"Under the guise of a tourist blockade". The fourth (off-)season in the Crimea 07/25/2017 23:33:00. Total views 1392. Views today — 0.

The height of the tourist season is in the Crimea right now: thermometers show a 30-degree heat, markets are full with Crimean berries and fruits, and sea, as local residents note, is warm like fresh milk. The only thing is that fewer people come to the peninsula to enjoy all the delights of the resort life.

For example, Oleg Safonov, the so-called Head of the Russian Federal Agency of Tourism, speaks of a 4% decline in the tourist flow to the Crimea compared to the previous season. Given the constant drop in the tourist flow since the beginning of the peninsula annexation, such an official statement of the Russian official says a lot - at least that Russia can no longer state publicly that "everything is good in the Crimea and there are many tourists there". It will be too hypocritical even for a local resident. But Russian authorities do not hurry to admit their mistakes. They found a more sophisticated explanation…

The Kremlin started new topic - the so-called tourist blockade of the Crimea on the part of Ukraine. A few days ago, the Russian media broke out with headlines: "The situation is quite tense: Ukraine was accused of tourist blockade of the Crimea", "Kyiv authorities are trying to prevent the trips of Ukrainian tourists to Crimean resorts", "The tourist blockade of the Crimea will lie "on the shoulders and pockets" of Ukrainians", "the Crimean authorities reported on the preparation of Ukraine's tourist blockade of the region" and so on.

"Kyiv has taken a shot to organize a new blockade of the peninsula, this time a tourist one. Our sources from the employees of the State Border Service of Ukraine report that they received the order from the Kyiv leadership to create artificial barriers", - the so-called head of the Crimean State Committee for Interethnic Relations Zaur Smirnov stated.

The reason for this topic was a statement from the Crimean border department of the FSB of the Russian Federation that Ukrainians spend hours at border check points waiting in kilometer queues to travel to the Crimea. Waiting time in the queue before the "Chonhar" checkpoint on July 15 was allegedly 13 hours because of the obstacles of the Ukrainian border guards.

In turn, Ukrainian border guards accused the so-called "authorities" of the Crimea in creating artificial queues on the administrative border.

"The occupants traditionally start new week with the creation of artificial queues", - the assistant to the head of the Azovo-Chernomorskyi regional department for media relations of the State Border Service of Ukraine Maksym Soroka stated.

The State Border Service of Ukraine also notes a gradual decrease in passenger and transport flow across the administrative border compared to last year.

However, as OstroV has understood, the situation with tourists in Crimea looks ambiguous this year. And the Russian bogus stories about the tourist blockade have its own explanation.

Russians are less eager to go to the Crimea

And the explanation is simple - fewer Russians are going to the Crimea. It would seem that the citizens of Russia should have a lot of reasons for choosing the Crimean peninsula as a place for vacation: "spiritual bonds", absence of visas, native land, "remember the childhood", "support the Russian economy" and so on. However, as the local realtors told OstroV, there are fewer such people every year. The reason is simple: Russians do not get richer from year to year, but the rest in the Crimea becomes more expensive. Just according to official data, housing prices rose by 10-15% compared with 2016. And this is only the top of the iceberg. After all, the most important item of expenditure is food. Russians earlier went to Crimea not only for the sea and the sun, but also for fruits, berries and vegetables, prices for which were many times greater in Russia.

"I remember well how Russians brought boxes of grapes, figs, peaches and apricots instead of souvenirs before the annexation of the Crimea. Especially Muscovites and those who came from the northern regions of Russia. They also bought Crimean wine. They said that they could feel themselves "millionaires" and eat fruits for a year ahead only in the Crimea", - the Crimean resident Vladislav recalls.

So now the situation has radically changed, and Crimeans are ready (and some do it) to go to Russia and Ukraine for cheap fruits, vegetables and wine. And Russians, who come to the peninsula, "go crazy" from local prices, especially when they are told about local salaries.

"The prices became equal to those in Moscow, and this is said not by us, but by the visitors from Moscow. They do not understand how local people can survive here. Of course, getting a salary of $500 a month, Muscovites can still normally rest in the Crimea, but we get $250 at best - half as much", - the resident of Sevastopol Svetlana admits.

Logistic difficulties stop the Russians to go to the Crimea as well. The road to the Crimea from the mainland of Russia is not only expensive, but also long and uncomfortable. First of all, this refers to the queues at the crossing, where people are forced to spend a lot of time.

Moreover, some people who go to the Crimea for rest are just forced (they are issued tickets at public expense) or strongly recommended to do it. In 2015, all employees of the MIA, the FSB and Russian servicemen were banned from traveling abroad on vacation, and were sent to the Crimea. This served as guidelines in the following years.

