While the tourist industry appears to be making a good recovery in many places, the war in Ukraine is casting a long shadow over its neighbours and affecting their industry.
Many destinations are seeing visitor numbers and bookings back up to and exceeding pre-pandemic numbers. London, Paris and New York have made strong recoveries. Indeed demand for big city day trips is such that City Experiences, a sightseeing tour provider, has ramped up its supply.
Senior vice president of City Experiences, Hornblower Group and the founder of city walking tour operator Walks, Stephen Oddo, told Travel Weekly: “Many of our tours in Europe and North America are either sold out or we’re finding a harder time to keep up with demand. We’ve added new tours in 15 of our 29 destinations and added five new destinations in total, including Amsterdam and Dublin.”
However, destinations perceived to be close to Ukraine have been losing out since the invasion. Bookings to Krakow in Poland fell by 60% for summer 2022, according to bachelor and bachelorette party operator Last Night of Freedom, which arranges tours across Europe. Budapest was down 45% and Riga, Latvia, by 39%.
I think when the invasion started, people were hearing about bombs close to the border, and now they have that image in their head.Matt Mavir, Founder Last Night of Freedom
Wojtek Mania, from the Poznań Tourism Organisation decried the idea of “Eastern” and “Western” Europe as anachronistic, calling people’s idea of the former Soviet block “a geopolitical zombie that’s influencing industries like tourism in central-eastern Europe.”
Dorota Wojciechowska, London director of the Poland Tourism Board agrees. “Krakow, Gdansk, Wrocław, Poznań and Warsaw… are all located hundreds of miles away from the border with Ukraine. The distance between Krakow and Kyiv is like the distance between London and Madrid.”
As well as misplaced personal safety worries, Mavir puts tourists’ reluctance to visit Eastern Europe down to feeling uncomfortable with a vacation where suffering is.
“People are saying they don’t want to go somewhere and be seen to be having fun in a place where they perceive there to be a lot of refugees. Someone lost their home and you’re there in matching t-shirts, drinking beer – there’s a juxtaposition that doesn’t sit right.”
The Hungarian Tourism agency figures show a 65% drop in American bookings last year. Slovakia’s numbers are down too and even Estonia, with no shared border with Ukraine is suffering, with 50% of last year’s scheduled cruise ships to Tallinn in 2022 cancelled without the jewel in the crown of Baltic cruise destinations, St. Petersburg and “a direct effect of the war” according to Liina Maria Lepik of the Estonian Tourist Board.
Strangely, as travellers begin to plan what are being termed “revenge holidays” or “megatrips” to make up for lost time due to Covid-19 restrictions, a handful of Eastern European destinations are doing relatively well.
Moldova, which borders Ukraine, beat its pre-pandemic visitor numbers last year and Lithuania is at 88%, with an influx of Latvian, UK and US holidaymakers.