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Henry M. Robert

2014 Crimea holiday season fizzles

As a resort, the peninsula is just of no interest to Russia
7 May, 2014 - 18:06

The self-proclaimed authorities of Crimea announced a month ago that, while the Crimean resorts had hosted 6 million guests in 2013, they would do at least 8 million in 2014. This sector’s experts immediately cast doubt on this forecast. Oleksandr Liyev, ex-minister for resorts and tourism of Crimea, said the peninsula would manage to attract not more than a million visitors. Firstly, whoever has access to real, not advertisement-oriented, statistics knows that in 2013 there were 2 to 3, not 6, million tourists. As for the fantastic figure of 8 million, Crimea hosted that many guests only in the rare, most favorable, Soviet years – in the 1960s-1970s and the early 1980s – when 90-95 percent of the vacationers were visiting on a self-catering basis, asked for no service, stayed in camp tents, cooked food on oil stoves or bonfires, basked on beaches all days long, refrained from conducted tours, gorged on Crimean fruits, and were proud of and bragged about “black” suntan after coming back home.

However, when the brand-new Crimean bosses sobered up, they saw on Eastertide that the springtime season had already fizzled, the summer contracts signed in winter and spring had been canceled, there would be no global cruises from Yalta, and only a fraction of the usual number of vacationers had booked hotels for the May Day holiday. Rustam Temirgaliev, vice premier of the self-proclaimed Council of Ministers, “modified” his forecast the other day, saying that 4, not 8, million would surely come. Why four, incidentally?


Crimean resorts are showing two trends today. On the one hand, all the achievements of the previous minister Oleksandr Liyev, who has moved to Kyiv now, have been lost completely. We must give him his due: none of the other previous ministers had ever made so much effort to upgrade this sector, breathe a European style into it, set up modern-level hotels, train the European-style staff who speak foreign languages, and work out new standards and categories. Last summer the Yalta seaport’s roadstead was full, as never before, of gigantic cruise liners that used to bring thousands of tourists and millions of dollars to Crimea. Liyev, who has become a really profound theoretician and experienced practitioner in the field of health resorts, is still trying to give the Crimean authorities some advice. He suggests that the sector be viewed as both an “instrument of the domestic and foreign policy” and an “EU standards laboratory.” But all this is gone. We can kiss goodbye to the money the European Union earmarked for resort modernization. Crimean resorts have encountered a force majeure that has dropped the old reality and is forming a new one.

Today, the new “Crimean authorities,” mostly composed of dilettantes who can excel in protest rallies but not in real work, have other things to do than to care about resorts as a subtle system. They are so far facing the consequences of their coup and the Russian annexation of Crimea, but their destiny only depends on how soon Russia understands that they are dilettantes and unable to cope with Crimean problems.

Another particularity of this sector is that Moscow does not view Crimea as a future resort. All the Crimeans were outraged by Vladimir Putin’s words that Crimean resorts were only used by some “coal miner” who would “knock back a glass” and go swimming or sunbathing. Putin simply forgets that he still remembers the Crimea of perhaps the 1960s, when it was crawling with coal miners from northern Russia, who had come to the peninsula to spend their “fast bucks.” Their cultural level was just in line with Putin’s current imaginations.


As a resort, Crimea is just of no interest to Russia, perhaps for some exceptions. For example, there may be a greater demand in Russia for the unique mud cure resorts Saky and Yevpatoria, where Russian wounded soldiers and officers, Afghan war veterans, and spinal disability patients will be restoring their health because there are no such resources in Russia. There may be a demand for Yevpatoria children’s resorts because Russia’s only resort of this kind in Anapa is full to capacity. The famous Artek summer camp may be given some impetus as a publicity ploy, some showpiece tsarist museums and VIP dachas may be also put on public view. And that’s all. This accounts for less than 20-25 percent of Crimea’s recreational facilities.

