Global tourism industry feels the pinch of Ukraine war’s fallout

Special Russian tourists were stranded abroad after sanctions. (Getty Images)
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Russian tourists were stranded abroad after sanctions. (Getty Images)
Special A Ukrainian tourist poses for a picture near the Hagia Sophia Mosque at Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 9, 2021. (AFP file photo)
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A Ukrainian tourist poses for a picture near the Hagia Sophia Mosque at Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 9, 2021. (AFP file photo)
Special A Ukranian tourist poses for a picture near the Hagia Sophia Mosque at Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 9, 2021. (AFP file photo)
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A Ukranian tourist poses for a picture near the Hagia Sophia Mosque at Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 9, 2021. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 20 April 2022

Global tourism industry feels the pinch of Ukraine war’s fallout

Global tourism industry feels the pinch of Ukraine war’s fallout
  • Sudden drop in Russians and Ukrainians traveling abroad since February 24 has harmed sector’s post-COVID recovery
  • Spike in fuel prices has affected the travel industry, which in turn has piled pressure on ailing tourist hotspots

DUBAI: From his office in downtown Moscow, Vladimir Inyakin, founder of the local travel agency All World, is helping people in search of a ticket to fly out of Russia.

Since the Ukraine invasion began on Feb. 24, prompting Western nations to bar Russian passenger jets from their airspace, the Russian travel industry’s business model has undergone a rapid makeover.

Where once Inyakin helped his clients to book luxury getaways around the globe, he now helps them to reach any destination that provides respite from the prevailing atmosphere of crisis, conflict and international isolation.

“Russians were initially scared, panicking, crying and ready to pay any money to leave the country,” Inyakin, who established his travel agency in 2008, told Arab News. But now, nearly two months into the Ukraine war, some Russians are thinking of traveling again and Inyakin is on hand to arrange their itineraries.

Of course, Western sanctions have greatly shrunk the list of places Russians can travel to without a lot of hassle. Bermuda, which has suspended certification for Russian-operated planes registered there, is one extreme. On the other extreme are countries that have long benefited from Russian tourism and remain open to visitors from Russia.

“Many places are afraid to lose Russian clients,” said Inyakin. “We can now only fly to 15 countries, mostly ex-USSR countries, as well as Iran, Israel, Turkey, Vietnam, Zanzibar, Qatar, the UAE and Thailand with some Russian airlines.”

“They are traveling anywhere they can with a one-way ticket and cash — Uzbekistan, Georgia, Armenia, the UAE, for example,” said Inyakin. “If you fly abroad, you must take cash with you. Those that can afford it are going to Dubai.”

When the value of the Russian ruble plummeted at the outset of the war, Russian savers rushed to convert their earnings into other more stable currencies or to place them into secure accounts and investments abroad.

But, in a surprising reversal of fortune, the ruble has steadily rebounded, its value now double of what it was on March 7. On April 8 the ruble rallied past 72 to the dollar although it has since shed some of its gains.

A Reuters report said the ruble’s weakening is driven by expectations that Russia may relax its temporary control measures further, easing requirements for mandatory foreign currency revenue sales by export-focused companies.

Jet fuel prices have risen dramatically since Western sanctions hit Russia’s hydrocarbon-based economy, pushing up airline-ticket prices across the board. Nonstop roundtrip tickets from Moscow to Dubai range from $609 on flydubai, $1,359 on Emirates and $810 on Turkish Airlines—several hundred dollars higher than pre-February 24 prices.

Before the war, says Inyakin, “you could fly round-trip from Moscow to Dubai with Aeroflot for $300-350.” Aeroflot has yet to resume operations.

“There’s inflation now and the exchange rate — dollar into Russian ruble — is extremely high,” one Russian citizen living in the Gulf told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

When SWIFT, the messaging service that connects more than 11,000 financial institutions around the world, suspended services for seven Russian banks at the end of February in response to the war, it crippled the country’s financial system and curtailed its ability to trade globally.

In practical terms, the suspension made it near impossible for Russians to use their credit cards and bank accounts abroad.

“The main challenge now for Russians wishing to travel is that if you are a Russian citizen living in Russia, you cannot easily book airline tickets or hotels since Visa and Mastercard are no longer supported in Russia,” the Gulf resident said. “Very few countries are accepting Mir, the Russian national payment system.”




Russians have been vital for the tourism industry’s recovery. (AFP)

The drop in the number of Russians traveling abroad is already having a damaging impact on at least five tourist hubs once popular with Russian and Ukrainian visitors: Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus.

The leisure and hospitality industries in these countries can ill afford such disruption, especially in the wake of lockdowns and travel bans imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic that decimated global tourism in 2020 and 2021.

