"No one has arrived. That's all you need to know about the start of the tourist season in Crimea. The May holidays are a great indicator of what the summer will be like. Sometimes, in just 10 days of the May holidays, we manage to earn more than in the entire month of June. As locals, we don't even need to look at statistics and figures; we can see it perfectly well from the number of people in the city center, cafes, restaurants and public transportation. This year, it hasn't changed with the arrival of the May holidays", - resident of occupied Sevastopol Ekaterina told OstroV.
Indeed, regular explosions, drone attacks and trenches on the beaches are unlikely to contribute to the development of the tourism business. Furthermore, logistics have become significantly more complicated this year, as flight connection with mainland russia has not been established, and the praised Crimean Bridge operates at half capacity. Tourists complain about having to stand in queues for hours and then undergo humiliating checks to enter the peninsula.
According to the Minister of Economic Development of russia, Maxim Reshetnikov, "last year, tourist flow to Crimea decreased by a third compared to 2021. For this year, we also believe that the situation will somewhat decline".
To support the tourism industry, the russian government has decided to allocate 2.7 billion rubles to support employment in the tourism sector in Crimea.
"The tourism industry in Crimea is currently in a very difficult situation - sanatoriums and top hotels are already 50% booked for the summer, while others are only 30% booked. Additionally, there is a significant problem with staffing, including a noticeable decrease in the number of seasonal workers. Tourism in Crimea serves as one of the driving forces of the peninsula's economy, and in the current situation, it undoubtedly needs support", - believes Ilya Umansky, President of the russian Union of Tourism Industry.
Even the so-called head of the region, Sergey Aksyonov, stated that Crimea will face a challenging situation in the tourism sector this year. The chief of the occupation authorities attributed this to "logistical difficulties".
However, back on March 16, in an interview on the russian channel Solovyov Live, Aksyonov claimed that the high season in Crimea "is not under threat".
"The high season is safe one hundred percent... With the measures that were taken on the President's instructions, I can say right away: Crimea is not under threat. We have more than enough law enforcement officers here, and I don't see any risks or specific restrictions for tourists", - he declared.
However, Aksyonov preferred not to comment on how a large number of law enforcement officers would help against the announced counteroffensive by the Ukrainian army, mysterious explosions or drone attacks. His "mantra" that Crimea is not under threat is no longer taken seriously by the local residents.
"We've been through this already last year. First, it was rockets, then drones, then the Crimean Bridge explosion and so on. It feels like we've seen it all. So, talking about no more risks is laughable. I don't know who they're trying to convince. Tourists? Well, maybe. I think everyone has internet access now, and every potential tourist can read about what's happening here and the risks that already exist. Not to mention the suppressed mood associated with the future counteroffensive of the Ukrainian Armed Forces", - noted Irina, a resident of Yevpatoria.
Gloomy forecasts regarding the 2023 high season were already described at the end of March by russian blogger Alexander Gorny, who lives in Crimea.
"March hasn't even ended yet, and representatives of the Crimean tourism industry are calculating the losses of the new season. Not everyone can rely on social benefits, filling their boarding houses with pensioners, and not everyone has nice hotels in nice locations. We're talking about mass tourism, small and medium-sized hotels, and the entire infrastructure that thrives on tourists. Bar and food stalls owners, taxi drivers and tour guides, farmers and just businessmen whose products are consumed by mass tourists, including beer, water, and ice cream — they will be bankrupted, and the number of jobs will decrease", - he wrote.
According to local residents, the May holidays in Crimea serve as an excellent indicator of how the main high season will unfold. Before russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the peninsula used to host 300,000 to 500,000 tourists during the May holidays (according to the occupation authorities). Only Simferopol Airport welcomed 134,052 passengers from May 1 to 12, 2019 (4% lower than the previous year, around 128,600 people).
As for the May holidays of 2023, according to official information, 54,000 people arrived in Crimea by rail from April 28th to May 9th. Even if we consider that some tourists arrived by bus or their own vehicles, it's unlikely that the final figure will increase significantly.
This year, the railway is considered the fastest, safest and most convenient way to reach the Crimean peninsula. If traveling by car, one would have to spend a considerable amount of time in queues at the Crimean Bridge. Instructions on how to undergo inspection at the bridge are being published on social media and tourist portals.
