City») held one of its regular problem-solving public forums with restaurant and business leaders, tour operators, and city and regional representatives to outline new prospects and challenges for Lviv’s tourism industry. Here is what the citizens and officials discussed, boosted by reporting from Tvoe Misto journalists.
Photo by Dima Pima on Unsplash

Photo by Dima Pima on Unsplash

by Roman Lamansky

From 1 November, Lviv has belonged to the «red» zone of quarantine restrictions. You can come to the city and visit any institution only having a vaccination certificate, or with a valid express or PCR test. Because of the restrictions, some of the players in the tourism market were forced to close permanently, such as a restaurant of local cuisine «Gvara». This problem is relevant not only for Lviv: tourist-friendly cities like Budapest, Prague, and Rome are developing their strategies to survive the crisis in tourism. 

About challenges in tourism: Lviv still hoping for direct flights to USA

Despite the challenges from the pandemic in particular, positive lessons can be learned from them, says Tetyana Romanovska, director of the Danylo Halytskyi Lviv International Airport. According to her, earlier agreements on direct air connection with the United States failed due to the coronavirus, and because of the same reason they are now decisive. 

«At the same time, the pandemic was a challenge for us, but we also learned positive lessons from it. Before the coronavirus, we almost signed a transatlantic airline agreement. Then everything fell apart due to the beginning of the lockdown. However, now this reason is the determining factor for direct flights,» – the airport director said.

Romanovska says that one of the positive trends is that Europe is now more open than Ukraine. According to her, at least half of the cabin is full of planes to European countries.

«We find positive trends, despite all the disadvantages that seem to prevail in the infospace. Today, Europe is more open to Ukrainians than Ukraine is to Europeans. We now have many open destinations. There are 10 different flights to Italy alone. Ryanair added four more. There are six destinations in Germany and four in Poland. Once a week, there are also flights to Saudi Arabia. At the same time, at least half of the aircraft cabin is full for these flights,» – Tetyana Romanovska says.

Even the coronavirus will not stop the opening of new destinations, the director of the airport believes. Several carriers are opening new routes and negotiating with others.

«New directions continue to open up in spite of everything. For example, Ukrainian low-cost carrier Bees Airline has announced the sale of tickets to Barcelona from December to January and plans to make it permanent if the route is in demand during this test month. There is a demand for flights to Prague and Kyiv, « – Tetyana Romanovska says.

Comfort and safety are crucial for most passengers, Romanovska claims. Without transfer between planes, it’s possible to increase both.

«For passengers, direct flights are less of a risk for passengers when there is no discomfort during transfers. We will continue to communicate with Delta Air Lines and establish contacts to launch new flights. We had talks with UIA to open direct flights to Chicago and Toronto, but now they can’t say for sure whether they will have planes for these flights at all,» – the airport director says.

Direct flights are a costly thing. That is why the flight must be sold in advance, Tetyana Romanovska thinks. However, according to her, Ukrainians in the diaspora will be those who fly from Canada and the United States, while tourists will compose most of those travelling from the Middle East.

«The decision on a direct flight can be made for years. The flight can cost up to $ 300,000 per flight. So in order to launch a permanent service, this flight must be sold two or three flights in advance and passengers must see the announcement in six months. 

«However, a passenger from Canada and the United States can be our original Ukrainian, he is a regular passenger. These may be second- or third-generation diasporic people who periodically come home to Ukraine for the holidays. On flights from Frankfurt am Main, Vienna, and Warsaw, US citizens from Chicago or Canadians from Toronto make up almost 30% of passengers. That is why the establishment of direct flights is important. Flights from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Kuwait are good, but from there the tourists come,» – says Romanovska. 

Natalia Tabaka, Head of the Tourism and Resorts Department of Lviv Regional State Administration, also spoke about the challenges in tourism . According to her, the main challenge today is to attract tourists despite the coronavirus.

«Such a tourist place as the Lviv region should learn from the experience and follow the example of Truskavets and Morshyn. An active vaccination campaign takes place there because up to 70% of the local budget are tourists. This is important for the Lviv region, as the Lviv region is among the TOP-3 travel destinations in Ukraine for Ukrainians and foreigners and in the TOP-5 places where Ukrainians plan a vacation,» – Natalia Tabaka reports.

