"Tourists like to come to the Crimea even for self-isolation. This is much better than sitting at home in Moscow. At the beginning of quarantine, there were a lot of calls from Russians who booked detached houses by the sea, they brought their families by cars and checked in for a month. They admitted that they were traveling not as tourists, but just to be by the sea, to work from here remotely. Of course, there can be no talk of any excursions and gatherings in restaurants. All that the Crimea can offer today is sun, sea and clear air. This is enough for many people now. Therefore, the tourist season is in high gear in a certain way", - Crimean realtor Natalya told OstroV.
The number of patients with coronavirus COVID-19 in the occupied Crimea continues to grow. As of May 26, 506 confirmed cases were recorded there. Despite this, the local "authorities" decided to remove the mandatory self-isolation regime from May 18 - now the need to stay at home is advisory. According to the so-called "head of the regional department of Rospotrebnadzor" Natalya Penkovskaya, the "republic" has reached the number of studies required for the first stage of lifting restrictions. However, exemptions do not apply to the tourism industry.
Officially, the Crimea does not accept tourists now, as the local occupation "authorities" have repeatedly stated. But this does not stop thousands of Russians from coming to the peninsula to quarantine by the sea. About three thousand cars enter the Crimea every day only through the Kerch Bridge, trains continue to go and planes - to fly. The locals say that the number of tourists is growing every day.
"It is enough just to go to the embankment in Yalta, walk through the parks and watch how many people are resting now. The experienced Crimean eye determines a tourist with almost 100% probability. So, the number of tourists is increasing every day", - the Yalta resident Mikhail says.
Here is a paradox: the local "authorities" say that there is no tourist season, and tourists continue to arrive to the peninsula. Either they are not being noticed specifically, or they operate covertly so well. OstroV discovered what was happening in the tourism sector of the occupied Crimea.
The path to quarantine: from failure to rigorous measures
Occupation "authorities" of the peninsula made rather optimistic forecasts at the very beginning of the pandemic in the Russian Federation. The so-called head of the Crimea Sergey Aksyonov predicted that the pandemic could result in a record increase in tourist flow for the peninsula.
"China will close, Asian countries will close, I do not exclude that the Crimean destination will be super-demanded… The question here is not to take more tourists and sell everything possible, but to provide at least some quality so that the tourist will return. Therefore, in my opinion, it is better to focus on high-quality service and price matching with this quality. Now, if we can withstand it, accordingly, the Crimea as a resort will have a future", - he said on March 10, 2020.
At the same time, "minister" of resorts and tourism of the Crimea Vadim Volchenko said that an increase in the number of bookings from leading federal tour operators was recorded on the peninsula despite the situation with COVID-2019 in the world.
But two weeks later, Sergey Aksyonov spoke differently and urged not to increase the tourist flow to the Crimea.
"I am convinced that by telling tourists "come to the Crimea", we thereby increase the risk of spreading the infection and jeopardize the whole season. Therefore, we should not artificially increase the number of tourists and should not take additional measures to load sanatoriums", - he stated on March 25.
According to the so-called "head of the republic", increasing tourist flow is "a risk of infecting everything that is possible in the Crimea".
After that, he signed a decree banning the reservation of places for recreation in sanatoriums, hotels and children's camps of the republic and placement in them from March 28 to June 1. According to the occupation authorities, the Crimea will miss at least one million tourists only during this period.
"The reservation of places, reception and accommodation of citizens in holiday hotels, vacation houses, sanatorium-and-health-resort organizations (sanatoria), all-year children's camps, hotels and other accommodation facilities located in the Republic of Crimea is temporarily suspended from March 28 to June 1, 2020, with the exception of persons on official business trips", - the statement of the occupation "ministry" of resorts of the republic said.
Now the "local authorities" are preparing to extend this ban until July 1. As for the latest news about the tourist season in the Crimea, the same Sergey Aksyonov already says that it "is unlikely to take place".
