The war virus hit the tourism industry

There will be harmful and long-term consequences

12:29 | 28 март 2022
Обновен: 15:31 | 28 март 2022
Снимка: Kentaro Takahashi/Bloomberg
Снимка: Kentaro Takahashi/Bloomberg

By Veronika Denizova

It is clear that 2022 will be another year, during which, tourism industry will face far more challenges than good opportunities.

War in Ukraine brought back the whole tourism industry through entire Europe to its most terrifying period of Covid pandemic and most vulnerable are the countries for which Ukraine and Russia are the main source of tourist visits and profit – Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Poland and Romania. 

In the pre-pandemic period between 2015 and 2019, Ukraine enjoyed a significant increase in its international tourist visits, reaching 2,5 million in 2019, reports Global Data. This figures dropped down with whole 71% in 2020 after the pandemic hit the travel industry and leisure time. Incoming tourism in Ukraine began to show more confidant signs of reviving last year, when the country had 1,2 million foreign tourists. Besides, Ukraine turnes itself into an outgoing market, as the travelling of the citizens abroad increased from 4,7 to 9,2 million for a decade (2009-2019). Growing geopolitical instability and the subsequent war, led to a rapid decrease in the incoming and ougoing tourism, stumbling the revitalization of the tourism industry. 

Tourism in Ukraine is not the only one to get hurt, though. Destinations such as Bulgaria, Poland and Turkey already sense the negative effect and the industry representatives estimate how much losses of cutting the access to their leading market they can take. In the last 15 years, both emitting markets are amongst the most important but also with highest risk for the Bulgarian tourism. “Good years for Bulgaria on Russian market were between 2013-2014 (with a relative share of 12%). Russian visits dropped after this period to the relative share of 7% in 2019”, commented for Bloomberg Businessweek Bg, Prof. Stoyan Marinov – lecturer in the Economics and Organization of Tourism Department at the University of Economics – Varna. Ukranian market, compared to the Russian, developes gradually for Bulgaria – starting from a share of 1% in 2008, reaching to 7% of the tourist visits 10 years later.

In 2021, according to a data from the National Statistical Institute, Bulgaria was visited by a bit more than 467 000 Ukranian people. Those from Russia are almost 135 000, as 100 000 of them were tourists. “Last year, the organized Russian tourists were very few, because Russia did not allow charter flights and only the regular flights remained, which were not enough for mass tourism”, explained for Bloomberg TV Bulgaria’s show – Business start – Galin Georgiev - Deputy Chairman of the Bulgarian Association of Travel Agencies (BATA).

2019 before the pandemi was a record year for the Bulgarian tourism. Nearly 600 000 Ukrainians and 460 800 Russians visited our country, as big part of them are coming for a vacation. Before the war in Ukraine started, the Ministry of Tourism expected to at least half of that and in case of a good season, even to get closer to the amount before the pandemic. However, those forecasts are now being revised.

Meanwhile, in late February, the Federal Agency of Tourism (Rostourism), recommend tourist agencies to look through the possibility to switch Bulgaria with other destinations. The recommendation is related to the Bulgarian airspace being closed for Russian air carriers and the reciprocal closing of the Russian airspace for Bulgarian air carriers. In the current situation, the Russian tourists can hardly visit Bulgaria by charter flights, reports Rostourism. 

“War and tourism are mutually exclusive. The result of this war will significantly worsen the macro environment of the global, European and to a large extent Bulgarian tourism”, predicts Prof. Stoyan Marinov.“ “In the ongoing COVID pandemic and in the conditions of a military conflict close to Bulgaria, the threats for a normal summer season on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast are great and there are no favorable opportunities. The hope is that both crisis events will end before the beginning of the summer ", says Prof. Marinov.

Industry’s expectation is having a summer season without tourists from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova because of the air space closing. “Sanctions against Russia will not be canceled soon and most probably flights won’t be resumed. We will have a big drop of Russian tourists this year. We hope that at least the people who have properties in Bulgaria will be able to come ", says Galin Georgiev from BATA. “We are not totally writing off the season, but we are preparing for the worst options. If the war lasts longer, the season for some parts of the industry will definitely be close to zero”, comments for Bulgaria On Air television Stefan Bozadzhiev from Union of Bulgarian Tourist Guides. 

The loss of markets in Eastern Europe is not the only concern of tourism experts. Some of them warn that there is a possibilityh that European tourists will perceive Bulgaria as a risk destination because of the closeness to Ukraine. “The threat is real – the war conflict happens at the Black Sea coast. If it deepens and continues, it is logical for families with kids and people middle and third age from the West Europe emitting markets to redirect from Bulgaria to destinations further from the conflict – Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Egypt”, explains Prof. Marinov. Deputy Minister of Tourism Irena Georgieva also admits that there is a risk for Bulgaria’s image. “The returning interest of tourists from United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Poland was noticable in the beginning of the year, but at the moment the reservations from those countries are put on hold, giving the closeness of Bulgaria to the war conflict”, she comments for Business Start on Bloomberg TV Bulgaria.

Given the looming risks, our country will have to make great efforts to attract more tourists from neighboring and western markets to save the tourist year. "Plan B could be to redirect supply to markets such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, which will inevitably happen at the 'last minute' with promotional offers at low prices," said Prof. Marinov. According to him, we should not lose optimism, because there will always be tourists for cheap destinations, and the Western European youth segment is less prone to risks in destinations. Galin Georgiev from BATA also points out that the Western European markets have potential, mainly Germany and UK, which in the last two years have been very weak in the direction of Bulgaria. According to him, this year's reservations from the UK have gone relatively well, but how things will develop from now on is very difficult to say. Romania is already a structural market, and if things develop positively there, we will have a good season, Georgiev predicts.

Some relief from the shortage of staff in the tourism sector may come from the arrival of Ukrainian citizens, fleeing the war. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe are preparing to welcome hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians seeking protection. Most of these people will need jobs, and Bulgarian business has the opportunity to provide employment for nearly 200,000 people in all sectors of the economy, said the Association of Bulgarian Employers.

The members of the Bulgarian Hotel and Restaurant Association have repeatedly expressed their readiness to provide shelter and employment for refugees from Ukraine. Deputy Minister of Tourism Irena Georgieva commented that the Bulgarian tourism business already has experience in hiring Ukrainian citizens and this will help in the current situation. According to Stefan Bozadjiev, in the context of labor shortages, it is quite possible that refugees from the war in Ukraine will flow into our tourism sector. "The problems with the labor force in the sector have been going on for many years and the Ukrainians who are arriving will be offered to join the labor market. They will be preferred over some other options, "said Galin Georgiev.