We can say that the tourist sphere of the region is gradually recovering from the coronavirus, the civil servant says. In particular, this year we managed to attract more tourists to some places than last year.

«This year, Tustan [the ruins of a medieval cliff-bound fortress-city, two hours southeast of Lviv] was visited by 200,000 tourists, while in 2019 there were 150,000. Currently, among the foreign tourists the region is visited by the citizens of Azerbaijan, Poland, and the United States. They make up 18% of all visitors. A quarter of them plan to return,» – Tabaka said.

Tourists choose the Lviv region for recreation, according to Natalia Tabaka, mainly because of the positive feedback from those who have already spent their holidays here. That is why civil servants, when campaigning to rest in the Lviv region, talk about safe and healthy conditions. To do this, the tourism department shoots videos, attracts bloggers and makes promotions. 

«By agitating [encouraging] to rest here, first of all, we share the message that we have a safe rest, clean air, delicious food, good emotions, medical resources and the opportunity to learn about culture. 

«The positive image of the Lviv region consists of many factors, where the positive experience of those who have already rested here often plays a significant role. This can be a good recommendation for a friend or family member. Also, to attract tourists, we communicate through the media and organize promotions, shooting a series of promotional videos about tourist attractions. In addition, we attract tour operators and bloggers for promotion, we advertise, in particular, through our embassies. We are currently working with a tour operator from Bahrain, with whom we are preparing tours for their citizens for 2022,» – Tabaka reports.

How to «sell» the Lviv region

In order to «sell» Lviv, it is worth working in the information field of a potential audience, says Vitalii Kulyk, director of the Lviv Tourism Development Center. According to him, before the coronavirus, international exhibitions and meetings with businessmen from different countries were held for this purpose.

«In order for tourists from overseas to visit us, we need to work actively on their information field. Until 2019, Ukrainian businessmen and I from time to time presented the city’s potential at international exhibitions, gave interviews to local media and met with their entrepreneurs,» – Vitalii Kulyk said. 

In order to know who to deal with, it is important to have a portrait of a tourist, he claims. According to him, the city forms a portrait of the tourist due to the data from mobile operators, border guards, and information from hotels.

«We have prepared information about the portrait of a tourist in Lviv. To do this, we operated data from three tourist information centers in the city, and also collected data from hotels and hostels. Also, in order to form a portrait and the number of tourists, we are provided with data from the border service. In addition, we use analytics and data sets of mobile operators, in particular the Kyivstar network,» – Vitalii Kulyk says. 

In 2021 in general the number of tourists in Lviv has increased by more than 50% compared to the previous quarantine year.

When drawing up tourism development strategies, it is necessary to understand the difference between different tourists, Kulyk believes. 

«Forming a portrait of tourists, we must understand that the offer for tourists from Saudi Arabia and Italy are two radically different proposals. The increase in the number of tourists from the Middle East is due primarily to the Presidential Decree «On establishing a visa-free regime for citizens of Australia, New Zealand, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,» said the director of the Tourism Development Center.

At different times, tourism had its challenges, Vitalii Kulyk points out. If earlier, this was the war in the East and the annexation of Crimea, now it is a coronavirus.

«Before the coronavirus, the confrontation with Russia in eastern Ukraine was a deterrent for Americans. The average American does not divide Ukraine, and when I say that Lviv is separated from the front by 1,200 kilometers, it does not work. In addition, we have a low level of vaccination for [attracting] Americans. Therefore, vaccination and communication are crucial for the English-speaking market,» – Vitalii Kulyk concludes.

How Ukraine «sells» Lviv to foreign tourists

Of all Ukraine, only Lviv, Kyiv, Odesa, and the ghost-town nuclear disaster site Chornoybl are in demand, says Maryana Oleskiv, head of the State Agency for Tourism Development. To promote the most popular regions, the state agency shoots videos and publications in foreign media and attracts bloggers. 