Sanctions and boycotts imposed in response to the war are also harming Russia’s own tourism industry. Russian tour operators banking on the post-pandemic recovery will be sorely disappointed.




Russians have been vital for the tourism industry’s recovery. (AFP)

Prior to the war, Ukrainians too were avid travelers. But now, with millions of them displaced by the fighting, their spending, like that of Russians, has vanished from the international tourism market.

“As Ukrainians we usually love to travel,” Mariia, a Ukrainian originally from Odessa now living in Dubai, told Arab News. “Tourism is not even on our minds right now.”

For millions of men still in Ukraine, travel is simply not an option. Those aged 18 to 60, like Mariia’s father and brother, are of conscription age. “They could be called into the service at any time,” she said.

With its historic cities, verdant countryside and picturesque coastline, Ukraine was a popular tourist destination in its own right. Now its airspace is closed to passenger jets while its towns and infrastructure lie in ruins.

“I never in my life thought I would hear the air raid sirens over a video call in my city,” Mariia said. “I didn’t even know we had one. It’s been so devastating.”

One nation that will feel the loss of Russian and Ukrainian visitors perhaps most of all is Turkey. The luxury hotels, marinas and shimmering beaches of Bodrum and Antalya have long been a playground of Eastern European tourists.

Before the pandemic, tourism made up 10 percent of Turkey’s gross domestic product. In 2021, after the lifting of COVID-19 travel restrictions, about 4.7 million Russians and 2.1 million Ukrainians visited the country — accounting for a quarter of its 24.7 million foreign visitors that year.

The Association of Turkish Travel Agencies had expected 7 million Russians and 2.5 million Ukrainians to visit this year, and the industry to post $35 billion in revenues.




A Ukrainian tourist poses for a picture near the Hagia Sophia Mosque at Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 9, 2021. (AFP file photo)

Although Turkey has not sanctioned Russia nor closed its airspace to Russian airlines, the invasion of Ukraine has dashed hopes of a post-pandemic recovery.

Vietnam has likewise revised down its estimates for the coming year. The province of Khanh Hoa and the island of Phu Quoc had long been popular among Russian tourists, as had the city of Phan Thiet, affectionately known as “Little Moscow.”

According to one survey by Vietnam’s National Administration of Tourism in 2019, Russians spent an average of $1,600 per stay compared to the average foreign visitor who spent around $900.

Several Vietnamese travel agencies catering solely for Russian visitors have sprung up over the years. But, on March 23 this year, in response to the war, Vietnam Airlines announced it was suspending flights to and from Russia.

Similar scenes are playing out in Thailand. On March 25, the South China Morning Post reported that more than 7,000 Russian tourists were stranded in the country’s once popular holiday destinations.




A picture taken on September 29, 2021 shows Russian tourists in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. (AFP file)

Looking on the bright side, in recent weeks many stranded Russians have been successfully repatriated. The state-owned news agency TASS, citing the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism, said that more than 85,000 Russian tourists were repatriated in March. The report said that Egypt had the largest number of package tourists, around 4,000.

The repatriation process, however, has been complicated by new Western sanctions targeting the aircraft that are expected to be used for special flights from Egypt to Russia. Tour operators are having to use different routes to fly stranded Russian tourists through third countries such as the UAE, Turkey, the Maldives and Thailand.

“The war in Ukraine poses new challenges to the global economic environment and risks hampering the return of confidence in global travel,” the UN World Tourism Organization said in a statement on March 31.

“The shutdown of Ukrainian and Russian airspace, as well as the ban on Russian carriers by many European countries, is affecting intra-European travel. It is also causing detours in long-haul flights between Europe and East Asia, which translates into longer flights and higher costs.

“Russia and Ukraine accounted for a combined 3 percent of global spending on international tourism in 2020 and at least $14 billion in global tourism receipts could be lost if the conflict is prolonged.”

In Italy, where tourists are only just returning after two years of pandemic restrictions, the absence of Ukrainian and Russian tourists is palpable. The country has joined other EU members in imposing sanctions on Russia and has stopped dealings with Russian banks.

A report in the UK’s The Guardian says that while Russians hardly constituted the top 20 for numbers of visitors to Italy, in terms of time spent in the country they were ninth, and when measured by overall economic impact they were second, behind only Germany.

“Traditionally the average Russian visitor stayed in Italy for five or more days, compared to two or three from most other countries, and they spent around 65 percent more money per day than the average tourist,” Costabile said. “I assure you, the absence of Russian visitors in the sector will be felt.”

