Tourism Business in Times of War: A Ukrainian Perspective

Tourism Business in Times of War: A Ukrainian Perspective

Suddenly everything changed. A full-scale war put Ukrainians' lives on hold. The initial months were filled with nothing but news, donation, volunteering, concern for family members, and profound sadness. Days flew by in the blink of an eye as everyone was stressed-out and had no idea how to live on. When the primary reason for traveling overseas is evacuation, and hotels are crowded with people who have been forcibly removed, how does the tourism industry "survive"?

Tourism expert and guide of "Free tours Kyiv," Anna Shurubei, shared her experience in an interview about the difficult period that befell the tourism business, and what awaits Ukraine in the future.


Impact of War on the Tourism Industry

In terms of Ukraine's economy, tourism contributes a sizeable portion of the budget. The growth of numerous infrastructure components, such as commercial businesses, dining establishments, etc., is fueled by tourism. In addition to creating conditions for businesses functioning in sectors that collaborate with the tourism industry, it also offers numerous employment prospects.

The beginning of the military invasion forced Ukrainians, almost entirely, to forget about tourism. Forced fleeing abroad replaced voluntary travel. For a very long time, travel agencies haven't considered starting up their primary operations again. The Russian Federation's invasion poses many hazards to global tourism, including rising oil and gasoline prices, challenging logistics, and the disruption of well-established travel routes.

Discussing the future of Ukrainian tourism is difficult under the current conditions of war. A full-scale conflict spells "dark" times for the tourism industry, even more so than the challenges brought by the Coronavirus outbreak. However, the Ukrainian tourism business did survive the pandemic, and following the conclusion of hostilities, Ukraine will have huge potential to become a well-liked travel destination.

It is crucial to keep at least some tourism activity going and focus resources on its recovery after a trying time, both for the economy and society. Find out more by reading the conversation with Anna Shurubei.

Challenges Faced by Ukrainian Tourist Businesses

Challenges Faced by Tourism Businesses

Could you please tell us about yourself and your experience in tourism?

My name is Anna Shurubei, and I became a guide for "Free tours Kyiv" in 2017. It was a life-changing experience for me, one of the best jobs I have ever had.

We know that you've continued providing tours, to some extent, during the ongoing war. Did you stop operating for a while after the war began or continue working?

When the war began, I did a few live streams. I won't hide it, it was challenging to do this because I was distraught and even cried, but I considered it necessary to tell people worldwide the truth. Many of our guides left Ukraine, but we continued our existence and work. That is, even some websites promoted the tours that we conducted. I was surprised when we got the first booking for a tour about two or three months after the war began.

In fact, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have had few tourists, and there were even times when there were none at all for a very long time. Then, little by little, we started to take small groups, and when everything, as it were, began to recover, the war came. So we didn't have more than 5 tours after February 24, but we still had them, and that's more than 0!

War in Ukraine and tourism business

How has the current crisis affected you and your employees, and how have you responded to it?

The war had a tremendous effect on our business, but it was not the war that began to change it. It must be said that at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, many guides did not change their profession, which also happened to me. After all, at first, we all expected that it would pass relatively quickly, but over time we realized that it would not be like that.

Some businesses were reviving, but we still had no people. If before the coronavirus, I had groups of 50 people, then after the coronavirus, if we had 10 people in the group, it was just a gift of fate. Therefore, of course, the world around us was changing, and we had to adapt to it. Actually, many people just found new jobs, some started working in two places simultaneously, and some just finished work and left the country.

 Interview with a guide from Ukraine

Has the size of your team reduced since the war began?

Most of our employees have left the country, and as a result, our team has significantly decreased. The fact that I am responsible for social networks became a lifesaver for me at the beginning of the war. I felt it was my mission to spread the word among our audience; we have a little more than four thousand followers in the Facebook group.

We had a tour guide I could contact if I got a booking, but during the war months, we had about five bookings for tours, so it didn't happen often. But recently, the last guide went to war, so this is the current situation.

How has the war impacted your plans for future growth? Do you anticipate a strong tourism sector after the war? 

It seems to me that if there are positive consequences of this terrible unjust war, it is that many people in the world will learn what Ukraine is and what Ukrainians are. Therefore, I think that tourist demand will increase as a result. 

Of course, there is a question of when that will happen, but I think we will have hundreds of thousands tourists worldwide in a few years. Ukraine and Kyiv are places that many foreigners haven't heard of before or don't think are worth visiting, but I always tell people that our city is underrated, as well as our country and people. Now, everything will be different. We have shown our glory to the whole world. 

Excursions about the war in Ukraine

Do you plan to create new types of tours for tourists after the war? 

As for plans, it is difficult to say anything now, because most of the team and our manager have been forced to leave the country and go abroad. So, it all depends on how the hostilities go and how soon we get the victory. Although it's all individual, our company has existed for more than 10 years, and I think there is a chance that we will revive the tours. As a former guide, I can say this is a unique experience for Ukraine. I was attracted to the tours because there was an opportunity to share my culture with others, to tell the story of how it all happened, not as foreigners heard it somewhere through the mouthpiece of Russian propaganda. So, I think that everything depends on many factors, but there's hope that everything will be revived.

Before that, we had six itineraries, but I think it will be an essential step to create a tour that will be dedicated to the war. I believe that this is what foreigners will expect when they come to Ukraine, to Kyiv. So, if we start working from scratch, I think we will definitely have to think about such a new, engaging, and important route.

What advice would you give to Ukrainian companies that have decided to stop doing business in cities that are considered relatively safe? Perhaps you have essential words of motivation for your colleagues?

If we talk about the tourism business, it has been suffering for three years now, and I feel it very much from my own experience. In today's context, it is not surprising that people no longer want to do this and why they move to another job or business. There are many unemployed people, and the salaries are not the best. There are certain realities, and it is currently quite difficult in Ukraine.

Of course, I wish that people do not give up because now we have many examples of people who inspire others not to stop and to believe. Therefore, please, do not lose hope!

Tourism in Ukraine


Yes, fear and pain entered Ukrainian lives on February 24, and they had no idea how to live or find the strength to smile. Many businesses had to reduce staff, relocate, or radically change their activities; many ended up in occupation, damaged, or destroyed. The future Ukrainian perspective of the tourism business also remains somewhat ambiguous.

Closed airspace, political instability, payment issues, and a precarious security environment seemed to negate all of the prerequisites for tourism's "survival." Major devastation, on the one hand, destroys people’s quality of life, but on the other hand, it can help Ukraine develop its brand as a tourism destination, positively impact international relations, and attract the attention of not only the country but also of ordinary foreigners. Despite all the complexity of the circumstances, the Ukrainian tourism business continues to function, meanwhile giving Ukraine a positive economic impact. It adapts to new realities, looking for workarounds, enabling further development, and focusing on the same thing: victory!
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