"Security checks are conducted at the approaches to the bridge. Drivers of vehicles should prepare all necessary documents in advance, familiarize themselves with the list of prohibited items and substances, and pack their luggage in a way that facilitates its unloading and loading – this will significantly expedite the inspection process. It is recommended to take into account that passenger cars with heavy oversized luggage undergo scanning, which increases the time required, while passengers with light luggage pass through the metal detector frame, resulting in faster inspections", - the message states.
On social media, one can find dozens of stories about people waiting for hours in queues to undergo inspection. Moreover, recently, the practice of temporarily closing the bridge without explanation has become common.
"Who would want to take such risks and spend their precious vacation hours stuck in traffic on the bridge when they can travel to other regions of russia? The answer is obvious. When we communicate with clients and plan their trips, the first question they ask is about logistics: how to get there quickly and safely. We strongly discourage traveling by private vehicles. It is better to choose a train or a tourist bus. Tickets are readily available, because nightmare has been happening on the bridge in the past month", - Anastasia, an employee of one of the Crimean travel agencies told OstroV.
Russian blogger Alexander Gorny also acknowledges that the hour-long queues at the Crimean Bridge are deterring tourists. He criticizes the local occupation authorities for this.
"The off-season was bad, the traffic clearly declined, and domestic tourism will never be the driving force of the Crimean tourism industry. When the Crimean Bridge opened, our neighbors rushed to Crimea, considering it an opportunity to spend holidays and weekends. A few hours on the Crimean Bridge and the Tavrida Highway, and you're already enjoying the Crimean air. In recent years, there have always been many day-trippers from the mainland, which was evident from the license plates on cars. Now the situation is very sad. Of course, the die-hard fans will make it, but few will want to endure extra hours in a queue for inspection. How many tourists has Crimea lost after the tragedy on the bridge? The answer is simple – a lot, and as long as inspection on the bridge takes more than 15-20 minutes, a huge segment of potential tourists simply disappears.
And it's not just about tourists. Many of my acquaintances who have encountered traffic jams during inspections refuse to travel to the mainland, which significantly reduces activity, including business-related activities. The bridge has been restored, they reported the early opening of four lanes, but it is still the same sh*t, even worse, and the issue has not been resolved in all this time", - he wrote.
The occupation authorities do not publish "official" statistics regarding the total number of tourists who visited Crimea during the May holidays. However, some data still seep through. According to the so-called head of the administration of Yalta, Yanina Pavlenko, the city's hotels were filled at 60-70% capacity during the May holidays. And this is considering that Yalta is considered the most popular and attractive resort city on the peninsula, where there have been no missile strikes throughout the entire period of full-scale war.
"I'm scared to find statistics on the occupancy rates of Yevpatoria or Kerch. In my humble estimation, the hotels in Yevpatoria were filled to about 20%, based on real accommodation data. I find it hard to say where the 60-70% figure for Yalta comes from. Perhaps only large hotels were included in the statistics, where even local Crimean tourists come for weekends", - one of the Crimean tour agents told OstroV.
The head of the russian Union of Travel Industry in Crimea, Boris Zelinsky, speaks of a "catastrophic situation" with tour sales to the peninsula. As Zelinsky claims in an interview with The Moscow Times, representatives of the local tourism industry have even prepared an appeal to the Prime Minister of russia, asking for support.
According to Zelinsky, not only are russians booking very few tours to the Crimean Peninsula, but they are also extremely reluctant to pay for them. In addition, four-star and five-star hotels have become practically unwanted due to "logistical difficulties" and military actions.
"The category of people accustomed to vacationing in high-end facilities doesn't want to come to us due to transportation restrictions and the fact that Crimea has now become a practically frontline zone", - he said.
As Zelinsky asserts, in previous years, 300-400 people would go on the "Crimean Round-the-World" excursion tour during the May holidays. However, this year, only one tourist expressed interest in it.
Prices are dropping, but it doesn't help
The pricing policy in Crimea's tourism industry is currently determined by external circumstances rather than economic feasibility, believes Anastasia, an employee of a Crimean tour agency.
