Ukraine war has dealt a major blow to the tourism industry in Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Egypt, and Cyprus.
Before the pandemic, tourism made up 10 percent of Turkey’s gross domestic product. In 2021, after the lifting of COVID-19 travel restrictions, about 4.7 million Russians and 2.1 million Ukrainians visited the country — accounting for a quarter of its 24.7 million foreign visitors that year.
Arab News reported that the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies had expected 7 million Russians and 2.5 million Ukrainians to visit this year, and the industry to post $35 billion in revenues.
Although Turkey has not sanctioned Russia nor closed its airspace to Russian airlines, the invasion of Ukraine has dashed hopes of a post-pandemic recovery.
Vietnam has likewise revised its estimates for the coming year. The province of Khanh Hoa and the island of Phu Quoc had long been popular among Russian tourists, as had the city of Phan Thiet, affectionately known as “Little Moscow.”
According to one survey by Vietnam’s National Administration of Tourism in 2019, Russians spent an average of $1,600 per stay compared to the average foreign visitor who spent around $900.
Several Vietnamese travel agencies catering solely to Russian visitors have sprung up over the years. But, on March 23 this year, in response to the war, Vietnam Airlines announced it was suspending flights to and from Russia.
Similar scenes are playing out in Thailand. On March 25, the South China Morning Post reported that more than 7,000 Russian tourists were stranded in the country’s once popular holiday destinations.
State-owned news agency TASS, citing the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism, said that more than 85,000 Russian tourists were repatriated in March. The report said that Egypt had the largest number of package tourists, around 4,000.
The repatriation process, however, has been complicated by new Western sanctions targeting the aircraft that are expected to be used for special flights from Egypt to Russia. Tour operators are having to use different routes to fly stranded Russian tourists through third countries such as the UAE, Turkey, the Maldives, and Thailand.
“The war in Ukraine poses new challenges to the global economic environment and risks hampering the return of confidence in global travel,” the UN World Tourism Organization said in a statement on March 31.
“The shutdown of Ukrainian and Russian airspace, as well as the ban on Russian carriers by many European countries, is affecting intra-European travel. It is also causing detours in long-haul flights between Europe and East Asia, which translates into longer flights and higher costs.
“Russia and Ukraine accounted for a combined 3 percent of global spending on international tourism in 2020 and at least $14 billion in global tourism receipts could be lost if the conflict is prolonged.”
In Italy, where tourists are only just returning after two years of pandemic restrictions, the absence of Ukrainian and Russian tourists is palpable. The country has joined other EU members in imposing sanctions on Russia and has stopped dealings with Russian banks.
A report in the UK’s The Guardian said while Russians hardly constituted the top 20 for numbers of visitors to Italy, in terms of time spent in the country they were ninth, and when measured by the overall economic impact they were second, behind only Germany.
“Traditionally the average Russian visitor stayed in Italy for five or more days, compared to two or three from most other countries, and they spent around 65 percent more money per day than the average tourist,” Costabile said. “I assure you, the absence of Russian visitors in the sector will be felt.”
One place where Russians are still welcome is Dubai. Long a popular tourism destination for both Russians and Ukrainians, the UAE’s commercial capital continues to be warm and welcoming for those with financial means.
The embassy of Ukraine in the UAE recently announced that Ukrainian tourists who arrived in the Gulf country before the war may apply for a one-year residency visa.
As for the more than 1,000 Ukrainians who found themselves stranded in Dubai when the invasion began in February, aid agencies stepped in to house them or arrange tickets to Poland, where millions of war-displaced Ukrainians have found refuge.