"I heard more than once that vacationers, officers of the authorities, told that they came to rest against their will, especially the year before last and last season. I heard this year that the military is strongly recommended to go to the Crimea, they are shown some kind of advertising-tourist films about the Crimea, distributed booklets and so on", - the employee of Sevastopol travel agency Sergey says.

But generally, Russians are sent to the Crimean health resorts for free tickets. At the same time, food or road, as a rule, is not included in the cost, which even in that case makes a trip to the Crimea not cheap.

"About 700 thousand people go to the Crimea not by their own will. They are sent to the Crimea by the state, state-owned and other corporations. The order was given in all oblasts to fill the Crimean health resorts. "In total, this figure was peak in 2015. Further on, it will continue to fall. It was the maximum that the Kremlin could squeeze. Further on, the figure will decrease", – the ex-minister of resorts and tourism of Crimea Alexander Liyev considers.

Many Russians were also scared off by the statement on the introduction of tourist fees for vacationers on the peninsula. At the moment, the relevant bill is under consideration by the State Duma of the Russian Federation and, more than likely, it will start working from next year, and not from this, as it was initially planned.

This initiative will be introduced in the form of an experiment for 5 years in four Russian regions - Krasnodar, Stavropol Krai, the Altai Republic and the Crimea.

The maximum amount of payment will be $1.7 per day, and will depend on the resort and the time spent on it. And all people staying in accommodation (hotels, apartments and private houses) for more than 24 hours, except for the beneficiaries, will have to pay the fee. The collected money is going to be invested in the development of tourism infrastructure.

"God forbid, they will introduce this tourist fee. I am baulk at the idea of what will happen to the tourist business in the Crimea. Now, on the contrary, it is necessary to pay tourists in addition, to make preferences for them, to create the most comfortable conditions. I know that this year, a lot of elite hotels and resorts are forced to make discounts and promotions at the height of the season for the first time of their existence in order to somehow attract people. They are all half empty the present day, there never was such a thing. It is enough to walk along the local beaches to see that there are few tourists this year, and this trend will be until we start to change something", - the realtor from Sevastopol Yekaterina believes.

The number of Ukrainian "tourists" does not decrease

Anastasia, who lives and works in Kyiv for four years, travels to the Crimea every summer. It is not about she supports the Russian occupation. Her parents just live on the peninsula. They had refused to move from their native Sevastopol.

"I cannot but go now to the Crimea. It is not my conscious choice. I feel that I have to help my parents, support them and spend at least 2 weeks a year together. Many of my friends from the Crimea, who had moved to Ukraine, still have parents and relatives there, and they are forced to travel to the peninsula to meet them. It should come as no surprise that the best time to travel to the Crimea is summer, when you can relax and walk to the sea, so many go there in the summer. I do not see something reprehensible in this, although some of my Kyiv friends and colleagues condemn me for such visits, they say, it is unpatriotic", - she told OstroV.

And a lot more of such stories can be found.

According to the information of the occupation authorities, currently about 15% of the places in the hotels of Crimea's sea resorts are occupied by citizens of Ukraine, and in Alushta the number of Ukrainian tourists reaches 30%.

According to official Russian statistics, in 2013, out of 6 million tourists who visited the peninsula, 4 million were citizens of Ukraine. In 2014 - after the Crimea joined Russia - the tourist flow fell more than 20 times, but the following year 450 thousand tourists came from Ukraine, in 2016 their number increased to 800 thousand. In 2017, the season is expected to maintain last year's figures.

Most likely, these figures are significantly exaggerated, but the trend still remains: Ukrainians continue to travel to the Crimea in summer.

"If we are talking about a decrease in the number of Ukrainians traveling to the Crimea, these are insignificant figures, but the number of Ukrainian "tourists" is not decreasing. Why do they go there? Most of them have relatives or real estate in the Crimea". - Sevastopol realtor Ekaterina says.

There is another category of Ukrainian tourists - the residents of the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, who, on the one hand, can quickly reach the peninsula, on the other, prefer to go to the usual Crimea after listening to Russian propaganda.

"There are still a lot of refugees from the Donbass in the Crimea. As a rule, they have money, but they are used to rest here. As they say, they feel safe here, but they work in other Ukrainian regions", - the realtor says.

Crazy prices as a deterrent to tourism

Crimean prices after annexation are completely another topic. To say that they have increased, is to say anything. They became truly Moscow. It is the rise in prices for food, utilities, transportation, clothing, entertainment, which causes the Crimeans to make inadequate (at least in comparison to convenience and service) housing prices. And this is the first and one of the most expensive items for vacation.

