In a peculiar twisted turn of fortune, Russia’s annexation of Crimea has been a boost for Ukraine’s seaside city of Odessa, now the country’s top summer holiday destination.

One of Ukraine’s most scenic spots, Odessa is known for its rich history, cultural activities, architecture, beaches, cuisine and entertainment industry. It is also Ukraine’s largest port and therefore a trade, logistics and business hub.

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According to aviation publication Anna.Aero, Odessa is leading Ukraine’s air traffic recovery since a nationwide low in 2014. Indeed, Odessa’s air traffic increased the most, by 32.5%, compared to a meagre average of 3.8% across most Ukrainian airports.

Odessa’s tourism industry has exponentially grown since 2000. Compared to 250,000 in 2003, Odessa received 1.2 million tourists in 2015, mainly from Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Turkey.

As the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) reports, Ukraine’s tourism industry is expected to increase by 6.5% annually over the next 10 years, compared with 3.7% for Europe as a whole.

Programme for change

Despite this optimism, locals such as Ivan Liptuga, Odessa’s ambitious head of tourism, contend that the city’s tourism potential and newfound opportunity risks being squandered. He explains that Odessa’s marketing and infrastructure, from its roads, airport and information services, are unprepared for the visitor influx. For example, in August 2015 garbage disposal was embarrassingly ineffective. 

Similarly, Odessa’s hospitality services are often overwhelmed and unsuited to many foreigners, not least because knowledge of English and other languages is uncommon.

Despite this, prices are comparatively high, thereby blunting Odessa’s competitive edge when it could be the region’s best-value destination, especially in light of Turkey’s suffering tourist industry.

Addressing these ills, Mr Liptuga has sought local and foreign investment: Ukraine’s government devotes little funds to tourism. Using EU grants, he recently passed a 28-point, four-year Tourism Development Programme, worth several million dollars. Moreover, a new airport terminal is under construction and foreign, low-cost airlines such as Austrian Airlines are being attracted, through an Open Skies agreement.

Echoing Mr Liptuga, the WTTC strongly advises “Ukraine’s government to increase investment in tourism”, relevant “infrastructure development”, “polices that allow visa-free travel” and “public and private sector [co-operation] to plan effectively and price competitively”.