Top reasons why tourists say they come to Ukraine
The high mark of counted visitors to Ukraine came in 2013, when 24.7 million people visited the country. Then, in 2014, Russia invaded Crimea and launched its war on Ukraine in the Donbas, cutting visitors by nearly half — to 12.7 million, according to State Statistics Service data.
Four years later, the tourism industry is starting to show some signs of recovery as visitor numbers climbed to 14.2 million in 2017. In the 2017 Travel and Tourism Index of the World Economic Forum, Ukraine ranked 88th among 136 countries, scoring a midpoint 3.5 point out of a possible score of 7.
By comparison, Spain saw more than 68 million visitors last year. The real situation is worse: Most of the visitors counted aren’t tourists at all. Either they are using Ukraine as a transit country or they cross the borders for work or they are simply visiting friends and relatives.
So the visitors are not the ones who fill hotel rooms, stores and restaurants, by and large.
Anna Romanova, a Samopomich Party lawmaker and head of the Ukrainian parliament’s tourism development, resort and recreational activity committee, estimated that “more than 10 million foreigners visit Ukraine not for tourism or travel, but as a transit country. Others visit relatives here.”
Those who do come as tourists are attracted by the low prices in Ukraine, Romanova said. British travel company Hoppa named Kyiv the cheapest of 100-holiday destinations in 2018. The average cost of a night’s stay is only $86, while the price of a night in New York is more than five times that, at $469. With its tourist sector still underdeveloped, Ukraine is missing out on some lucrative business.
According to Ukraine’s Hospitality Association, the global hospitality industry was worth about $7.6 trillion in 2016.
Since 2016, the Ukrainian authorities have been more actively promoting Ukraine’s tourism industry, with local governments developing a tourism strategy for each region, allocating from Hr 3 million ($114,000) to Hr 50 million ($1.9 million) from local budgets for tourism development.
About a dozen Ukrainian travel agencies attended the New York Times Travel Show in February. According to the State Border Guard Service, foreigners visit Ukraine for personal reasons, business and tourism, and come mostly from Moldova, Belarus and Russia.
Romanova said the Ukrainian diaspora’s interest in visiting Ukraine is still rather low. “For example, of the 1.2 million people of Ukrainian descent living in Canada, only some 20,000 visited Ukraine last year,” Romanova said.
Tourists are attracted by Ukraine’s rich history — the tragic as well as the inspiring. Some want to learn more about the Holodomor famine of 1932–1933, or the Holocaust of World War II, for example. Ukraine also has its of “disaster tourists,” mainly visiting the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. Romanova said more than 50,000 tourists visited the Chornobyl zone in 2017.
The trips are mainly focused on the three countries’ history and culture. A 10- to 12-day tour in a minivan, plus food and accommodation, costs approximately $2,000 per person.
JC Travel also offers individual, customized tours: clients send a list of places they want to visit and the agency creates a tour to fit their preferences. This option is popular among the descendants of Ukrainian emigrants. Kulik said the longest tour for an individual client was a 42-day trip to Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.
“A lot of clients ask us to help them to find their relatives in Ukraine. That’s a challenge, but our team has succeeded a couple of times,” Kulik said.
Male tourists from all over the world still visit Ukraine in order to find a wife or to date Ukrainian women, who abroad have the reputation of being more feminine and beautiful — and less liberated — than Western women.
During the two years before Russia launched its war, in 2012 and 2013, there was a sex tourism boom in Ukraine, with dozens of so-called sex tourists coming to Ukraine for the Euro 2012 soccer championship.
Some had even published books and guides with strategies for seducing Ukrainian women. One of them is Kyle Trouble, the author of a dating blog from the United States.
However, Trouble said that Ukrainian women were not the easiest ones to bed.
“I’d never recommend that a guy go to Ukraine just to have casual sex — it’s far more difficult to do that in Ukraine,” Trouble said. “I’d tell guys that they should go to Ukraine if they are more interested in finding a longer-term relationship.”
Nelson Carrasco, a Cuban singer and the founder of Buena Vista Social Bar and Habana Club in Kyiv, agreed that some foreigners are mistaken about Ukrainian women — and sometimes mistaken about themselves.
“A lot of morons come here because they’ve heard that any man who can’t find a woman in their country will definitely find one here,” Carrasco told the Kyiv Post.
Carrasco has been living in Ukraine for 14 years and says that there are a lot of reasons for Ukrainian women to be interested in dating foreigners: low wages and an unstable economy, as well as the fact that there are more women than men in Ukraine.
“I don’t want to offend my male business partners, but women are more reliable in Ukraine.”
While Ukraine inherited a crumbling public healthcare system from the Soviet Union that is only now in the process of being overhauled, there are many private hospitals offering high-quality
professionals and a variety of treatment — which is another draw to foreign visitors.
More than 25 percent of medical tourists choose the country for health restorative services, 18 percent visit dentists and ophthalmologists, and more than 50 percent visit fertility specialists, cardiologists, and plastic surgeons.
Medical treatment in Ukraine is becoming increasingly popular among patients from Western Europe, Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom, as medical procedures in Ukraine can cost 30–60 percent less than equivalent treatments in the West.
Laser eye surgery in Ukraine can cost up to $1,500, while in the United States, for example, the same surgery can cost up to $3,000 — and that’s just for one eye.
A number of travel agencies now offer medical tourism services in Ukraine: Clients can create a personal treatment plan, and choose a particular hospital or a health resort in Ukraine, with transport to and from the airport included in the package.
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