One Year on, tourism stands firm in support of Ukraine

A Ukrainian fashion model walking through the runway during the Ukraine charity fashion show that was held on January 1, 2023 at Bahari Dhow Beach Villas in Diani, Kwale County. [Robert Menza, Standard]

This week, the world marks a sad anniversary. It has been one year since the Russian Federation chose to invade Ukraine, in a clear breach of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law.

The invasion has exacted a terrible price. Our report about the impact of the Russian offensive against Ukraine had grim statistics regarding the future of the tourism industry.

The report stated how the military offensive risked hampering the return of confidence to global travel with the US and Asian source markets being particularly impacted. These markets are historically more risk averse.

As source markets, the report added, Russia and Ukraine represent a combined three per cent of global spending on international tourism as of 2020. In 2019, Russian spending on travel abroad reached $36 billion and Ukrainian spending $8.5 billion. In 2020, these values were down to $9.1 billion and $4.7 billion, respectively.

A prolonged conflict could have led to a loss of close to $14 billion in tourism receipts globally in 2022.

The offensive led to high oil prices that fuelled global inflation and a rise in interest rates resulting in higher travel costs for consumers. This has had the undesired effects of suppressing tourism-related jobs and businesses.

Worse than the economic statistic though, is the direct human suffering caused by the war. Millions have been forced to flee their homes – right now around six million people, 65 per cent of them women and girls, are internally displaced. And the number of casualties keeps growing by the day, including civilian victims as homes and even hospitals are deliberately targeted.

The invasion has also created a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe not seen in Europe since World War II. And it has undermined the sense of security and trust we depend on to get the world moving again after the impacts of the pandemic.

From the very start, United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has led tourism’s response to the crisis. Our members moved swiftly to suspend Russia from our Organisation.

At the same time, stakeholders from across the sector rallied in support of the Ukrainian people.

As many as 8 million of them have sought refuge across Europe and UNWTO commends tourism actors who provided them with means of transport, accommodation and other practical assistance. We also thank the countries hosting refugees until returning is safe.

With no end in sight for the war, our solidarity must hold firm. This unwanted anniversary offers a moment to take stock and reflect. The past year has shown us the remarkable strength of a people determined to hold onto their freedom and sovereignty.

It has also shown us the importance of standing together, both as an international community and as a major economic sector, and staying true to our shared values whatever the cost.

With each passing day, the united front that much of the global community has adopted since the invasion is also under attack, especially as countries everywhere continue to feel the economic fallout of the conflict and its social cost.

That’s why UNWTO will continue to amplify tourism’s calls for peace and urge an immediate end to all hostilities. We will also be there when the war ends, as it surely will.

Then, tourism’s unique power, proven time and again, to build trust back, promote dialogue and understanding across borders, and provide opportunities, will be vital to help the people of Ukraine re-build the country they have already given so much to protect.