The war in Ukraine has dealt a severe blow to the tourism industry in Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus.
Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for 10% of Turkey’s gross domestic product. In 2021, after COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted, around 4.7 million Russians and 2.1 million Ukrainians visited the country, accounting for a quarter of its 24.7 million foreign visitors this year.
Arab News reported that the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies expected 7 million Russians and 2.5 million Ukrainians to visit this year, and the industry posted $35 billion in revenue.
Although Turkey has not sanctioned Russia or closed its airspace to Russian airlines, the invasion of Ukraine has dashed hopes for a post-pandemic recovery.
Vietnam has also revised its estimates for the coming year. Khanh Hoa Province and Phu Quoc Island have long been popular with Russian tourists, as has the city of Phan Thiet, affectionately known as “Little Moscow”.
According to a 2019 Vietnam National Tourism Administration survey, Russians spent an average of $1,600 per stay, compared to the average foreign visitor who spent around $900.
Several Vietnamese travel agencies catering only to Russian visitors have sprung up over the years. But, on March 23 this year, in response to the war, Vietnam Airlines announced that it was suspending flights to and from Russia.
Similar scenes unfold 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 vacation destinations.
The state-run TASS news agency, citing Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency, said more than 85,000 Russian tourists were repatriated in March. The report says Egypt has the highest number of package tourists, around 4,000.
The repatriation process has, however, been complicated by new Western sanctions targeting planes that should be used for special flights from Egypt to Russia. Tour operators have to use different routes to transport stranded Russian tourists through third countries such as the United Arab Emirates, 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 United Nations World Tourism Organization said in a March 31 statement.
“The closure of Ukrainian and Russian airspace, as well as the banning of Russian carriers by many European countries, affect intra-European travel. It also causes detours on long-haul flights between Europe and East Asia, resulting in longer flights and higher costs.
“Russia and Ukraine together accounted for 3% of global international tourism spending in 2020 and at least $14 billion in global tourism revenue could be lost if the conflict continues.”
In Italy, where tourists are barely returning after two years of pandemic restrictions, the absence of Ukrainian and Russian tourists is palpable. The country joined other EU members in imposing sanctions on Russia and stopped dealing with Russian banks.
A report in The Guardian in the UK said that while Russians barely made up the top 20 for the number of visitors to Italy, in terms of time spent in the country they were ninth and, measured by economic impact overall, they were second, behind Germany.
“Traditionally, the average Russian visitor stayed in Italy for five or more days, compared to two or three in most other countries, and spent around 65% more money per day than the average tourist,” Costabile said. “I assure you that the absence of Russian visitors in the area will be felt.”
One place where Russians are always welcome is Dubai. Long a popular tourist destination for Russians and Ukrainians, the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates continues to be warm and welcoming to those with financial means.
The Ukrainian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates recently announced that Ukrainian tourists who arrived in the Gulf country before the war can apply for a one-year residency visa.
As for the more than 1,000 Ukrainians who were stranded in Dubai when the invasion began in February, aid agencies stepped in to house them or arrange tickets to Poland, where millions of Ukrainians displaced by war have found refuge.