As of early 2014, the Crimean tourism sector was on the rise and was undoubtedly a leading industry in Crimea. Starting from 2010, the tourist flow reached a stable level of 5-6 million visitors per year, including 1-1.2 million people staying at health retreats and holiday centres (with the average length of stay of 12 days), which corresponded to the actual competitiveness of Crimean resorts in the regional Black Sea/ Mediterranean market. After the occupation and ensuing militarisation of the peninsula, tourism ceased to be a priority industry of the Crimean economy in terms of budget and investment.
In 2010, for the first time, tourism was officially identified as a top priority in the peninsula’s development strategy.
In 2010-2013, with the support from the EU, Crimea implemented a policy of diversifying its tourist flows as it attempted to increase the proportion of EU and Asian tourists in the total flow.
An important success marker was the fact that Crimea had become a major centre for international cruise tourism in the Black Sea: in 2013, 187 foreign cruise liners carrying a total of about 105,000 passengers called at ports of the Crimean Peninsula. Those were the record figures not only for the period of Ukrainian independence but also for the entire Crimean history. The anticipated growth for 2014 was 70-80%.
- As a result, as of early 2014, the tourism sector of Crimea, together with the related service industries, generated no less than 25% of the consolidated budget revenues of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (i.e. of the total amount of all taxes collected in the territory and directly related to the tourist service, taking into account related industries, trade and service industry, etc.).
- At the same time, the three main regions with resort mono-economies, which received over 75% of all tourists – Yalta (38%), Alushta (19%), and Yevpatoriia (19%) – accounted for more than 20% of the ARC consolidated budget revenues.
Under sanctions, Crimea has become a resort for Russian tourists only. At the same time, the qualitative composition of the tourist flow from Russia has undergone significant changes.
- Before the occupation, most Russian tourists vacationing in Crimea, whose proportion reached up to 22% of the total flow or 1.2-1.5 million people a year, were middle- and high-income people. They mostly stayed in expensive hotels and mini-hotels and used high-end tourist services.
- In 2014-2019, mostly low-income tourists from Russia, who couldn’t afford higher-end tourist services, used state-subsidised vouchers for staying at inexpensive health retreats in occupied Crimea. Moreover, the personnel of numerous Russian military and security services were sent to vacation at the Crimean health retreats owned by the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, the Security Service of Ukraine, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine, the State Management of Affairs of the President of Ukraine, and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, which had become military trophies of the respective agencies of the occupying power.
As a result of the occupation, the tourist logistics have radically changed:
- Before the occupation, in the 2000s, Crimea had the consistent distribution of tourist transport flows for a long time: 67% of tourists arrived by rail, 20% by car, and 13% by air.
- According to the puppet “government of Crimea,” in 2015-2017, 45% of the total number of visitors arrived by air, 41% by ferry crossings, and 14% by car.
- On 15 May 2018, the motorway part of the Kerch bridge became operational; on 25 December 2019, the railway part for passenger transport; and on 30 June 2020, the one for freight traﬃc;
- As a result, further changes in logistics arise. In 2020, 70% of visitors came to occupied Crimea by road, 25% by air, and 5% by rail.
In 2020, due to the coronavirus quarantine restrictions, the full-fledged summer holiday season in Crimea started on 1 July after an almost three-month ban on receiving guests at hotels and health retreats.
In general, in 2020-2021, a completely new trend emerged due to the coronavirus pandemic: Crimea has become a kind of “reservation” for wealthy Russian tourists, mainly from Moscow and St. Petersburg, who want to spend time in a favourable climate till coronavirus outbreaks in the regions of Russia are over.
The official estimates of the tourist numbers in Crimea are of a propaganda nature and are overstated twofold or threefold.
The figures published by the occupation authorities over the past two years (6-8 million tourists a year) are in reality the figures for passenger traffic.
Moreover, a large-scale sale of trophy Ukrainian health retreats and holiday centres is ongoing in Crimea, children’s camps are being liquidated, and the number of holiday centres and hotels receiving tourists has decreased from 2,500 in 2013 to 826 in 2020.
It should be noted that the system of reporting on tourist numbers is a false “statistical tradition” of the Soviet era.
Back then, this figure was calculated by the number of loaves of bread sold when all the bread was produced by state-owned enterprises (usually 1-2 companies in each town). After the transition of bread production to a huge number of small private bakeries, such statistics ceased to be adequate.
In 2010-2013, the Crimean tourism industry began the transition to measuring the tourist flow, using the number of nights – an indicator widely accepted in the world. However, the industry did not have enough time to complete this difficult transition before the occupation of Crimea.
In such conditions, it is possible to estimate the real number of tourists through the indicator of the “average length of stay of tourists in Crimea”:
- In the 1980s (when the maximum number of tourists was reached – 8.3 million people in 1988), the average length of stay of one tourist in Crimea was 20-24 days. In the USSR, this corresponded to the standard duration of annual leave.
- In the 2000s, the average length of stay of tourists in Crimea decreased to 10-14 days, which was in line with the new trends in the labour market.
- During the years of the occupation of Crimea, according to local statistics, this figure has dropped to 7 days. This is due to the new logistics situation after the commissioning of the bridge across the Kerch Strait in 2018.
The occupying authorities of Crimea reported that in 2019, Crimea received “the largest number of tourists in the entire post-Soviet history” – 7.43 million people. Given the average length of stay of a tourist – 7 days – the real tourist numbers compared to the statistics of the 1980s (8 million people, average length of stay of 20-24 days), can be estimated at about 2.5 million people.
That is, the real size of the tourist flow to occupied Crimea – 2.5 million people – is 1.6 times less than the estimated number of tourists before the occupation (4 million people, 10-14 days) and 3.2 times less than in Soviet times (8 million people, 20-24 days).
It should also be noted that in 2015-2021 both Crimean and municipal authorities demonstrated shocking incompetence in managing public utilities and services during a tourist season. Prior to the occupation, Crimea had not encountered such enormous problems with garbage collection and dumping raw sewage into the sea during the summer season for many years.
Combined with these issues, the fresh water shortage is increasingly becoming an insurmountable problem. Thus, the prospects for the tourism sector development in occupied Crimea appear dubious.