Archive for May 19th, 2012

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Odessa Tourism Festival 18 – 20 May – UK AWOL

May 19, 2012

OK.  Today I leave the macro-geopolitical and policy realm relating to Ukraine and the neighbourhood and go local.  Namely the Odessa Travel Festival, the bulk and most public part takes place along Deribasovskaya (which is the nominal pedestianised main street in the city centre).

As always in the warmer months, the cafes and restaurants expand from their premises and spread out over the pavements with comfy chairs, tables and parasols to give life to the mañana feel of the city when the hot summer sun begins to camp here.

Deribasovskaya

And what more a pleasant a way to pass a few hours than with a cappuccino  and a cigar watching the beautiful and not so beautiful wandering around the city centre.

What better place to place the Odessa Travel Festival on a hot and sunny day than Deribasovskaya, a street always  brimming with people with time on their hands and money in their pockets?

The point of the Odessa Travel Festival?  Well to promote both domestic and European travel, of course, but also to promote things like language schools, education abroad, and generally encourage Ukrainians (or at least those in Odessa) to think of themselves as “Europeans” and by doing so entice them along the “European path” to values, cultures and people to people contact.  (European Commissioner Stefan Fule would indeed be very pleased with such a strategy, as would the national tourist boards of those taking part.)

Opening Ceremony Odessa Travel Festival 2012

Last year more than 10,000 people from Odessa visited the festival.  Approximately 1% of the population of the entire city and therefore quite probably having a small stand for those nations seeking to attract tourists, a worthy and very minor cost.

Now Odessa is not the biggest city in Ukraine.  It is in fact only the 4th biggest.  It is though a tourist destination itself receiving just over 1 million tourists each year.  A ratio of approximately 1 tourist per year to each local,  which is none too shabby considering Odessa does so very little to advertise itself as a tourist destination (and what is does do is disjointed and really rather poor).

The city is also home to about 20 consulates and a few honorary consuls for good measure.   Sadly, the UK does not have a consulate here or indeed an Honorary Consul despite 20 other nations considering Odessa as worthy of one or the other.  An issue I will return to later in this entry.

Anyway, with nothing better than to paint the walls at home, I decided to delay that task until the weekend and wander off and see just who was taking part in this festival organised by the regional administration.

There were numerous other regional oblasts in attendance,  Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk etc luring those from Odessa to visit them and spend money there.

Also present were stalls from Greece, with my old acquaintance Alexandros Ikonomou, Head Counselor of the Trade & Economic Department of the Greek Consulate in Odessa, managing to sneak into this photograph, looking officious as always.  (We have both attended many of the same functions, ranging from the official opening of envelopes, to the more grandiose of functions, although though quite why I am invited and attend such things remains a mystery to me.)

Germany also had a presence.

So did the Czech Republic.

And Bulgaria.

As well as Azerbaijan.

And Turkey.

Not forgetting Italy.

I could go on, but you get the drift.

Where is the UK stall?  –  There wasn’t one!  Where is the British Council encouraging the youth of Ukraine to study in the UK?  – It wasn’t there.  Who was giving advice about IELTS and UK Visas and tourism?  – There was none.  Where was the Union Jack amongst all the international flags and national nick-nacks on display?  There was none.

Why?

Do 10,000 people from Odessa manage to find and enter the British Council office on Admiralsky each year?  I doubt it!  Is part of the British Council’s mission to spread the good word about Blighty or not?  Do the people who work in the British Council and face the Ukrainian public on a daily basis have an in-depth knowledge of the UK education system or tourist industry?  I doubt it as they are Ukrainian.

To be honest, if it wasn’t for my boy having just been offered a place at Trevelyn College at Durham University this October, I wouldn’t know about the application process, IELTS courses and examinations and bureaucratic rigors involved in him studying abroad.

Why does the UK Ambassador in Kyiv regale the Ukrainian public who may read his blog with tales of how good a UK university education is, how essential the English language is, and then there is no presence from the UK at such an event which advertises the fact that education is part of the travel festival perimeters and has done so for months on the Odessa City Website?

I mean literally, the only British thing present was me!

Does the 4th biggest city in Ukraine not warrant public UK participation when the total expenditure for a stall and UK nick-nacks would cost no more than a few hundred quid for the entire 3 days?  Is it some part of the UK FCO plan to have as limited a UK presence outside Kyiv as is humanly possible?

I mean seriously?  For £100 I could have sat there for 3 days handing out horrible cheap pens that will stop working within 2 or 3 days with the Union Jack (probably the wrong way up) printed on the side.  I could have handed out UK tourist literature and spoke from tourist experience of everywhere from Edinburgh Castle to Stonehenge, from the Roman baths of Bath to Winchester Cathedral and everything in between.

I could have entertained the passing interested Ukrainians considering sending their children to the UK to study with stories from the student union bars of my youth, just how to apply, where to seek out the IELTS tests, what documentation is required to support any Visa application for the UK and a myriad of UK anecdotes and tall tales as a bonus.

All for a cost far less than an average decent bottle of red in the Ambassador’s wine cellar in Kyiv.

In fact, if asked nicely, I would probably have done it for free.  After all, if it became a regular annual event to semi-officially fly my nations flag  in foreign climes (so to speak) at Odessa’s annual tourism festival (or other things), something like a “thanks very much” letter from whoever is Foreign Secretary in 10 years time, to go with the other official commendations and gongs I have for bravery and/or cleverness under pressure, or both stupidity and recklessness on behalf of The Crown with fortunate and successful outcomes, would be a nice addition and recognition enough should I ever undertake such a role over a prolonged period for free.

Instead, I hang my head in shame that not a single representative of my nation can be bothered to turn up to a festival that not only promotes European tourism, culture and people to people contact, but also the very lucrative business of educating foreigners at UK higher education establishments in a major Ukrainian city.  That is made all the more disgraceful by the fact that the UK Embassy and Consulate in Kyiv is not the smallest UK FCO presence around the globe.

Poor show by the UK FCO and British Council all round.

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