Travel

The Rise of Ukraine as a Potential Tourism Market for Croatia

By 11 October 2020
The Rise of Ukraine as a Potential Tourism Market for Croatia
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October 11, 2020 - There was not a lot of good news in the 2020 tourism season, but one positive trend is worth further investigation - the steadily increasing number of visitors to Croatia from Ukraine. 

With the devastating effects of the pandemic, there has been little comfort to be taken from official tourism statistics this year. But if you look a little closer, there are some interesting seeds of hope. 

With such a marked turndown in tourist arrivals, is it possible, for example, to find a country whose nationals visited in greater numbers in 2020 (which has still got three months of statistics to report) than 2016?

There is at least one such country, whose tourists have been discovering Croatia in ever greater numbers without any significant (if indeed any at all) tourism promotion from Croatia in the market. 

Ukraine. 

And wherever I went this summer, the subject of Ukrainian tourists popped into the conversation. The third biggest market in Dubrovnik's luxury tourism market, according to two 5-star hotel general managers? That would be Ukraine.

The only airline which responded magnificently to Croatia's overnight decision to introduce PCR tests was Windrose from Ukraine, who arranged for tests for all passengers, then delayed the flight until the results were in. 

The Total Croatia Travel Info Viber community was at one point flooded by Ukrainian tourists with questions about getting PCR tests on the drive from Kiev - they were at one point the most active nationality in the group. our Viber community has been an extremely good finger on the pulse of what has been happening in tourism in Croatia this year, and it first alerted me to the Ukrainian factor. 

And while the numbers are not huge compared to Croatia's main markets, they have been growing steadily in recent years - at least until the disaster that is 2020. But even with all the travel restrictions, more Ukrainians have visited Croatia this year so far than in 2016. Had there been no corona, that number would have been significantly higher. 

Year - No of Tourists - Overnights

2014 - 52,120 - 360,276

2015 - 53,298 - 354,761

2016 - 66,260 - 440,330

2017 - 81,149 - 499,652

2018 - 105,160 - 643, 263

2019 - 135,035 - 817,350

2020 - 75,375 - 486,074 (January to September)

Back in 2016, Ukraine was Croatia's 31st largest market. In 2020, it is 14th. 

There are several factors which make Ukraine an interesting market which is perhaps worth taking a closer look at for Croatia's tourism strategy. 

Firstly, Ukraine used to have its own excellent domestic beach destination - Crimea. That came to a screeching halt with Russia's annexation of the peninsula back in 2014.

Ukraine has a special visa-free relationship with Croatia, which is a huge attraction for would-be tourists from Ukraine, where visas are often a major deterrent (to give a start example, passenger traffic at Pula Airport dropped by 40% after Croatia's EU entry in 2013, as Russian tourists could no longer visit without a visa). Ukrainians with a biometric passport can now enjoy a visa-free trip to Croatia.  

There has been a marked increase in seasonal flights from Ukraine to the Adriatic coast in recent years, as Ukrainians look for alternative summer destinations. Windrose has been at the forefront of that, and the airline has also just introduced regular flights through the winter from Kyiv to Zagreb, as many other airlines are cancelling. 

What surprised me the most from the Viber community feedback, however, was just how many tourists drive from Ukraine to Croatia. It is quite a drive, some 17 hours from Kiev to Zagreb, for example, with the coast a little further. The enticing Adriatic must be worth it, however, as they are coming in increasing numbers.

Ukrainians obviously like what they see, and all the ingredients are there for a campaign to build on that initial interest with an effective campaign. Regular flights, a destination which is driveable, a luxury market to target - there is plenty of potential to develop. If Ukrainians are coming during a pandemic with little to no promotion, what could be achieved in 2021 with a little advertising and the viurs (hopefully) much less of a factor in our daily lives?

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