"This year, objectively speaking, prices for accommodation, transportation, excursions, restaurants and so on need to be increased. However, businesses cannot afford to do so, as they will lose all customers. While locals also visit restaurants and sometimes organize excursions, the situation is much worse when it comes to accommodation. Large hotels offer as many discounts as possible, close entire floors and buildings to save costs, but somehow manage to survive. However, small hotels, vacation homes and private rentals suffer the most. There is simply no demand. And if there is, customers want significant discounts and favorable conditions. Look at the prices online: a room in a vacation home in Yevpatoria now costs 1000 rubles per day. Such prices have never been seen before. And do you think it's fully booked? No, it's empty. That's why the owners have decided to close it until July, expecting the peak of the season. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar stories", - she told OstroV.
According to russian experts cited in the russian media, Crimea is the only resort this year that has not adjusted its average accommodation costs, while rates in the Krasnodar Krai and Abkhazia have increased by an average of 10-15%. Vacationing in Crimea is currently even cheaper on average than last year.
However, according to the results of a survey in the Telegram channel Krysha TurDoma, the majority of tourists are not ready to travel to Crimea this summer. This option was chosen by 65% of over 1500 respondents who voted on April 16. Another 9% of participants would like to visit Crimea but have chosen another destination.
"Usually, this is due to transportation issues - currently, the only way to reach the peninsula from other regions is by train or car. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that special offers from Crimean hotels are not interesting at all. 5% of the respondents are willing to come if they get a 'super deal price' and another 2% have already paid for their vacation there", - writes a russian portal.
For example, last week the largest hotel in Crimea, Yalta-Intourist (with over 1100 rooms), softened its booking conditions. As indicated on the website, tourists are offered the opportunity to fix the price of their stay for the period from June 1st to September 30th. Upon booking, it is sufficient to pay only 25% of the accommodation cost, and the remaining fee can be paid 30 days before arrival. Additionally, a 10% discount is applicable for full prepayment, which can be combined with loyalty programs to receive a total benefit of up to 35%.
Special offers are currently announced or already in effect at other major hotels as well. For instance, Mriya Resort promises that on April 17th-18th, tourists booking family villas for the entire summer will receive a discount of 40-50%. Since this is the most expensive type of accommodation, prices are not displayed on the website, and it is suggested to contact the hotel directly for details.
As for other hotels, at Yalta-Intourist, with a 10% discount, accommodation for June starts from 6300 rubles per room, including breakfast. For comparison, in February, rooms were offered starting from 9000 rubles. In the Chernomorets Family Complex (4*), the "best price" summer offer allows couples to enjoy an all-inclusive stay for 11,200 rubles per day - down from 16,000 rubles in February. The Ai-Petri Sanatorium is ready to accommodate two people in June for 4200 rubles per day with full board.
According to the booking system Ostrovok.ru, accommodation in Crimea during the spring season averages 3,650 rubles per night, which is about 15% cheaper compared to the previous year. Accommodation in Yalta has become more affordable, with an average cost of 4,800 rubles per night, while in Sevastopol it is 3,800 rubles and in Kerch it is 2,500 rubles.
"And this is just the beginning. There will be more promotions ahead. But the large hotels will have some visitors, they will survive. However, private and partially illegal businesses (like when a someone privately rents out a room by the sea) will not just suffer, but die. At least for this season. The only category that will somehow stay afloat is the large boarding houses, camps and sanatoriums, where state employees will be directed for state funding", - noted Crimean tour agent Anastasia in a comment to OstroV.
Natalia Stambulnikova, the head of the Association of Small Hotels of Crimea, says that the average prices for small Crimean hotels remain at the level of 2022, and discounts of up to 25% can be expected during early booking promotions.
"Currently, small hotels and guesthouses, of which there are the most throughout the peninsula, are 10% booked for the summer. On the Southern coast and in Sevastopol, the booking rate is around 15%, while on the Western coast, it's no more than 5%. Additionally, due to the complicated logistics, many people don't even make room reservations. It was the same last year - tourists could knock on any hotel's door at any time, knowing that there would be available rooms, so they didn't want to deal with bookings and prepayments", - she said.
In general, russian experts agree that the current season in Crimea will be one of the most challenging.
By Andriy Andrieyev, OstroV