One place where Russians are still welcome is Dubai. Long a popular tourism destination for both Russians and Ukrainians, the UAE’s commercial capital continues to be warm and welcoming for those with the financial means.




Dubai has long been a popular destination for both Russians and Ukrainians. (Shutterstock)

“Due to these challenging times for Russia now under sanctions, more Russians are looking to move to Dubai than ever before,” Anastasia, a Russian art consultant who arrived in Dubai two months ago, told Arab News.

Others are wary about the future, unsure where to go, whether to stay, or how to sustain themselves in the short term.

“Everything is still so unclear,” a Russian expat who lives in the Gulf told Arab News on condition of anonymity. “No one knows how long this war will last and what more will be affected. You don’t know how to calculate the risks.”

The embassy of Ukraine in the UAE recently announced that Ukrainian tourists who arrived in the Gulf country before the war may apply for a one-year residency visa.

As for the more than 1,000 Ukrainians who found themselves stranded in Dubai when the invasion began in February, aid agencies stepped in to house them or arrange tickets to Poland, where millions of war-displaced Ukrainians have found refuge.

“Traveling is not something on their mind now,” one Ukrainian living in Dubai told Arab News on condition of anonymity, describing their own family’s circumstances.

“There are no flights to or from Ukraine. People who managed to escape early on are largely those who could afford it and then came to places like Dubai.”

With a peace deal still eluding Russian and Ukrainian negotiators and the battlefront now shifting to the disputed east of the country, there is little sign of a return to business as usual any time soon.


UK aid agency worker killed in Syria earthquake

Thousands of people across Turkiye and Syria have lost their lives in the devastating earthquake
Thousands of people across Turkiye and Syria have lost their lives in the devastating earthquake
Updated 20 sec ago

UK aid agency worker killed in Syria earthquake

Thousands of people across Turkiye and Syria have lost their lives in the devastating earthquake
  • Medic, who worked for Action For Humanity, also lost her infant in the earthquake

LONDON: Action For Humanity, the UK based-parent charity of Syria Relief, confirmed on Monday that a staff member was been killed in Idlib, Syria, by the earthquake on Monday.

According to a statement released by AFH, the group is unable to name the staff member, as her family were yet to be notified, but confirmed she was a doctor working in one of the organization’s mobile health clinics.

Her child was also killed in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Othman Moqbel, AFH’s Chief Executive Officer said: “We are sad to confirm a member of the Action For Humanity team has lost her life, as has her child.”

He continued: “She was a doctor who was motivated with saving the lives of people impacted by the crisis in Syria, sadly, she has lost her life. If she hadn’t she would be there now trying to help as many people as possible, just like the rest of her colleagues.”

The earthquake hit a wide area in south-eastern Türkiye and Northern Syria, killing more than 100 people and trapping many others. Reports of new deaths and injuries are being confirmed on the hour.  

International NGO World Vision has also expressed concern about the fate of children caught up in the disaster.

“In the middle of a harsh winter, already incredibly vulnerable children and families have now been shaken to their core by this devastating earthquake, which is likely to affect thousands in Northern Syria and southern Turkiye, said Johan Mooij, Response Director for World Vision’s Syria Crisis Response.

“I am devastated by this sad news, and we will do everything we can to help those who were affected.

“As well as rapidly assessing how we can support the relief effort, we are also confirming the wellbeing of our staff in Turkiye and Syria – all of whom are safe. It is a reminder of how challenging these situations can be for all involved,” he added.

 


Alleged Daesh ‘Beatle’ to go on trial in UK

Aine Davis is accused of belonging to a group of hostage-takers who were radicalized in London. (Metropolitan Police)
Aine Davis is accused of belonging to a group of hostage-takers who were radicalized in London. (Metropolitan Police)
Updated 06 February 2023

Alleged Daesh ‘Beatle’ to go on trial in UK

Aine Davis is accused of belonging to a group of hostage-takers who were radicalized in London. (Metropolitan Police)
  • Aine Davis is accused of belonging to the notorious group of hostage-takers, who grew up and were radicalized in London
  • Allegedly involved in abducting more than two dozen journalists and relief workers from the US and other countries

