Odessa: How is the tourism industry dealing with the war?

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Before the war started, dozens of tourists visited Odessa to relax and do sightseeing. Guests would enjoy the beach, explore the historic center or travel to nearby Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi to see Ukraine’s largest fortress. But those days are over – the atmosphere in the city has clearly changed. I used to work as a tourist guide and write travel articles and remember the beginning of the invasion when everything changed in my hometown Odessa.

Confusion and disorientation

There was complete confusion and disorientation in the city – with queues in supermarkets as people stockpiled produce fearing possible food shortages. Likewise, dozens of local residents lined up to withdraw cash in the event of a banking system failure. I was also completely lost, as I had no clear understanding of how my future and work would be affected.

The streets were almost empty, only supermarkets and pharmacies remained open. Everything else – cafes, restaurants, theaters, nightlife – was closed. People only went out to buy food or walk their dogs. March was stressful, but as April approached, the situation slowly started to change, with the opening of cafes, beauty parlors and shops. People started going outside again, locals flocked back to parks and children returned to playgrounds.

The current situation in Odessa

Today, the semblance of normal life has returned: restaurants on the main streets have reopened their terraces, you can listen to buskers again, attend an opera or ballet performance or take a bus tour of the city. But the war continues. Therefore, there are still barricades near administrative buildings, and Primorskyi Boulevard – one of the most emblematic and popular tourist sites of the city – remains closed.

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Most cafes and restaurants close at 10 PM at the latest, because a curfew starts at 11 PM, after which you are not allowed on the street. Before the war, summer evenings in Odessa were dominated by parties, open-air movies on the beach and concerts. On such evenings it was enchanting to stroll through the inner city. Now there is no nightlife at all – just an eerie silence.

How the war affected tourism

The tourist peak season in Odessa has always been the summer period, from May to September. In 2021, more than 3 million people visited Odessa, almost as many as in pre-COVID times. Initially, this year was expected to be a good year for tourism, after coronavirus restrictions eased and the industry began to recover. But then Russia invaded my country.

Today, most seaside hotels, such as Hotel Nemo, which was very popular in the pre-war era, suffer from low occupancy rates. Hotels in the city center, the historic part of Odessa, fare slightly better, with foreign journalists and some Ukrainian travelers staying there.

“Our hotel occupancy dropped to 15-20%, and it is mainly journalists who book at the Alexandrovskiy hotel. Hotel M1, located next to the beach, is especially busy with travelers from Kiev,” said Tatyana Prodan, head of sales at the Maestro Hotel Management group, which runs the establishments.

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No more swimming in the Black Sea

Tourism in Odessa has also suffered as it is strictly forbidden to swim in the sea while it is being mined. Before the war, in the summer, the beaches were full of visitors. Now it’s very different.

Some daring people, despite the ban, go to the beach and even go swimming. But there have been tragic cases of people killed by sea mines. Some hotels are now offering daily pool passes as an alternative.

Culture and leisure in Odessa . in wartime

Museums remain closed and some have already moved their collections to safe places, such as the Museum of Fine Arts or the Museum of Western and Eastern Art. “Even before the invasion began, museums had a plan to act in such a situation. But the outbreak of war still came as a shock,” explains Stanislav Kinka, senior scientific fellow at the Museum of Regional History in Odessa. The main priority was to ensure that the most valuable exhibits were packed and evacuated as quickly as possible according to pre-compiled lists. The museum is closed to visitors.

Nightclubs are not allowed to throw parties. However, the Philharmonic Theater will remain open. And in Odessa’s city garden park, open-air concerts for charity are held.

Sandbags surround Odessa’s opera and ballet theater, which has limited attendance to 30% for security reasons. When a siren sounds from the air raid siren, the performances are stopped and visitors are given the choice to leave the building or go to the shelter under the theater. If the air raid siren lasts less than an hour, the show will resume, otherwise it will be stopped and visitors with the same ticket can go to another performance.

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New reality

For me, I would normally guide groups of foreign travelers through Odessa during the summer season. I would organize up to three excursions a day for Ukrainian tourists on weekends. With the outbreak of the war I lost this job and if I’m honest I can’t imagine when I’ll be able to get back to my old routine of giving tours, especially to foreign travelers. I am sure that visitors from abroad are very eager to see Ukraine and that many people will come, but this cannot happen until the war is over and it is perfectly safe to travel here.

Until then, we will continue to live with two realities: While restaurants and the Opera remain open, deadly rocket attacks remain a constant threat. We have complete uncertainty about what tomorrow might bring as the situation on the front lines changes every day.

Edited by: Susan Bonney-Cox

The post Odessa: How is the tourism industry coping with the war? appeared first on Deutsche Welle.

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