"My position is that there will be no intersubject migration today. Everyone understands this. As for domestic tourism, if there is enabler, we will go through the domestic tourism program, I will turn to the head of state for support. There is understanding of how to do this. However, today's conditions do not even allow starting this implementation. Domestic tourism is possible, but with a favorable epidemic situation. The likelihood of a holiday season is quite low. So far it is unrealistic", - he says today.
Thus, the views of the local occupation "authorities" on tourist season in the Crimea changed in two months from a "record increase in tourist flow" to "unlikely to take place". Despite this, for all the time of quarantine, planes, trains, buses and cars with tourists continued and continue to arrive to the peninsula. Local tourism workers called it "underground tourism".
How the tourist season began together with quarantine
"With the beginning of quarantine or high-alert mode, as we call it, the number of tourists (compared to last year) has decreased by about half. People keep coming, renting houses by the sea, walking away from big cities. There are a lot of Muscovites, residents of St. Petersburg and other northern regions. They come and complain that it is better to quarantine near the sea with its fresh air, where it is warm. The only problem is the idle hotels, but this all can be solved at the expense of the private illegal sector", - Crimean realtor Natalya told OstroV.
The fact that attempts to illegally book and place tourists "in objects that operate illegally" continue to be recorded on the peninsula are also recognized by the occupation authorities. They even announced a kind of "hunt" for those who continue to rent out housing for tourists during the quarantine period.
"Unfortunately, we are now recording attempts to book and accommodate in some small hotels in the Crimea, this is subject to administrative, and in some cases, criminal prosecution. Dear Crimeans! If you see commercial accommodation in mini-hotels, private apartments or suites, being conscious citizens, report to the Ministry of Health resorts hotline", - the so-called head of the Ministry of Resorts and Tourism of the Crimea Vadim Volchenko stated.
OstroV addressed several large and small Crimean hotels concerning the allocation, but they categorically refused, citing decisions of the local "authorities". It turned out to be much easier to rent an ordinary apartment and a house on the South Coast through the Russian website avito (analogue of the Ukrainian OLX; a platform for buying and selling services and goods).
"The apartment is rented daily, $29 per day. If you live a week or more, I will make a discount. There are free dates until June 15", - they answered us, but immediately warned that only cash payment is possible.
We failed to book several other accommodations in Yalta and Sevastopol. But not because of coronavirus and quarantine, but because they were already occupied by other tourists.
"The demand for detached houses and apartments near the sea is quite high. Despite the strict statements of central and local authorities, people continue to travel. And of course, no one is sitting at home, many walk by the sea or in parks. In this case, large tourist networks suffer the most, since it is easiest to track their activities. Some of them tried to rent out their rooms and apartments at the beginning of quarantine, but several major fines closed this issue. The fines are up to $4300, which greatly affects the hoteliers' wallet. As for small hotels and vacation houses, there are cases when advances are made for clients and they check in. But everything is quite confidentially: no reservation on the phone or on the website (you will be definitely refused there), only an in-person meeting and a small interview, after which they decide there whether to check in you or not", - local realtor Natalya told us.
According to her, local law enforcement officers now often check the accommodation facilities by phone and are trying to agree on the rental under the guise of tourists. Everyone knows this, therefore, only those who pass a personal "face control" have the opportunity to check in at a small hotel.
The first cases of fines have already been recorded in the Crimea. So, the Nadezhda hotel in Alupka and the Kamelot guest house in Koktebel were fined $4300 under the article "Failure to comply with the rules of conduct in an emergency or under the threat of its occurrence".
"By the way, there are rumors among realtors and hoteliers that these properties were fined for a reason - on a tip-off by the competitors. This is gaining momentum. Even those hotels that do not work, in order to cause damage to their competitors, can anonymously contact the authorities and they will conduct an unscheduled inspection. I heard that in a similar way, some people complained about their neighbors, whom they did not like, they said that tenants from Moscow now live there. So all rental cases are extremely confidential", - the realtor said.
