“Discover Lviv,” “Travel and feel summer in Lviv,” Flynas, a key low-cost airline based in Saudi Arabia, invites tourists to visit the biggest city in western Ukraine with a promo-video featuring traditional cuisine, local people, landmarks, and a pearl of Ukraine — the picturesque Carpathian Mountains.
Starting 11 June, Flynas launched direct flights from Riyadh to Kyiv thrice weekly and soon, the number of the flights increased to one per day. Having considered the demand, the low-cost carrier opened new air routes to Kyiv, Lviv, and Odesa. For the Ukrainian air market, such a skyrocketing of flights and routes from a country with which Ukraine never before had direct aerial communication is incredible, noted Visit Ukraine CEO and tourism expert Anton Taranenko.
This explosion of Saudi tourism was preceded by a meeting of Ukraine’s President and representatives of the tourism industry on 4 June 2020. Then, Volodymyr Zelenkyy issued an order establishing a visa-free regime for Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, Kuwait, and Oman nationals.
A year later, Dubai hosted the first international offline Аrabian Тravel Мarket exhibition giving Visit Ukraine platform representatives and a group of Ukrainian travel providers space to show what the country can offer in terms of tourism to the Arab market.
Another big push to have opened doors for travel-hungry tourists from Saudi Arabia was the government’s recent move to allow vaccinated and Covid-recovered nationals to leave the country. And in a great deal of choice, it is Ukraine that won many Arab hearts. Deemed as a lowcoster, Flynas offers relatively pricey trips to Ukraine for $600−$700. According to Taranenko’s estimates, a tourist spends as much as $200 per day in Ukraine. That is, they are willing to splash cash in this country.
And Ukraine is willing to make their stay more comfortable. With the influx of tourists in Bukovel, Eastern Europe’s largest ski resort situated in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast of Ukraine, restaurants have translated their menus into Arabic and included special cuisine for the Muslim community.
Тvoemisto.tv, a Lviv independent media hub, has figured out what makes Ukraine, especially its western part, so attractive for Saudis.
“We are in Ukraine, Lviv, for the first time and are stunned with everything around. Lviv has wonderful, diverse architecture, especially the ancient [buildings],” Hanna, a tourist from Saudi Arabia who arrived in the city together with four of her girlfriends told Тvoemisto.tv.
Apart from historic landmarks, the ladies appreciated the visa-free regime and the fact that Ukraine was open for tourists despite the pandemics. “Travel without visas, no 10-day quarantine upon arrival — these are the key reasons. The European continent is very special and interesting but due to the lockdown, not all countries lifted restrictions,” Hanna explained.
She pointed out that communication was an issue, yet easily solved with the phone translator. “We speak English but must translate everything, often using a translator in mobile phones. There are very open-minded people who try to understand us. This impresses,” she adds.
All in all, this is a fighting chance for Ukraine’s tourism business to revive after the global pandemic, noted Mariana Oleskiv, Head of the State Agency of Tourism Development.
She recommends that tourism experts from Ukraine should take into account cultural needs and peculiarities of Saudi tourists. Since they travel with their family members, they choose hotel suites with several rooms. Halal is their food preference. Saudis pay with American Express cards and mostly use Snapchat and Twitter.
Ukrainian tour operators and guides should use all this knowledge to not only maintain but also increase this demand by promoting Ukraine in the Arab market. Here is the how-to guide from Taranenko:
- High standards in service;
- Service in the Arab language (including but not limited to menus, websites, leaflets, signs in Arabic);
- Service providers with a decent English language knowledge;
- Introducing halal (“permissible” from Arabic) food in the menu, and cooking meals not forbidden in the Muslim culture;
- Provide activities with focus on families, as Saudis prefer family vacations;
- Educate service providers on the culture, mentality, and customs of Saudi tourists;
- Equip bathroom with bides or hygienic showers;
- Ensure that women provide service to women.
Until recently, Lviv saw under 1% of tourists from the Middle East, Vitaliy Kulyk, Director “Center for Tourism Development” of Lviv City Council mentioned. Today, though, Saudis are likely to enter the top-3 foreign tourists visiting Ukraine in 2021. UAE, Kuwait, Bahrein, and Oman citizens having visa-free regime might join them very soon.