In recent years, an affluent middle class has settled in Russia, for whom vacations are important – from package holidays to luxury trips. Countries like Cuba, Indonesia, Thailand and Turkey have received ever-increasing numbers of Russian tourists. The Maldives, Seychelles and Sri Lanka have also attracted increasing numbers of Russian visitors, as has sun-drenched Cyprus in the Mediterranean, the United Nations Tourism Organization (UNWTO) told DW.
According to the most recent UNWTO figures for 2020, Russian tourists generated $14 billion (12.9 billion euros) in revenue worldwide and accounted for 3% of tourism revenue. Before the pandemic, Russian tourists generated more than double: $36 billion. Ukrainian travelers contributed another $8.5 billion, according to data from the World Tourism Organization.
Cuba has become a popular destination for Russian tourists in recent years
The tourist situation has changed in the aforementioned countries, since Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February. In Cyprus, Russian (20%) and Ukrainian (2%) guests represent a total of 22% of overnight stays. Turkey also risks running out of revenue. According to last year’s figures from the Turkish Statistical Authority, the country had about 4.7 million visitors from Russia, plus two million people from Ukraine.
Destinations are affected in different ways, explains Professor Urs Wagenseil of the Competence Center for Tourism at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. “Some regions like the southern coast of Turkey, Thailand or Bali will lose large numbers of tourists, while cities like St. Moritz, Sölden or Vienna will miss out on ‘upper class’ tourists. Either way , he adds, it is clear that these deficits cannot be compensated for “overnight”.
The effects are even more dramatic in Cuba. Russia has emerged as a beacon of hope for the tourism industry there after the pandemic caused visitor numbers to the Caribbean island to drop 70% in 2021. About 40% of all foreign tourists to Cuba came from Russia.
Thailand will likely suffer revenue losses as Russian tourists stay away
Diversification is key
In principle, it is always advisable for a country not to rely too much on holidaymakers from one country, says Professor Jürgen Schmude, President of the German Society for Tourism Research, in an interview with DW. “But this knowledge does not always translate into reality,” he adds.
Until the pandemic, the tourism sector had grown steadily over the past 20 years. Many countries had managed to diversify, underlines Jürgen Schmude. Turkey, for example, attracts around 4.5 million Russian tourists, as well as several million from other parts of the world.
Also in Cyprus, hoteliers and restaurateurs are relatively relaxed about future developments. Philokypros Roussounides, managing director of the Cyprus Hotel Association, said that thanks to better cooperation with France, Germany, Poland, Hungary and other European countries, Cyprus “will be better off in 2022 than the previous year, despite the absence of guests from Russia and despite rising energy prices.”
Conflict as a holiday “risk”
Another potential “danger” to planned vacations, according to those who analyze the tourism industry, are events that cast a negative light on vacation regions. Such hazards push tourists to cancel their planned stays. Events may include natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or floods. Man-made hazards, such as wars, terrorist attacks or political upheaval, can also upset travel plans.
It is striking, says Jürgen Schmude, that the further an event takes place from its home country, the more deterrent effect it has. “The further away the ‘danger’, the larger the space people consider ‘dangerous’,” he points out.
Tourism expert Jürgen Schmude says some countries have managed to diversify their tourism offerings in recent years
“Tourists have short memories”
However, when a hazard occurs, whether natural or man-made, it does not mean that the lack of tourists will be a lasting phenomenon. He cites the terrorist attacks in Paris as an example. “After the attacks of 2015, it took a very, very long time before tourists from Asia or America dared to come back to Europe. They thought that all of Europe was dangerous – travelers from neighboring countries of France had long since returned to the country as vacationers,” explains the tourism expert.
Basically, tourists have “short memories,” says Schmude. This means that after a relatively short period of time, their desire to travel again outweighs any concern about danger. “But travelers are more forgiving of natural hazards than man-made hazards,” he explains.
Professor Urs Wagenseil explains why some countries like Sri Lanka and Tunisia have lost tourists in recent years
And it is decisive whether the potential “danger” was a one-off event or whether there were similar incidents during a specific period, emphasizes Urs Wagenseil from the University of Lucerne. Many countries once popular with tourists have virtually disappeared from the tourist map over the years due to repeated hazards. “Tunisia, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Mexico have all suffered as war and terror have repeatedly deterred tourists,” says the Swiss tourism researcher.
“Travel is meant to bring joy; suffering and tragedy are to be avoided. And because there are alternatives for every form of travel, it makes sense to avoid crisis zones,” says Wagenseil. Destinations shouldn’t focus too heavily on one type of attraction, he adds. “Those who can only offer sun, sand and sea should be aware that a temporary but total loss may be imminent in the event of local marine pollution,” warns the tourism expert.
In Farmagusa, Cyprus, some hotels are 100% dependent on Russian tourists
Failures cannot be compensated
When travelers stay away from certain destinations, as they currently do due to the war in Ukraine, countries dependent on tourism face tough times, as compensation for lost income is only possible to a very limited extent, if at all. The UN tourism agency says it is in contact with member countries to help them deal with the crisis and possibly redirect their marketing strategies. Additionally, some countries have financial assistance programs, but these often only cover a fraction of losses.
This state of affairs could change by attracting new target groups and travelers from other countries, but this takes time and requires significant funding. After two years of the pandemic, the two have become a rare commodity.
This article has been translated from German.