How the war in Ukraine is affecting tourism in Eastern Europe | Travel


The years 2020 and 2021 have been difficult for the tourism industry to say the least. The coronavirus pandemic has caused immense losses around the world. All hopes turned to 2022 – as pandemic restrictions began to ease, it looked like the industry would rebound. Then came February 24 when Russia attacked Ukraine. (Also read: Southern Europe grapples with shifts in tourism amid Covid-19 pandemic)

DW examines whether war has replaced the pandemic as a holiday constraint in Europe. Tourists can avoid traveling to Central and Eastern Europe, especially to countries bordering Ukraine.

After two years of the pandemic, many may have been hoping for a vacation. German Economics and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck discussed the opportunities offered by the tourism industry at the International Tourism Exchange (ITB), the world’s largest travel trade fair, taking place in holds digitally in Berlin until March 10. Habeck said there was “no better counterbalance to war than tourism” and added that people could gain new experiences and even form friendships during their travels, he said.

Tension affects tourism

Yet, given the war, is it possible to travel to the Baltic countries or Ukraine’s immediate neighbours, such as Poland, Hungary or Slovakia? “Nothing works against that,” Samed Kizgin, a travel security expert, told DW. Kizgin works for A3M Global Monitoring, a company that assesses the safety of tour operators and internationally active companies traveling in certain areas. The German Foreign Ministry, for example, has not issued a travel warning, he points out. At most, refugee flows could lead to restrictions in certain areas, so the question is more whether one chooses to travel to neighboring countries or not.

The number of tourists to Central and Eastern Europe, as elsewhere in the world, has dropped significantly over the past two years due to the pandemic. But in the case of Ukraine’s neighbours, geopolitical tension also plays a role, says Kizgin: “Tourism in the region has been inhibited for years because it’s been smoldering for a long time, and people knew there would be a big bang at some point. .”

From confidence to uncertainty

When people think of vacationing in Europe, southern European countries, including Spain, France and Italy, usually come to mind – after all, they usually attract the most tourists. Central and Eastern Europe lags slightly behind them, but remains popular with tourists. Hungary and the Czech Republic are in high demand for wellness stays and city breaks. Poland is known for its cities like Krakow and Warsaw and its villages on the Baltic Sea coast. Romania and Bulgaria, meanwhile, attract beach-loving tourists due to their location on the Black Sea. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the north, which border Russia and Belarus, tend to attract those who prefer scenic landscapes and quiet towns with plenty of options for hiking and biking.

If you look at Ukraine’s two neighboring countries popular with tourists, Hungary and Poland, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on travel can be seen. According to the European statistics office Eurostat, around 900,000 tourists came to Hungary and Poland during the summer months of 2019. In 2020, the country saw around a third of the previous year, while 2021 also saw been sluggish. Those who came were mainly from within Europe. “We had very strong growth before the pandemic in the Chinese market; unfortunately, this market completely collapsed,” Konrad Guldon, head of the Polish Tourist Board in Berlin, told DW.

Then came early 2022 when pandemic restrictions were eased. But uncertainty set in with the war in Ukraine. Currently, however, it’s too early to predict whether people will cancel travel plans as a result, Guldon says. He sees no effect of the crisis on holidaymakers in Poland. While refugees from Ukraine are also accommodated in hotels and guesthouses, “this does not affect hotel complexes which are usually booked by German or foreign guests”, adds the tourism expert. Moreover, popular holiday regions do not share a border with Ukraine: these include the Baltic Sea coast, the Krkonoše Mountains and the Hirschberg Valley.

The idea of ​​going on vacation seems far away

While it is still too early to assess the impact of the war on the 2022 holiday season, Anke Budde, vice-president of the German Federal Association of the Alliance of Independent Travel Entrepreneurs, sees the first clouds ​form in the previously blue sky. She feels that people have stopped making reservations. “It’s like shock paralysis,” Budde says in an interview with DW. Many people are simply preoccupied with the war and many are engaged in voluntary work, so for them the idea of ​​going on vacation seems far away, she says.

In addition to the pandemic and the war, there is a third challenge: Rising commodity prices. “Heating costs are going up, gas costs are going up. So people have less and less money available,” says Budde. It could also make travel more expensive, although trips from northern Europe to Spain, Italy and southern Greece are more likely to be affected, the world’s largest travel group has said. , TUI, to DW.

The human side

Jochen Szech is chairman of the Alliance of Independent Travel Entrepreneurs and owner of Go East Reisen, a German travel agency specializing in Eastern European travel. His concerns are not exclusively financial. Although it saw some cancellations, it noticed few new bookings, despite no travel warnings being issued for the Baltics or Poland.

He is most concerned about the human impact of war – he has been offering trips to Ukraine and Russia for about 30 years. “I have a lot of friends there. It’s unimaginable for me,” Szech said in an interview with DW. He spent three days trying to reach an employee of his Ukrainian partner company. Eventually he succeeded and learned that his colleague had taken care of arranging for his family’s safe exit. When he reached the contact person of his partner company in Russia, with whom he has worked for 20 years, she burst into tears during the video call. She had just been told by her boss that he was firing all his employees: tourists were no longer coming to Russia.

These stories show once again that war knows no winners, no matter what side of the conflict you are on or how far you are from the actual crisis zone. The war is also likely to affect the tourism industry, but to what extent this remains uncertain.

This article has been translated from German.


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