The tourism numbers for Crimea’s early May holiday season are looking grim and are shaping up as a major setback for the Kremlin.
Despite massive Kremlin subsidies and an advertising blitz to entice tourists, hotels, guest houses and sanatoria on the peninsula were less than one-third full in early May, compared with the same period in 2013.
“Only 28-30 percent of rooms [at hotels and sanatoria] are occupied, which is a drop of 2-2.5 times compared to last year,” Igor Kotlar, Deputy Minister of Resorts and Tourism of Crimea, said at a recent meeting of the peninsula’s Council of Ministers. “The number went up a little during the May holidays, but the increase was also smaller than last year.”
According to Rustem Abkadyrov, who owns a resort property in Crimea’s town of Sudak, up to 80 guests would normally stay at his property during May holidays, including tourists from Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and Poland. This year, there were only seven visitors, mostly from Russia.
“Seventy five percent of visitors were normally from Ukraine; this year, none of them has so far expressed a desire to come,” Vesti.ua quoted Abkadyrov as saying.
“Even the Russians who booked rooms could not get here: they were delayed at the Kerch crossing for 24 hours and cancelled,” he added, waving his hands in despair.
Kotlar’s boss, Crimea’s Minister of Resorts and Tourism Elena Yurchenko, hopes to save the 2014 tourist season by attracting tourists from Ukraine. She stated that Ukrainians traditionally accounted for about two-thirds of tourists vacationing in Crimea, and pledged that “we will attract Ukrainian tourists this year too, as long as [the authorities] do not put obstacles at the border.”
Yurchenko’s prediction seems to be based more on wishful thinking than reason. Very few Ukrainians have visited Crimea so far this year, whereas up to 4 million used to vacation at the peninsula’s resorts annually before the annexation.
Meanwhile, transportation hassles are hindering many Russians, especially those wanting to drive, from booking a Crimean vacation.
Both the transport issue and the loss of Ukrainian tourists are direct results of Russia’s aggressive posturing toward Ukraine, a stance that shows little sign of abating. The flat May holiday season bodes ill for the Crimean economy and the Kremlin. Up to 70 percent of Crimea’s residents rely on tourism for income and a failed tourist season can quickly turn their pro-Moscow attitudes into anti-Kremlin resentment.