LONDON: An alleged member of Daesh’s “Beatles” kidnap-and-murder cell will face trial in the UK this month on terrorism charges, a judge said on Monday.
Aine Davis is accused of belonging to the notorious group of hostage-takers, who grew up and were radicalized in London.
Active in Syria from 2012 to 2015, they were allegedly involved in abducting more than two dozen journalists and relief workers from the United States and other countries.
The group members were nicknamed the “Beatles” by their captives because of their distinctive British accents.
The hostages, some of whom were released after their governments paid ransoms, were from at least 15 countries, including Denmark, France, Japan, Norway, Spain and the United States.
Daesh tortured and killed their victims, including by beheading, and released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.
Davis, 38, will go on trial on February 27 at the Old Bailey criminal court in London, judge Mark Lucraft said on Monday.
He faces two charges related to providing money for terrorist purposes and one of possessing a firearm for a purpose connected to terrorism.
The judge also extended Davis’s detention in custody to March 3. It was due to run out on Friday.
Davis did not appear in court and the video link to his prison was not working.
His lawyer, Mark Summers, said he had been able to speak to his client about extending custody.
The lawyer predicted the trial would take less than two weeks.
Davis was arrested in Turkiye in 2015 and sentenced to seven and half years for membership of Daesh in 2017.
He was released in July last year and deported from Turkiye the next month. He was then arrested when he arrived at Britain’s Luton airport.
In 2014, his wife Amal El-Wahabi became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding Daesh extremists after trying to send 20,000 euros — worth $25,000 at the time — to him in Syria.
She was jailed for 28 months and seven days following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before he went to Syria to fight with Daesh.
Two of the “Beatles,” El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey, have received life sentences in the United States.
The fourth in the group, executioner Mohammed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in November 2015.


UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert

UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert
Updated 06 February 2023

UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert

UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert
  • Report: Prevent program provided millions to controversial organizations

LONDON: UK Prevent program officials who have overseen the public funding of Muslim groups that promote extremism should be sacked, a counterterrorism expert has said in The Times newspaper.

Prof. Ian Acheson, a senior adviser to the Counter Extremism Project, which contributed to the long-delayed Shawcross review of the government’s anti-extremism Prevent program due to be released this week, called for a stricter approach to Muslim groups that “undermine social cohesion.”

The review, led by William Shawcross, is expected to criticize Prevent for using its $48 million fund to provide money to controversial groups, ostensibly to support religious and community moderation in the UK.

Acheson, a former prison governor who published a review of Islamist extremism in UK jails in 2016, criticized Prevent’s “mission creep,” arguing that “‘securitizing’ growing numbers of young people for thoughts that will not translate into actions is a waste of time and scarce resources.”

He cited statistics showing that despite a surge in referrals in recent years — including 2,127 boys classed as “vulnerable” — a majority of terror attacks in the UK since the program’s launch were carried out by individuals known to the program.

Acheson wrote in The Times: “There will be huge concern at the Home Office with Shawcross detailing how Prevent funding has been given to those who have used it to undermine the effectiveness of the program.

“Inexplicably we lag behind other European governments — Austria for one example — who take a much dimmer view of non-violent Islamist groups who undermine social cohesion. Delegitimizing our counterterror strategy is an article of faith with some of these groups.

“We need to trace these funding decisions right back to the officials who made them.

“There must be accountability, if only on behalf of the huge numbers of British Muslims in this country who are wrongly associated with those who preach division and attack moderate Islam.

“We need to return to fundamentals here: Prevent exists to stop terrorists in the making — prioritizing stopping harm — not to provide a creche for an ever-widening cohort of disaffected young adults.

“Shawcross has done the state some service at some cost to his reputation, maligned by some figures. Politicians must not let him down.”


British workers stage largest strike in history of health service

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service
Updated 06 February 2023

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service
  • Biggest strike in 75-year history of National Health Service
  • Government urges workers to call off walkouts

LONDON: Health workers in Britain began their largest strike on Monday, as tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance workers walk out in an escalating pay dispute, putting further strain on the state-run National Health Service (NHS).
Nurses and ambulance workers have been striking separately on and off since late last year but Monday’s walkout involving both, largely in England, is the biggest in the 75-year history of the NHS.
Nurses will also strike on Tuesday, while ambulance staff will walk out on Friday and physiotherapists on Thursday, making the week probably the most disruptive in NHS history, its Medical Director Stephen Powis said.
Health workers are demanding a pay rise that reflects the worst inflation in Britain in four decades, while the government says that would be unaffordable and cause more price rises, and in turn, make interest rates and mortgage payments rise.
Around 500,000 workers, many from the public sector, have been staging strikes since last summer, adding to pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to resolve the disputes and limit disruption to public services such as railways and schools.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) trade union wrote to Sunak over the weekend asking him to bring the nursing strike “to a swift close” by making “meaningful” pay offers.
“We’ve got one of the busiest winters we have ever had with record levels of funding going into the NHS to try and manage services,” Maria Caulfield, the minister for mental health and women’s health strategy, told Sky News on Monday.
“So every percent of a pay increase takes money away.”
The government has urged people to continue to access emergency services and attend appointments during the strikes unless they had been canceled but said patients would face disruption and delays.
NURSES LEAVING
The NHS, a source of pride for most Britons, is under extreme pressure with millions of patients on waiting lists for operations and thousands each month failing to receive prompt emergency care.
The RCN says a decade of poor pay has contributed to tens of thousands of nurses leaving the profession — 25,000 over just the last year — with the severe staffing shortages impacting patient care.
The RCN initially asked for a pay rise of 5 percent above inflation and has since said it could meet the government “half way,” but both sides have failed to reach agreement despite weeks of talks.
Meanwhile, thousands of ambulance workers represented by the GMB and Unite trade unions are set to strike on Monday in their own pay dispute. Both unions have announced several more days of industrial action.
Not all ambulance workers will strike at once and emergency calls will be attended to.
In Wales, nurses and some ambulance workers have called off strikes planned for Monday as they review pay offers from the Welsh government.
Sunak said in a TalkTV interview last week he would “love to give the nurses a massive pay rise” but said the government faced tough choices and that it was funding the NHS in other areas such as by providing medical equipment and ambulances.


Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opens

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opens
Updated 06 February 2023

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opens

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opens
  • Rights groups and observers say the trial illustrates how the legal system is being used to crush what remains of the opposition
  • The trial is being heard in an open court but without a jury, a departure from the city’s common law tradition
HONGKONG: Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opened Monday with dozens of pro-democracy figures accused of trying to topple the government in a case critics say reflects the criminalization of dissent in the Chinese territory.
The 47 defendants, who include some of the city’s most prominent activists, face up to life in prison if convicted.
Sixteen have pleaded not guilty to charges of “conspiracy to commit subversion” over an unofficial primary election.
The other 31 have pleaded guilty and will be sentenced after the trial.
A rare, small protest erupted before the court convened, despite the large police presence.
One man was seen raising his fist in solidarity.
The defendants maintain they are being persecuted for routine politics, while rights groups and observers say the trial illustrates how the legal system is being used to crush what remains of the opposition.
Most of the group have already spent nearly two years behind bars.
They now face proceedings expected to last more than four months, overseen by judges handpicked by the government.
The case is the largest to date under the national security law, which China imposed on Hong Kong after huge democracy protests in 2019 brought tear gas and police brawls onto the streets of the Asian financial hub.
Wielded against students, unionists and journalists, the law has transformed the once-outspoken city.
More than 100 people had queued outside the court, some overnight, hoping to see the trial begin on Monday.
Chan Po-ying, a veteran campaigner and wife of defendant “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, joined supporters carrying a banner that read “Crackdown is shameless” and “Immediately release all political prisoners.”
“This is political persecution,” she said outside the court.
Inside, Leung repeated his not-guilty plea, adding: “Resisting tyranny is not a crime.”
Those on trial represent a cross-section of Hong Kong’s opposition — including activists Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, professor Benny Tai and former lawmakers Claudia Mo and Au Nok-hin.
Most — 34 out of 47 — have been denied bail, while the few released from custody must abide by strict conditions, including speech restrictions.
Families of the accused have called these measures “social death.”
The group was jointly charged in March 2021 after organizing an unofficial primary a year earlier.
Their stated aim was to win a majority in the city’s legislature, which would allow them to push the protesters’ demands and potentially force the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader.
According to prosecutors, this was tantamount to trying to bring down the government.
“This case involves a group of activists who conspired together and with others to plan, organize and participate in seriously interfering in, disrupting or undermining (the government)... with a view to subverting the State power,” the prosecution said in its opening statement.
More than 610,000 people — about one-seventh of the city’s voting population — cast ballots in the primary. Shortly afterwards, Beijing brought in a new political system that strictly vetted who could stand for office.
The case has attracted international criticism, and diplomats from 12 countries including the United States, Britain, Australia and France were seen at the court Monday.
“This is a retaliation against all the Hong Kongers who supported the pro-democratic camp,” Eric Lai, a fellow of Georgetown University’s Center for Asian Law, told AFP of the trial.
“Beijing will go all out — even weaponizing the laws and court — to make sure democratic politics in Hong Kong cannot go beyond the lines it drew.”
The trial is being heard in an open court but without a jury, a departure from the city’s common law tradition.
“It is as if the national security law is now the new constitution for Hong Kong and the judges are playing their role in making sure that happens,” said Dennis Kwok, Hong Kong’s former legal sector legislator.
Weeks before the hearing began, Hong Kong’s Chief Justice Andrew Cheung defended the courts against accusations of politicization.
“Whilst inevitably the court’s decision may sometimes have a political impact, this does not mean the court has made a political decision,” Cheung said.