Lviv can lead Ukraine into the international tourism mainstream

  • Lviv can lead Ukraine into the international tourism mainstream
Issue 121, March 2019.
Lviv can lead Ukraine into the international tourism mainstream
When Lviv first began marketing itself as an international tourism destination in the mid-2000s, many cynical observers sniffed haughtily at the upstart city’s outlandish ambitions. Who, they asked, wanted to spend their holidays in Ukraine? More and more people, as it turns out. Over the past fifteen years, Lviv has enjoyed a slowly but surely rising profile, emerging first as an exciting alternative destination before becoming a mainstay in annual Top Ten lists predicting the next big thing in European city breaks. 
This journey from off the beaten track to center stage is now nearing completion. Today’s Lviv no longer qualifies as undiscovered. Instead, the city is regularly the subject of dedicated feature articles and gushing video reports throughout the international media. The arrival of low-cost airline market leader Ryanair in late 2018 has plugged Lviv directly into Europe’s travel industry mainstream, and the spring 2019 season is expected to underline the city’s status as a member of the continent’s tourism premier league. 
Lviv’s rise as a tourism destination is a triumph of imagination over inertia that has allowed the city to overcome the considerable obstacles created by Ukraine’s international image issues. It should now also serve as a source of considerable inspiration for the rest of the country. Ukraine has vast untapped tourism potential but at present Lviv remains the only city to have made significant progress attracting visitors from beyond the twin comfort zones of the post-Soviet world and the global Ukrainian diaspora.  
There are signs that the situation is slowly changing. Tourism has become something of a buzzword in Kyiv’s corridors of power in recent months, with politicians increasingly citing the tourism industry as a potent and largely unexploited engine of economic growth. Successes such as the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest and the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final have given many in the Ukrainian capital an idea of what increased tourism could offer, while also serving to convince the authorities that Ukraine is more than capable to offering international visitors a memorable time. 
The scope of Ukraine’s tourism potential is truly staggering. Odesa Oblast’s entire Black Sea coastline could comfortably become an all-inclusive beach holiday paradise, while the elegantly aristocratic city of Odesa is more than capable of outshining more traditional Mediterranean party destinations such as Ibiza and Magaluf. Away from the sea, the Carpathian Mountains and Dnipro River are both ideal for eco-tourism and extreme sports. Meanwhile, as supporters of Liverpool and Real Madrid discovered last year, there are few lovelier places on earth than Kyiv amid the darling buds of May.
As Ukraine seeks to make the most of its tourism treasures, all roads will necessarily lead to Lviv and to the city’s tourism industry professionals. These relative veterans are unique in today’s Ukraine. They have a proven track record of developing the requisite tourism infrastructure and providing the kinds of services that will guarantee happy visitors while generating word-of-mouth recommendations. This Leopolitan knowhow is a national asset that can bring considerable advantages to the country in the years to come. Lviv has already demonstrated that Ukraine can compete as an international tourism destination. The challenge now for the rest of the country is to catch up. 
Peter Dickinson is the publisher of Lviv Today magazine and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council