What is the best city in Ukraine for foreigners

13.07.2018 Tourism boom in Odessa "thanks" to the annexation of Crimea

"It's amazing: Odessa was already full in the summer during the Soviet era, but the city has been really overcrowded since 2014," says Vitaly Chemij, an experienced television journalist from Odessa. With around one million inhabitants, Odessa is the third largest city in Ukraine. Founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great as a military port on the Black Sea, the city has gradually developed into a tourist "pearl on the Black Sea". Odessa's greatest competitor: the Crimea.

Odessa benefits from annexation of Crimea

But with the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, the tide turned: Due to the political situation, but above all due to the border between the Ukrainian mainland and the Crimea and the elimination of direct train and bus connections, the number of Ukrainian visitors has increased the peninsula is greatly reduced.

"And so Odessa has experienced an unexpectedly large increase in tourists - one that one could not have expected in advance," explains the journalist Chemij. This is also borne out by the official figures: while in 2013 only one million tourists visited the city of Odessa, in 2015 it was 1.8 million. And last year the city administration even reported 3.5 million visitors, around 60 percent of whom came from Ukraine.

Former Soviet beach as the main attraction

"Of course, the annexation of Crimea has something to do with it, but we as a city are constantly improving and presenting ourselves more and more beautifully," says Tetjana Markova, who is responsible for tourism in the Odessa city administration. She refers to the transformation of the always famous Arkadija beach in a modern vacation complex.

One of the largest beaches in the Soviet Union, where some well-known films were shot and the infrastructure of which was very outdated, became an entire district with countless restaurants, cafes, hotels and nightclubs. With "Ibiza" Odessa can now boast one of the most popular nightclubs in Eastern Europe.

Infrastructure has room for improvement

Journalist Vitaliy Chemij sees it differently: "In contrast to Lviv, I don't see that the city is really changing. There are private investments, but overall the infrastructure does not remain satisfactory."

Specifically, there are a lot of traffic jams, hotel spaces are insufficient and there is a lack of staff in cafes and restaurants in the city center. So is Odessa reaching its limits with 3.5 million tourists? "No," said Markova from the city administration. But there are also different opinions on this. The fact is: the hotels were fully booked in the high season.

Increase in foreign tourists too

In addition to domestic tourists, more and more tourists from abroad are coming to Odessa. "In 2014, foreigners were still a bit scared. Now everyone can see that Odessa is a safe city," emphasizes Markova. In 2018, 40 percent of tourists came from abroad.

Most of them come from Belarus, Romania, Israel and Turkey - and even the Russians are slowly returning. The increased focus on the Asian market also brought 20,000 tourists from China, for example. "Odessa is good enough for tourists from all over the world," the city administration said.

Low costs as an argument

While the prices in Odessa are at the level of the capital Kiev, the costs for foreigners are still within reasonable limits. From the point of view of the travel guide Leonid Baraz, this is the most important reason why you come to Odessa. Recently he had many tourists from Turkey, Israel, France and Lithuania. "For me, Odessa, with countless museums and theaters, is the cultural capital of Ukraine. Foreigners don't even visit it," Baraz regrets. "They spend their money on shopping and dining out because everything is cheap here."

Southern Ukraine also benefits

From a tourist point of view, it was not only Odessa that benefited from the annexation of Crimea. The travel business is now booming in a number of once insignificant small towns on the Black and Azov Seas in the southern Ukrainian administrative district of Kherson - such as in Zaliznyj Port, Skadowsk and Henitschensk. The entire Kherson region is now said to have more than 3.5 million visitors a year - the number of tourists has almost tripled compared to 2014. The same applies to the city of Berdyansk in the Zaporizhia administrative district, which has received only moderate visits in the past.

TV | 06/03/2018 | 17:30