Tapping into the Tourist Trade Gold Mine

Issue 12, April 2009.

Ukraine is suffering more than most from the global credit crunch, which has been exasperated on a local level by the in-fighting and inability to reach consensus among the country’s political classes. With presidential elections fast approaching, many now fear that the current state of political deadlock will drag on into 2010, leaving the country’s economy to drift aimlessly and exposed to the worst dangers of the current international downturn. One of the few areas in which Lviv could be looking to bolster its local economy is in the field of tourism, and the good news is with more and more airlines now offering flights to Lviv, there is every reason to believe that even with money worries gripping potential tourists all over Europe, Lviv will nevertheless be able to attract enough visitors to keep the city’s coffers from drying up complete.

A regional air hub

Lviv has historically always been a regional crossroads where trade routes have intersected and nations have come face to face. This city has famously had four different names in the past 100 years alone (Lemberg, Lwow, Lvov and Lviv) but until recently this heritage as a junction on the highway of global trade had not translated into major gains in the modern era. However, in the past few months the situation has improved. Early 2009 saw the start of regular flights from Lviv to London and Germany from budget airline Wizz Air, which selected the city as its second hub for operations in Ukraine ahead of rivals such as Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk. The decision of Wizz Air to choose Lviv could have significant ramifications for the city as a whole as it will greatly increase the number of EU nation citizens who can now
visit Lviv at relatively little expense. As the traffic in tourists grows and the typical demographic moves beyond the usual suspects from Poland, the Baltics and Vienna, word will slowly get out that this is a place where visitors can enjoy a wonderful weekend away amid the kind of ‘old European’ ambience that most of the homogenized EU has long since lost. Another major breakthrough in the emergence of Lviv as a regional air hub occurred earlier this month with
the opening of a new service between Lviv and Munich from German giant Lufthansa. This service, together with the daily Austrian Airlines flights to Vienna and Lot Airlines services to Poland, mean that Lviv is now officially Ukraine’s second city in terms of air traffic. It now remains far behind Kyiv but head and shoulders above the rest of the country, and is fast returning to the kind of regional hub status that was denied the city during its Soviet isolation and post Soviet economic exile. With Turkish Airlines among the other regional powerhouses said to be eyeing the opening of a daily service to Lviv, this trend is unlikely to be reversed any time in the intermediate future, making Lviv a gateway in the modern sense of the word, much as it has always served as the region’s gateway to the outside world.

Time to improve service standards

With so much traffic now flying into the city, the impact will soon be felt by the population at large and the market will inevitably grow for services catering specifically to the new tourism market. English-language skills will be at a premium, while service standards will rise as the old Soviet ideal of ‘service with a scowl’ is replaced by the often mocked but internationally accepted ‘have a nice day’ school of customer care. Venues which recognize this switch
and move to implement international service standards will be among the biggest winners from the growing influx of international tourists, while those who continue to rely on outdated standards will quickly find that the average visitor’s patience for such things is limited. While lingering Soviet attitudes towards customer care may strike many visitors as mildly amusing when they first encounter them, the joke very quickly wears thin. Here at Lviv Today we have already received numerous emails from visitors to Lviv who have taken advantage of cheap Wizz Air flights to spend a weekend in the city, only to have their stay marred by poor service standards and the inconsiderate approach of many of the professionals they encountered during their trip. These emails are marked by a sense of exasperation which would be all too familiar to the average expat who has lived in Ukraine for any number of years, and basically seemed to pose the question of how such a beautiful city and welcoming population could also produce such thoughtless and rude service with such consistency. Hopefully such teething problems will soon be ironed out – the big challenge will be to make sure that every tourist who visits the city goes back to their own country and tells everyone how wonderful Lviv is, not how bad the service is!