Crimea’s tourism sector is facing another hard summer, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues.
Last year’s first summer of war in Ukraine saw Crimean tourism down by a third, The Moscow Times has reported. Now some businesses are reporting that visitor numbers have dropped again, with those willing to speak to journalists putting capacity at between 30% and 60% for the supposed peak summer months.
The decline comes despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s early promises to the region after its “annexation” in 2014 when he branded it “Russia’s crown jewel”. Investment was supposed to follow and Russia built the long-awaited Crimean or “Kerch” Bridge which opened in 2018. At the same time however, as part of Russia, Crimea was dealt the blow of worldwide sanctions.
Domestic tourism from Russian holidaymakers improved the situation during 2021 when Covid-19 lockdowns prevented them choosing to go elsewhere. But since the invasion of Ukraine and Kyiv’s unexpected resistance and counter attacks, Russian tourists have abandoned the region.
2. Crossing war zones
In effect, Russians who want to visit Crimea are obliged to cross active war zones to get there. The Crimean Bridge has been damaged twice this year, with a Russian couple of holidaymakers killed and ensuant traffic chaos.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russian authorities desperate to support the Crimean economy while the bridge was closed attempted to encourage citizens to “take alternative routes through southern Ukraine past Kherson and Melitopol and through the Donetsk Oblast”.
These places are “pretty close to the front lines” as Insider points out. Meanwhile, Crimea is “a legitimate military target for Kyiv and among the most important territories Ukraine hopes to reclaim in this war.”
Tweets of detailed instructions about how to get to and from Crimea, have included advice such as: “On the way you will meet military checkpoints. Do everything that the servicemen say. Do not be rude, do not push for your rights”.
This is hardly the stuff dream holidays are made of. Images of semi-naked beachgoers having to make a dash for safety when blasts hit Saki airbase last August will have done little to convince Russians that Crimea is the ideal holiday destination.
In response Crimean businesses are offering bargain basement prices but even these are not enough to tempt visitors back. The Moscow Times has reported that Crimean reservations made up just 3% of total Russian hotel bookings last year, plummeting 16% on 2021’s figures. Official figures reveal 60% of businesses in the Crimean tourist sector had fallen into debt in 2022, totalling losses of 709 million rubles (over 6.6 million euros).
With 2023’s Russian hotel bookings in Crimea down to a measly 1% of the total, even more of those working in the Crimean holiday sector will be feeling the crunch.