Like in the Soviet era, there will be hardly any development of such resort regions as Northern Crimea’s Azov Sea coast, Western Crimea, and the Kerch area. These places are already being converted into military zones. Even today, Crimea is full of Russian troops that are being continuously transported across the Strait of Kerch. It is planned to restore some military factories, including the long-idling torpedo plant in Ordzhonikidze, other former Soviet installations in Feodosia, Sevastopol, and other regions. Some military airfields will be refurbished and a Black Sea Fleet modernization base is to be enlarged. It may be supposed that tourists will be ferrying across the Strait of Kerch in the summer together with tanks, APCs, rocket launchers, and hosts of soldiers. Nobody is exactly bursting to vacation in a place where sabers are rattling.

Andrii Klymenko, a well-known Crimean journalist, board chairman of the Taurida Institute of Regional Development, has said to FaceNews: “Russia wants to set up a military base in Crimea. It is possible that three bomber regiments, which include strategic nuclear missile carriers, will be stationed there. It is also probable that a nuclear weapons storage base will be de-mothballed in the valley Kiziltash between Sudak and Feodosia. Crimea will be a gray zone like Transnistria, which will not be receiving cruise liners and foreign merchant vessels. Nor will Aeroflot be making its flights. This company has already been forbidden to make foreign flights, and Simferopol airport has ceased to be international. In the long run, this will immensely complicate railway traffic across Ukraine, only leaving a corridor to Taman via Kerch.”

What also threatens resorts is a crisis of the entire Crimean infrastructure – water supply has been upset, many of them receive water for one hour once in 24 hours, and there will be an acute shortage of it in the summer. The banking system has ground to a halt, and 3-, 4- and 5-star hotels refused the other day to deal with pay cards. More than 50 well-known trademarks have discontinued their business in Crimea. Even today, the “government” has difficulty in supplying Crimea with foodstuffs, essential goods, and

Gasoline, and in the summer the influx of vacationers will raise the demand for these items two- to threefold. So the suppliers will have a still greater difficulty and all the consumer goods will be in shortage.


Aware of being unable to keep up Crimea, Putin has cut by 75 percent the funds allocated for the construction of the Murmansk transport junction and has in fact refused to urgently build a bridge over the Strait of Kerch – the Russian and Crimean self-proclaimed authorities are franticly looking for ways to attract if not foreign than at least Russian tourists to Crimea.

Sociologists point out that, just a month after the annexation, Russia has already accumulated a potential for the movement “Enough to feed Crimea.” According to a recent survey by the All-Russian Center of Public Opinion Polls, 8 percent of the respondents believe that Crimea and Sevastopol must not receive aid from the federal center, 45 percent think these regions can well take care of themselves, while another 45 percent do not think so. More than a half of Russians – 63 percent – believe that Crimea and Sevastopol “are not eligible for additional governmental funds and must receive the same financial support as other regions do.”

Russia is now doing its utmost to divert as many tourists as possible to Crimea. Russian airlines have canceled the VAT on air tickets and introduced a single fare for Crimea-bound flights – over the Black Sea rather than over Ukraine, which makes the fly time one hour longer. Russian railways have introduced a single combined ticket for some very uncomfortable routes, also bypassing Ukraine, which makes a trip considerably longer but its price includes traveling by train, ferry, motor ship, and bus. Russian travel companies have already denied many people the possibility of vacationing in Turkey on May Day, taking advantage of Turkey’s new requirements about the validity of passports. Naturally, the companies advise these people to travel to Crimea instead.

But what pleased Crimea the most is another innovation which has nothing to do with transport but can bring at least 4 million tourists to the peninsula – the number that the quick-on-the draw Temirgaliev immediately announced. Russia has unexpectedly banned all its uniformed servicemen (army, police, security service, drug traffic control service, etc.) from traveling abroad. Analysts believe this is caused by the necessity to fill Crimea in the summer. The ban is so far of a temporary and advisory nature, but the boss’s advice in Russia is considered stricter than an order. Where do you think will the Russian uniformed servicemen, who number an estimated average of 4 million, rush to for a summer vacation? Of course, to Crimea.

However, analysts do not think that this artificial salvation of the resort will change the heart of the matter.

By Mykyta HORENKO, The Day
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