UKRAINIAN TOURISM

AFP: Ukraine pins hopes on Gulf visitors for pandemic-hit tourism

The summer 2021 tourism season saw an unlikely boom in tourists from Saudi Arabia spending their holidays in Ukraine

AFP
Monday, 30 August 2021 20:26

Saudi tourists ride horse-drawn carriages, pose for portraits by street artists and play chess on benches with locals in Lviv, a city in Ukraine more accustomed to hosting European guests.

But with strict Covid-19 travel restrictions still in place across Europe, travellers from the Middle East -- especially Saudi Arabia -- now rank among the top visitors to the ex-Soviet state.

The trend has given hope to the country's pandemic-hit tourism industry.

"We need to seize the moment," says Bogdan Gets, a tour guide on a sightseeing train that ferries tourists along cobbled streets in central Lviv, a city in western Ukraine known for its Renaissance architecture.

For Gets and his colleagues at "Chudo Tour" (Wonder Tour), the unexpected influx of tourists from the Middle East is a chance to recover after a string of lockdowns that put pressure on Ukraine's struggling economy.

In the first half of 2021, the number of Saudi tourists alone visiting Ukraine skyrocketed to 14,000 compared to just 350 in the same period last year, according to the country's state tourism agency.

This new cohort are attracted by a visa-free regime enacted in August last year and cheap direct flights.

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