How Russia-Ukraine War Affects Tourism in Eastern Europe

To say the least, the years 2020 and 2021 were difficult for the tourism business. The global coronavirus pandemic resulted in massive losses. All eyes were on 2022, when pandemic-related limitations began to be eased, and the business appeared to be on the mend. Then, on February 24, Russia launched an attack on Ukraine.

DW investigates whether the war has displaced the flu as Europe’s vacation constraint. Travel to Central and Eastern Europe, particularly the countries surrounding Ukraine, may be avoided by tourists.

Many people may have wished for a holiday after two years of the pandemic. At the International Tourist Exchange (ITB), the world’s largest travel trade expo, which is being held online in Berlin through March 10, Germany’s Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck spoke about the opportunities that the tourism industry offers. “There is no better antidote to conflict than tourism,” Habeck said, adding that people can get new experiences and even form connections while traveling.

Tension affects tourism

Is it possible to travel to the Baltic nations or Ukraine’s immediate neighbors, such as Poland, Hungary, or Slovakia, despite the war? According to Samed Kizgin, a travel security expert, “nothing is working against it.” Kizgin is employed by A3M Global Monitoring, a firm that examines the safety of tour operators and other internationally active enterprises traveling to specific places. He points out that the German Foreign Office, for example, has not issued a travel warning. Refugee flows may, at most, result in limits in some places, therefore the decision is whether or not to migrate to adjacent nations.

Due to the pandemic, the number of tourists in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the rest of the world, has decreased dramatically in the last two years. Geopolitical tensions, however, play a role in the case of Ukraine’s neighbors, according to Kizgin: “Tourism in the region has been limited for years since the has been smoldering for a long time, and everyone knew there would be a huge bang at some point.”

From confidence to uncertainty

When people think of vacationing in Europe, they usually think of nations in the south, such as Spain, France, and Italy, because they attract the most tourists. Central and Eastern Europe lags behind, but is nevertheless a popular tourist destination. When it comes to wellness stays and city breaks, Hungary and the Czech Republic are in high demand. Poland is famed for its capitals such as Krakow and Warsaw, as well as its Baltic Sea coast villages. Romania and Bulgaria, on the other hand, are popular with beachgoers due to their proximity to the Black Sea. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which border Russia and Belarus in the north, tend to appeal to individuals who love expansive landscapes and tranquil cities with plenty of hiking and riding opportunities.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism can be seen in the two countries bordering Ukraine that are popular with tourists, Hungary and Poland. According to Eurostat, approximately 900,000 tourists visited Hungary and Poland during the summer months of 2019. In 2020, the country had approximately a third of the growth of the previous year, and 2021 was similarly sluggish. Those who did arrive were mostly from within Europe. “We had very strong growth in the Chinese market before the pandemic; unfortunately, this market completely collapsed,” says Konrad Guldon, the head of the Polish Tourist Office in Berlin, to DW.

Then, at the beginning of 2022, pandemic limitations were eased. With the fighting in Ukraine, though, uncertainty came in. However, according to Guldon, it is too early to predict whether people will cancel their travel plans as a result. He does not believe the crisis is having an impact on vacationers in Poland. While Ukrainian refugees are being housed in hotels and guesthouses, the tourism expert adds that “it has no impact on resorts that are normally booked by German or other international customers.” In addition, popular tourist areas such as the Baltic Sea coast, the Krkonoe Mountains, and the Hirschberg Valley do not share a boundary with Ukraine.

The idea of going on vacation feels far away

While it is too early to predict the war’s influence on the 2022 holiday season, Anke Budde, Vice President of Germany’s Federal Association of Independent Travel Entrepreneurs, observes the first clouds accumulating in the previously blue sky. She had the impression that people are no longer making reservations. “It’s like shock paralysis,” Budde adds in a DW interview. Many people are simply busy with the conflict, and many are involved in voluntary work, so taking a vacation seems far away to them, she says.

There is a third challenge, in addition to the pandemic and the war: rising raw material prices. “The expense of heating is rising, as is the cost of gasoline. As a result, people have less and less money “Budde explains. This could raise travel costs, though TUI, the world’s largest travel company, warned DW that travels from Northern Europe to Spain, Italy, and Greece in the south are more likely to be affected.

The human aspect

Jochen Szech is the president of the Alliance of Independent Travel Entrepreneurs and the founder of Go East Reisen, a German travel agency focused on Eastern Europe. His concerns aren’t only about money. Despite the fact that no travel warnings have been issued for the Baltic countries or Poland, he has seen few new bookings.

He is primarily concerned with the war’s human toll; he has been offering visits to Ukraine and Russia for nearly three decades. “There are a lot of people I know there. For me, this is unfathomable “In an interview with DW, Szech adds. He tried for three days to contact someone at his Ukrainian partner company. He eventually succeeded, and he discovered that his colleague had been busy planning the safe evacuation of his family. During the video chat with the contact person of his Russian partner company, with whom he has been working for 20 years, she fell into tears. Her boss had just informed her that he was laying off all of his employees since tourists were no longer visiting Russia.

These anecdotes demonstrate once again that there are no winners in war, no matter which side of the battle you are on or how far away you are from the actual crisis region. The tourism business is likely to be impacted by the war, but the extent of the impact is unknown.

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