In recent years, a wealthy middle class has settled in Russia, for whom vacations are important – from vacation packages to luxury travel. Countries like Cuba, Indonesia, Thailand and Turkey have been receiving an increasing number of Russian tourists. The Maldives, Seychelles and Sri Lanka are also increasingly attracting visitors from Russia, as is sunny Cyprus on the Mediterranean, the United Nations Tourism Organization (UNWTO) told DW. (Also read: The underground labyrinth of the Paris Metro)
According to the latest UNWTO 2020 figures, Russian tourists provided US$14 billion (€12.9 billion) in revenue worldwide and accounted for three percent of tourism revenue. Before the pandemic, Russian tourists generated more than twice that: $36 billion. Ukrainian travelers contributed another $8.5 billion, according to World Tourism Organization data.
The tourism situation has changed in the aforementioned countries since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. In Cyprus, guests from Russia (20 percent) and Ukraine (2 percent) account for a total of 22 percent of overnight stays. Turkey will also likely lose revenue. Based on last year’s figures from the Turkish Statistical Authority, the country had around 4.7 million visitors from Russia, in addition to two million people from Ukraine.
Destinations are affected in different ways, says Professor Urs Wagenseil of the Competence Center for Tourism at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Lucerne. “Some regions like the south coast of Turkey, Thailand or Bali will lose large numbers of tourists, while cities like St. Moritz, Sölden or Vienna will lose ‘upper class’ tourists. It cannot be compensated for by ‘overnight’.
The effects are even more dramatic in Cuba. Russia has emerged as a beacon of hope for the tourism industry after the pandemic caused visitor numbers to the Caribbean island to drop by 70% in 2021. About 40% of all foreign tourists to Cuba came from Russia.
Diversification is key
In principle, it is always advisable for a country not to rely too much on tourists from a single country, says Professor Jürgen Schmude, president of the German Tourism Research Society, in an interview with DW. “But that knowledge doesn’t always translate into reality,” he adds.
Until the pandemic, the tourism sector had been growing steadily for the last 20 years. Many countries have managed to diversify, emphasizes Jürgen Schmude. Turkey, for example, attracts around 4.5 million Russian tourists, as well as many millions from other parts of the world.
In Cyprus, too, hoteliers and restaurateurs are relatively relaxed about future developments. Philokypros Roussounides, Director General of the Cyprus Hotel Association, said that thanks to better cooperation with France, Germany, Poland, Hungary and other European countries, Cyprus “will be better off in 2022 than the year before, despite the absence of guests.” of Russia and despite higher energy prices.”
Conflict as a vacation “danger”
In the view of those who analyze the tourism industry, another potential “danger” for planned vacations is events that cast a negative light on vacation regions. Such dangers cause tourists to cancel their planned stays. Events can include natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or floods. Man-made hazards such as wars, terrorist attacks or political upheavals can also derail travel plans.
It is striking, says Jürgen Schmude, that the further an event occurs from its home country, the more it acts as a deterrent. “The further away the ‘danger’ is, the greater the space that people consider ‘dangerous'”, he points out.
“Tourists have a short memory”
However, when a hazard occurs, whether natural or man-made, it does not mean that the lack of tourists will be a lasting phenomenon. He cites the terrorist attacks in Paris as an example. “After the attacks in 2015, it took a long, long time before tourists from Asia or America dared to return to Europe. They thought all of Europe was dangerous – travelers from France’s neighboring countries had long since returned to Europe. country as vacationers”, says the tourism specialist.
Basically, tourists have “a short memory,” says Schmude. This means that, after a relatively short period of time, the desire to travel again outweighs any worries about danger. “But travelers are more tolerant of natural hazards than man-made hazards,” he explains.
And it matters whether the potential “danger” was a one-time event or whether there were similar incidents in a specific period, emphasizes Urs Wagenseil of the University of Lucerne. Many countries once popular with tourists have all but disappeared from the tourist map over the years because of repeated dangers. “Tunisia, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Mexico have suffered from the fact that war and terror have repeatedly deterred tourists,” says the Swiss tourism researcher.
“Travel should bring joy, suffering and tragedy should be avoided. And since there are alternatives to all forms of travel, it is logical to avoid crisis areas,” says Wagenseil. Destinations shouldn’t focus too much on one type of attraction, she adds. “Those who can only offer sun, sand and sea should be aware that a temporary but total loss could be imminent in the event of local marine pollution,” warns the tourism expert.
Faults cannot be compensated
When travelers stay away from certain destinations, as they do now due to the war in Ukraine, countries that rely on tourism face hard times as compensation for lost revenue is only possible to a very limited extent – if at all. . The UN tourism agency says it is in contact with member countries to help them deal with the crisis and possibly reorient their marketing strategies. In addition, some countries have financial aid programs, but they usually only cover a fraction of the losses.
This state of affairs can change by attracting new target groups and travelers from other countries, but this takes time and requires significant funding. Two years into the pandemic, both have become a rare commodity.
This article has been translated from German.