According to the Association of Russian Tour Operators, prices for accommodation in the Crimea increased by 10-15% compared to last year. And this is only according to official data, and we are talking only about hotels and holiday homes.

According to local realtors, house prices have increased by 3-4 times since the beginning of the occupation.

For example, a one-bedroom apartment in Sevastopol near the sea in July-August costs from $26 to $68 per night. While in the summer of 2013, it was possible to find housing for $9. In Yalta, housing prices are at least 1.5 times higher than those in Sevastopol. For example, one night in the average Yalta hotel Levant will cost $157 (with an automatic discount). It is noteworthy that four years ago it was almost impossible to find housing in Yalta in summer without early reservation. Today you can stay in any hotel you want. The additional discounts are also a good indicator of the "successful" season.

The situation with housing prices in small resort towns and villages is slightly different. The locals have to literally survive. For them, earning in the tourist season is the only way out, so they rent housing for any money. Therefore, prices remain at the level of 2013, their growth is insignificant. For example, in August in Simeiz village you can rent a small house for $10-17 per night. But these prices also save the "season" in the once popular tourist places. Realtors state that the flow of tourists to the Crimean villages sharply reduces every year.

"If such large cities as Yalta, Sevastopol, Yevpatoria, Feodosia hold on somehow, the small towns suffer most: the transport system is poor, there is almost no advertising. Ukrainians have always preferred quiet villages, Russians liked large cities. The latter like discos, beaches, bars and water parks. Many tourists who were in small Crimean cities in 2015-2016 were convinced that there is no tourist infrastructure there, so they will not come back. Many small businesses have disappeared there: cafes, shops, sightseeing sites etc. Now such places are deserted and dirty", - local realtor Natalia said.

The second price factor, which does not make the Crimea an attractive tourist destination, is transportation tariffs.

For example, one way plane ticket from Moscow to Simferopol costs from $117. The similar ticket to Turkey is $83 and to Greece - $80.

A trip from Kyiv to the Crimea is also not cheap. Buses run every day and prices start from $38 in one direction. For comparison - the prices for Kiev-Warsaw buses start from $16.

And the most important thing is the prices for food. Even the so-called Crimean authorities recognize that prices in the resort cities are inflated by several times.

"Unfortunately, in the resort regions prices are often overestimated by more than three times, and this situation is unacceptable neither for producers whose products are bought at a cheap price, and then resold at a high price, nor for the Crimeans and the guests of the peninsula, who are forced to overpay", - the so-called "governor" of the peninsula Sergei Aksenov said.

According to him, 1 kg of tomatoes in such cities now costs $3-5.

Crimean prices for fruits and vegetables can only compete with prices of large resort cities in Spain. For example, 1 kg of figs in the city market of Barcelona in early July costs $3.3 per 1 kg, whereas in Yevpatoria 1 kg of figs now costs $5.2. But tomatoes in Barcelona and Sevastopol cost approximately the same - $2.5-3.5, but 1 kg of raspberries in Yalta ($6.7) is almost 2 times more expensive than in Spain ($3.6). Is it worth writing about the Spanish level of life and local salaries in comparison with the Crimea…

"Prices are crazy, they grow every year, you can put them next to Moscow and European ones. It's not normal when 1 glass of raspberries in Yalta costs $2.5, whereas in Moscow it is $1.7. I was told that in Greece the same raspberries cost $1.2. Is this normal? These are impossible prices for both locals and tourists. They ask a logical question: for what should they overpay if there is no service, no tourist infrastructure, the beaches are dirty", - local Yalta resident Diana says.

OstroV found out the prices for fruits and vegetables in Yevpatoria:

Peaches - $2.8,

Apricots - $3,

Raspberry (1 kg) - $6.7,

Bananas - $1.5,

Figs - $5.3,

Apples - $2,

Tomatoes - $2.3,

Cucumbers - $1,

Sweet pepper - $1.3.

Such prices, according to local residents, are practically unaffordable for them. Tourists are willing to spend money for vacation, but the Crimean prices frighten them away. It's no secret that the all-inclusive tour in a four-star hotel in Turkey is much cheaper than a holiday in the Crimea.

"Most people who come here are of the older generation. They still have nostalgia and are not used to traveling abroad and think that the Crimea is the most luxurious thing they can afford. Those who are younger can compare prices for vacation here and in Turkey or Greece. I think at first the Russians will go to the Crimea out of habit, and then it will gradually stop", - Crimean realtor Sergey says.

There are a lot of debates whether there are tourists in the Crimea or not. The most eloquent evidences are the Crimean surveillance cameras, which are installed on the beaches and embankments of the most popular tourist places of the peninsula. Screenshots from the webcams were made on July 19, 2017.

Andriy Andriyiv, OstroV