Reply from the local "authorities": paid-for medical observation
Despite the calls of local "authorities", the threat of fines and so on, tourists continue to travel, and the Crimeans rent them housing. The so-called head of the Crimea Sergey Aksyonov announced a radical innovation to break this circle: everyone entering the peninsula (without a specific purpose, that is, vacationers) will have to be placed under medical observation at their own expense.
"We understand that citizens of other entities, who travel aimlessly (to theCrimea, - ed.), came for private matters that do not concern the work of the authorities, they should be placed under medical observation at their own expense. People should not create a problem for us for want of anything better to do, just because they want to go to the sea", - he stated.
According to Aksyonov, the non-payers will be charged in court for the stay under medical observation. He also noted that his decree on forced paid-for placement under medical observation would be issued in the near future.
If a person is not ready to pay the full amount immediately, the stated claims will be sent to the court upon termination of his/her stay under medical observation. The employer should pay for the quarantine placement of persons on business.
According to the local occupation authorities, now all tourists who come to the Crimea after all will be placed under medical observation (generally, at the state sanatoriums and health resorts), and the average accommodation price will be $17-22 per day.
By the way, the Sevastopol "authorities" introduced mandatory self-isolation in mid-April for everyone entering Sevastopol, even from other Crimean cities. If a person entering the city has his/her own housing, he/she is obliged to conduct a mandatory two-week quarantine there, if not - in one of the two places for medical observation, and on a paid basis.
"This is the principled position of our governor: the city should not pay for idly staggering people who decide to come despite the current self-isolation regime in the country", - the press service of the so-called "government" of Sevastopol stated.
The city authorities allocated two recreation facilities for the needs of those who nevertheless decide to be placed under medical observation - Emerald and Little Sun holiday hotels. One day there will cost $25, for parking the car you will have to pay separately $3 per day.
At the same time, according to OstroV, this scheme did not fully work in Sevastopol. It was enough for incoming tourists to state the purpose of their visit to the city as "visiting sick relatives" with a confirmed address and telephone, and they were easily let in.
Will there be a season?
According to the Crimean "authorities", local hotels have retained more than 40% of reservations for the 2020 season. However, a number of tourists postponed the date of the trip to another time. This was stated by the so-called head of the Crimean State Council Committee on Tourism, Resorts and Sports Alexey Chernyak.
Representatives of the tourist industry have different numbers: according to the press secretary of the Russian Union of Travel Industry Irina Tyurina, 60% of those who was going to come to the Crimea kept their reservations, having postponed the tour to a later date, if necessary.
But the point is not that the Russians hope to come later and relax - most hotels just refuse to return the money already received for the reservation. Therefore, only those who did not pay and lose nothing cancel the reservation.
The "authorities" of Sevastopol are going to test all those entering the city for coronavirus from June 1. It is assumed that the test will be taken at the entrance checkpoints. Then the person will go to the place for medical observation and wait for the results. If the test is negative, the visitor will be allowed to go outside.
The so-called acting governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhaev emphasized that the testing would be carried out at the expense of vacationers, since the city budget does not provide for such expenses: "If a person is traveling, I think that additional money that will protect him and the city from unpleasant consequences can be spent".
In addition, options with elite places for medical observation, attracting tourists who want to spend two weeks in a secluded sanatorium with a well-kept park area and access to the sea are being considered on the peninsula.
The local "authorities" promise to support legal tourist trade. $177 for each officially working employee (if he/she was not fired and was not put on leave without supplies) will be added to tax benefits, cancellation of rent and insurance contributions.
In general, no one gives positive forecasts regarding the tourist season in the Crimea. Even according to the most optimistic estimates, the peninsula can open its doors to tourists from July 1, but in an extremely limited mode.
"Now major reservations of houses and apartments begin in August. There are more people who book for the peak tourist season in early autumn. But almost all of them refuse to pay in advance, although this is a usual practice. So yes, we can say that the Russians are gradually booking accommodation for the second half of the summer, but it can all turn out to be a big flop. We are not insured against the fact that people will change their minds or will find cheaper and better accommodation. In any case, this is a tenth of bookings and requests of the last year. So, there will be no season as such. Let us recall 2014", - the Crimean realtor admits.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV