The world celebrates World Tourism Day on 27 September. This year however, due to COVID-19, many travellers have had to cancel their trips or change their initial plans. The focus has shifted from global to local travel. This has opened a door of opportunity for the development of green rural tourism in Ukraine. What was going on in this sector before the quarantine, and what is going on now? And how has pandemic influenced the Ukrainian tourism industry in general? Find out in this article.
Once a resident of Lviv, Orest Pidkovych first came to the village of Tsviklivtsi, in Khmelnytskyi Oblast, on a short fishing trip. However, he liked the place so much that he decided to stay and develop green tourism in the village.
“People think I’m nuts, because I left the big city to work in green tourism in a small village,” laughs Pidkovych, who is now the owner of the Eco-ranch farmstead. “People just have no idea how beautiful it is here. It’s a true delight for the eye, both the nature and the village, which has great potential for prosperity. And the fact that people don’t know about Podilski Tovtry (National Nature Park nearby) was just another source of inspiration for me to start developing green tourism right here.”
Pidkovych bought a traditional rural homestead and renovated it, preserving its authenticity. However, the peculiarity of the ranch is not so much its originality, but rather its environmental friendliness. Glass, metal and paper are sorted here. Pidkovych compacts garbage and takes it to Kamianets-Podilskyi for processing. Food waste is used to fertilize the garden. Everything is put to good use, and nothing is thrown away.
“It may sound unimaginable, but there is no designated place for garbage collection in the village. Nobody comes to pick it up. And there is no way to dump it or dispose of it. This situation inspired me to start waste management here and introduce it to other people,” says the rancher. He adds that the most important thing is to show people what is possible, to trigger interest and give them motivation.
Pidkovych has a notepad full of ideas for the development of the ranch and the village. He calls Podilsky Tovtry a “territory of rest for the mind” and advises everyone to explore Ukraine:
“Our country is extremely rich, yet we do not see or know anything about it. So, we should discover and, for sure, value it. If we appreciate and take care of our nature, then it will take care of us.”
Union of Rural Green Tourism Development
Pidkovych recently became a member of the Union of Rural Green Tourism Development in Ukraine, the establishment of which was supported by UNDP. Union membership gives the opportunity to farmstead owners to study business, find new clients and share knowledge with each other. The deputy head of the Union, Iryna Okolovych, underlines that rural tourism is usually run by people who have spent their whole lives in the countryside. Many of them do not have e-mail, they do not use the Internet and, thus, cannot present their business to a wider audience. That’s why they need assistance.
“Indeed, the village means culture, history, and traditions. Yet rural tourism must feature some innovations. There is absolutely no other way nowadays,” says Okolovych.
The union helps its members to take up these innovations gradually. Every guest house has its own page on the organization’s website and can participate in tourism exhibitions in Ukraine and abroad on behalf of the union. The organization has its own system of farmstead categorization, which Okolovych calls “one of the union’s greatest assets.”
“Similar to star ratings of hotels, we’ve introduced levels. Our system is called ‘Hospitable Ukrainian Farmstead.’ It is voluntary, and gives owners the opportunity to confirm their level of service, and to present themselves both domestically and abroad,” Okolovych says.
Before pandemic erupted, according to Okolovych, foreigners sometimes showed more interest in rural tourism in Ukraine than Ukrainians themselves.
“They are attracted by the opportunity to get to know Ukrainian culture,” she says. “After all, rural tourism is all about tradition and authentic experience. Holidays in the Ukrainian countryside lure visitors from Europe as well as the Far East, for instance from China and Korea,” she says.
Okolovych hopes that the newly created State Agency for Tourism Development will make efforts to increase the number of tourists from abroad.
Tourism and the pandemic
In the meanwhile, 2020 has shown that tourism both in the countryside and in big cities can be brought to an abrupt halt, for months on end. According to the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, small and medium enterprises working in the hospitality and tourism sector are the most vulnerable to quarantine restrictions. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has estimated that the decline in the industry this year equals to 80 percent in comparison with last year.
Pidkovych, owner of the eco-ranch, admits that during the last few months he has considered going back home to Lviv four times. He stopped himself in the last moment: “I sat down at the bus stop, recalled everything I wanted to do for the eco-farmstead. It gave me incentive to go back.”
In resort towns that usually host lots of people every year, this year has been drastically different says Mariya Shurdenko, the owner of the family guest house “California” in Berdyansk, a seaside town on the Azov Sea coast of Zaporizhzhya Oblast.
“We hoped that since the borders were closed due to the coronavirus, domestic tourism would flourish,” says Shurdenko. “But it didn’t work out like that. This year’s summer vacation season has been a failure.”
The clients who usually come here are the owners of small- and medium-sized businessed. According to Shurdenko, this sector has suffered the most during the pandemic:
“Some of them have lost their business, some do not know if they can afford to spend money in such uncertain times. Many cannot afford vacation they planned to have.”
But for many business owners, and those in the tourism sector in particular, the pandemic has become a stimulus for them to look for new opportunities. Shurdenko, the guest house owner in Berdyansk, won a grant worth EUR 6,500 to build a playground. She won the grant in a competition launched by the UN Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme for Ukrainian enterprises in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, and along the Azov Sea coast in Zaporizhzhya Oblast.
The entrepreneur says that winning the grant has given her some optimism, even as quarantine continues. “The playground will allow us to work not only during the vacation season. Now we will be able to host events for children and their parents all year round.”
This story is a part of a communication campaign about environmental changemakers, which became possible thanks to the UNDP project “Support to the Parliament of Ukraine on sustainable energy and environment” with the financial support of Sweden and UNDP project “Plastic Waste Management at the local level” with the financial support of the joint New World Programme of the Coca-Cola Foundation and Global Water Challenge.
Author: Yuliya Hudoshnyk. Edited by: Euan Macdonald, Yuliya Samus, UNDP
Photos are kindly provided by the telegram channel “Omriyana: your internal visa-free” and “Synytsia” homestead