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The tourism relaunch of the major European metropolises : Odessa

The health crisis has had a profound impact on the entire tourism industry worldwide, preventing people from traveling at will for months. The big cities are among the most affected destinations, but not having welcomed tourists for several months allowed them to take stock of their tourist activities. From this time of reflection, each major metropolis has decided to reinvent itself to revive tourism within its destination. Some have changed direction completely, while others are continuing the actions already undertaken before the crisis began, which were aimed at renewing themselves. Several European cities have agreed to be interviewed by Hospitality ON to share their experiences with the health crisis and how they plan to revive tourism in the coming months.

Tourism before Covid

Odessa is one of the top tourist destinations in Ukraine and it is also the 3rd largest city in the country with a strong economy. The city is nicknamed the "Marseille of Ukraine" due to its close proximity to the Black Sea. Odessa is known for its open-mindedness with a strong multicultural atmosphere and its typical humor deeply embedded in its identity. Among the most visited monuments and places of the city are the Potemkin Stairs which are considered the emblem of the destination, the National Academic Opera of Odessa as well as the catacombs which consist of several thousand kilometers of underground galleries.

Odessa's tourist numbers have increased significantly since 2014, when it hosted 700,000 tourists, the year after the destination was visited by one million more tourists. In 2019, a record year for the tourism sector worldwide, more than 3.3 million tourists came to discover the heritage and cultural wealth of Odessa. The proportion of domestic tourists is relatively high, in 2017 it was around 70% before dropping to 60% the following two years. The top 3 outbound tourist basins are Russia (22%), the United States (19%) and Poland (10%).

China is present in the top 10 outbound tourist basins to the tune of 5.5%, a figure that is partly the result of the efforts made by the Odessa tourism organization to attract tourists of this nationality. Indeed, a large promotional campaign was launched throughout China between 2016 and 2020 to introduce the Ukrainian destination to the Chinese public and this campaign has met with some success as evidenced by the attendance rate. Odessa Tourism has also developed a Chinese version of its website in order to facilitate the search for information by this clientele.

 

Tourism during Covid

Like all major metropolises, Odessa could no longer welcome foreign visitors during this period. It has thus focused on domestic tourists in order to keep the tourism sector in business and to do so, Odessa Tourism launched the campaign "Odessa is the whole world", meaning that you can find all the riches of the world in Odessa itself. Local tourists were there, as they could not travel abroad during the months of travel restrictions, and they discovered, or rediscovered for some, all the tourist potential of Odessa. The locals were at the heart of the priorities of the city's tourism organization during this unprecedented period and it did everything possible to satisfy its inhabitants. For example, the city was richly decorated and illuminated for the Christmas-New Year period in order to embellish the daily life of Odessites.

After 2020, we had to focus on domestic tourism, because in 2020 we had only 13% international tourists compared to 87% tourists from different regions of Ukraine. We understood that we had to change our strategy and do another marketing. We understood that we had to put in place actions for the locals. Everyone was tired of the situation and needed something interesting to take their mind off it.

Senior Specialist of the Department of Culture and Tourism, Odesa City Council

In addition, in an effort to reach out to tourists where they are, the city has created a poster campaign with QR codes in the destination's gas stations indicating the activities, programs and entertainment available. The idea was to reach visitors and tourists who came by car because they could not take the plane or the train. The QR code is used to get information about the city and the services it offers, while the hashtag gives access to special offers in hotels and restaurants in Odessa as well as on excursions offered in the destination. To benefit from it, tourists must take a picture in front of this hashtag.

The tourism sector has remained dynamic despite the crisis as demonstrated by the development of the hotel park with the construction of several hotels in the destination, including several up-market. Entrepreneurs have maintained their establishments despite the crisis in the city and thus expanded the hotel offer of Odessa, which will be able to accommodate more tourists including international with a more qualitative offer, the establishments being positioned on the high-end. This is a very important point since nearly a quarter of its tourist clientele is of Russian origin and the high-end or even luxurious services are highly appreciated by these tourists.

Odessa has also relied on digitalization like a number of urban destinations to face the challenges imposed by the situation that restricted physical contact to a minimum. Odessa Tourism has thus developed an online platform to maintain festivals that should have taken place last year such as the Odessa International Film Festival or Yumorina. Moreover, digital development is at the heart of its next tourism program which starts in 2021 and ends in 2023.

 

Tourism after Covid

With its new tourist strategy, Odessa wishes to attract new targets such as families but also small groups because its tourist offer adapts to all types of customers. The destination is also interested in the Balkan countries which are geographically close and which are likely to be interested in the tourist attractions that it enjoys. Also, several new direct flight lines will be created to allow easier access to Odessa, for example from Vilnius in Lithuania. Nevertheless, Odessa wishes to continue to target local tourists who already contribute strongly to its tourist economy.

By the end of this year or the beginning of next year, we will have more opportunities to develop the aviation market. An airline industry specialist explained during a conference that we are attracting interest from airlines that would like to launch direct flights to Odessa because it is a very good destination for tourism. [...] Moreover, Poland is a very interesting market for us because it is close to us and there are direct flights between Odesa and Polish cities. Besides, we have a Polish heritage in the city, so it is one of the priority markets.

Senior Specialist of the Department of Culture and Tourism, Odesa City Council

The destination also plans to focus on wine tourism as wine production is an integral part of its identity, the Odessa vineyard covering 50,000 hectares and enjoying a good reputation mainly on a national scale but its consumption tends to be exported internationally. During one week, from 18 to 23 May 2021, Odessa Wine Week was held, an event that brought together leading wine experts, scientists, oenologists, winemakers, domestic and foreign wine associations, tourism representatives, sommeliers, wine merchants, marketers and journalists. The event has several objectives, including the development of the Ukrainian wine market and wine tourism, as well as the promotion and enhancement of the "Ukrainian wine" brand. The city also offers the opportunity to some tourists to live a unique experience, to taste the 5 best wines that were elected during the Odessa Wine Week on board a plane of the national airline while tasting typical dishes of the destination.

The MICE sector is also a sector of activity that Odessa wishes to develop and to achieve this ambition, the city plans to build several congress centers in order to increase its capacity to host events. For the moment, the majority of congresses and seminars take place in hotels that can accommodate a maximum of 300 participants, so it is necessary to develop the offer of infrastructures intended for business tourism if Odessa wants to position itself on this market. But the city does not put aside the sustainable aspect and intends to register its tourist offer in the movement of sustainable and fair tourism.

Odessa is a MICE destination, but if you look at the infrastructure, currently we can just use hotels and an additional venue to host events, but these events are limited to 100-200 participants. We understand that we need a bigger complex to host these events.

Senior Specialist of the Department of Culture and Tourism, Odesa City Council

 

Odessa intends to integrate the latest trends in tourism in the development of its tourism offer, whether it concerns leisure tourism or business tourism. The city obviously does not neglect digitalization, which has become an indispensable tool for all tourist destinations since the beginning of the crisis, but it nevertheless integrates sustainable values into its strategy in order to meet the new expectations of travelers. Like most urban destinations, Odessa has been able to face the crisis thanks to the frequentation of local tourists who took advantage of this "pause" in international tourism to discover or rediscover the riches of their own territory. And the city intends to do its utmost to retain this clientele, even if it also aims to attract more international tourists in the years to come.

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