«Our job is to attract airlines and flights, help them with marketing and all the bureaucratic procedures. In general, we sell for foreign tourists only Lviv and the western region, Kyiv, Chornobyl and Odessa. Other cities and locations are not ready to receive tourists in terms of infrastructure. 

«In particular, we are currently launching two marketing campaigns – separately about Lviv and the Carpathians. We shot six videos about Ukraine and three of them about this region. We also launch paid advertising for Turkey, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia, as we expect tourists from these countries. In addition, we plan to make several publications on the BBC and National Geographic,» – Maryana Oleskiv said. 

Communicating positive messages is the most important thing for tourists, says the head of the state agency. She also sees potential in the development of gastronomic tourism in Ukraine.

«It is important for us to communicate with tourists and tell them about the tourist» highlights,» of Ukraine. To do this, we recently cooked borshch in Istanbul and invited journalists and experts to the event. We also invite them to Ukraine so that they can visit our gastronomic locations and promote their cuisine. Gastronomic tourism is also an important niche, as Italy and Georgia are famous for this. That is why it is important to improve the quality of this sphere,» – Maryana Oleskiv claims.

In order to have tourists in Ukraine, every Ukrainian should think about the positive image of Ukraine and make an effort to do so personally. According to the head of the state agency, the country’s image may change, in particular, through tourism.

«Even a crazy marketing campaign can fail from news of a bad vaccination or forgery of vaccination certificates, and there have been several recent BBC publications about such cases. If we do not behave consciously, then no advertising will be effective. This year I was in Saudi Arabia for the first time and I can say with confidence that all the locals with whom I spoke and who visited Ukraine had a pleasant impression of the trips. Through tourism, we can change the image of the country. Through television, it’s quite expensive, we don’t have that kind of money,» – said the head of the state agency.

Until Ukraine manages to overcome the coronavirus, there will be no American tourists, Mariana Oleskiv believes. According to her, US citizens do not visit countries that have problems with viruses.

«So far, the US market is closed to us because Americans are very afraid of viruses – during the Ebola epidemic, tourists from the United States did not go to the Maldives and the Dominicans, and it hit the economies of those countries very hard,» – Mariana Oleskiv said. 

How business reacts

Restaurateurs are interested in preserving establishments with unique cuisine, according to Volodymyr Hnatyuk, CEO of FFS (Pizza Celentano restaurant chain) and Kumpel Group. However, now you can see how they close.

«For Arab tourists in Lviv, the cuisine is attractive, in particular. We do not want Lviv to become the capital of fast food. We see the dynamics of closing restaurants, take at least the same restaurant «Gvara», which was known as a restaurant of Lviv cuisine for citizens and guests and as a tourist location, and closed recently. We are interested in preserving authentic establishments and interesting cuisine. However, during the pandemic, all restaurants worked with reduced staff,» – Volodymyr Hnatyuk says.

Lviv used to attract attention not only with entertainment, but also with various events, so the portrait of a tourist should be observed widely. Now businessmen are waiting for Christmas, because they are counting on the influx of tourists from Asian countries for the holidays. 

«We should look at the portrait of a tourist broadly, because it is not always a stereotypical image. Previously, sports tourism was popular in Lviv: races, competitions and bicycle races attracted many people to the city for a few days. This is a huge layer, which in fact is still underestimated. Now, we are waiting for Christmas. We appreciate this holiday, because its spirit has always attracted the attention of tourists to Lviv. We hope that tourists from Turkey and Saudi Arabia will also want to feel this festive spirit,» – Hnatyuk says.

Another trend that can be traced, according to Volodymyr Hnatyuk, is that the center of Lviv has ceased to be a tourist destination for citizens. 

«We can see a trend that the center has become more encapsulated. Citizens began to stay in their sleeping districts more often and spend time there. Therefore, consumption in these areas has grown accordingly,» – the CEO of the restaurant network.

Taras Maselko, PR director of the FEST holding of restaut=rants and entertainment establishments, also noticed that there were fewer tourists. He sees the solution to the problem in communication.

«We understand the problem of the fact that there are fewer tourists. In my opinion, the solution to this problem is first of all communication. It’s not obvious to everyone, but it works. The first thing that came to my mind was the #TravelUkraine promotional campaign. It can be assessed in different ways, but when during the lockdown Ukrainian business realized that there were no foreign tourists, then everyone understood that the emphasis should be on traveling to Ukraine,» – Taras Maselko says.

The task of businessmen, in his opinion, is to make tourists talk about their positive experiences from travel. 

«Now we see how the paradigm of tourists has changed, that Ukrainians have become more interested in traveling to Ukraine. People began to be more attracted to the same Lviv, Tustan or tram in the Carpathians. Therefore, our task is to make people talk about their experience and change their perception,» – Taras Maselko says.

Tourism is changing, Maselko is sure. According to him, travel has already led to the fact that Lviv is now on a qualitatively different stage of tourism than a few years ago.

«Even with the coronavirus, we can see that globalization has begun to change our country. In 2019, low-cost carriers finally entered Lviv, and the airport began to grow. Ukrainians’ knowledge of Ukraine has also begun to grow. In fact, tourism expands horizons and changes perceptions. Those who have left Ukraine at least once are more likely to be vaccinated because they understand why it is important,» – Taras Maselko claims.

The PR director sees the tourist potential in niche events focused on a specific audience. 

«Everything is changing now. People used to come to Lviv to see culture and architecture. Now Lviv is often visited due to niche events. Even at small events, which are designed for 100 people, you can meet foreigners. One of my friends from the diaspora constantly spends time on rather niche events in revitalized factories – this is one of my personal examples, which confirms the hypothesis that people tend to communicate in small communities,» – Maselko analyses.

About a third of customers have refused to travel because of the coronavirus, says Diana Borysenko, executive director of the Lviv Tourist Alliance. However, according to her observations, the number of IT representatives who prefer to visit Lviv has not decreased.

«As a guide, I constantly work with foreigners. Due to the aggravation of the coronavirus situation, one third of our clients refused to travel to Lviv and postponed it to another time. However, there are clients coming from the United States, this year for the second time. There are those who are in love with Lviv and Galicia. A significant part of tourists are representatives of the IT industry. I can say that during the exacerbation of the problem with the coronavirus and the introduction of the red zone in the city, they have not decreased. At least in May and June, the load in hospitals was though not complete, but at least 70-80%,» – Diana Borysenko says.

The director of the Lviv Tourist Alliance sees potential in historical tourists, those who prefer to find their roots. According to her, this is a completely unexplored layer and she herself spends time in the archives to get the materials.

«I work with a huge number of diasporas and those who come to find their roots. This is really a great potential, as in Ukraine only 5% of documents are digitised. I personally work in the archives to restore family ties for those who now live in the United States and Israel,» – Borysenko says.

The fact that Covid-19 is a problem for tourists was also noted by Victoria Dovzhyk, an adviser to the mayor of Lviv. However, it is thanks to business in Lviv that the rate of vaccination is accelerating, she says. 

«Vaccination is a crazy problem for tourism. Even worse – news about forgery of vaccination certificates. I recently spoke with colleagues from Sweden and they said they just couldn’t understand it. However, I would say that thanks to the understanding of business and the call to vaccinate all employees in the service sector, the number of vaccinated people in Lviv increased from 18% to almost 40% in a month,» – Victoria Dovzhyk says.

Dovzhyk also said that the holidays attract the largest number of tourists to Lviv. She also shared her thoughts on what to do to increase the tourist attractiveness of the city.

«Our main highlights are Christmas and Easter. Many tourists go to Lviv on holidays. Gastrotourism will continue to develop, but at the same time, it is most sensitive to restrictions. In addition, it is to be expected that medical, sports and cultural tourism will also develop. – says Victoria Dovzhyk. – «In the development of potential, it is very important to take care of the infrastructure for tourists. We have already realized a lot, take at least the Art Gallery, and we will continue to build, such as the cable car and the Ferris wheel. You won’t last long on what you already have

by Roman Lamansky

Photo by Anna Chistyakova

Translated by Vitalii Holich

You can read a Ukrainian language version of this story here.

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Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, 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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