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Tackling tourism (or its development) – Odessa

August 14, 2016

A few days ago the blog had occasion to informally discuss infrastructure, PPPs and tourism with somebody who works within the Oblast Regional Development, (read infrastructure, PPP/FDI) and Tourism Division within the bureaucratic machinery.

It was an interesting conversation, and of the 30+ unrealised infrastructure and/or PPP projects of the Oblast, at some point in the future the blog will somehow (not necessarily by way of a large block of text) feature the most promising 5.

What swiftly became apparent, and reading between the lines of what was not said, is that there are serious communication issues between the City and Oblast bureaucracies, and also between those individual local governance entities and the relevant central ministries in Kyiv.

The lack of communication between City and Oblast governance comes as no surprise, particularly under the current leadership of both entities which have no liking of each other whatsoever.  This something set to continue, for there is no candidate to replace Mayor Trukhanov in any election that would beat him.  In fact there is no other candidate that is even promoting themselves as an alternative now in order to preposition themselves with even the remotest of chances.  In short, Mayor Trukhanov will have to be disqualified from reelection not to remain Mayor following any forthcoming elections – as poor a Mayor as he may be.  The sacking of Governor Saakashvili is a matter for the President and seems unlikely any time soon despite the on-going attempts of the local political class to unseat him.  Ergo the communication and cooperation impasse remains extremely likely.

That there is also a lack of communication between ministries and oblast is also no surprise – especially so when it comes to tourism.  There are is no shortage of interest in chjasing FDI or developing PPP infrastructure projects from any governance entity, but tourism is clearly something of a limp add-on therefore devoid of serious attention.

Indeed regarding FDI and PPP, albeit such things appear slowly, over the coming two years (should existing, if dysfunctional, stability across the political and economic arenas continue) some (quite surprising) projects will assuredly manifest across the oblast.

Nevertheless, the result is that there is no national, regional, nor city tourism policy worthy of the name – and certainly none that are complementary or part of an overarching vision.

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Suffice to say that the last tourism conference in Odessa truly failed to inspire – whatsoever.

Albeit there seems to be little likelihood of a national tourism policy worthy of the name occurring anytime soon – let alone implemented – should Eurovision 2017 be awarded to Odessa then there may be something akin to an Oblast and City policy that has little choice but to force limited cooperation and implementation under the watchful eye of Kyiv that cannot afford a political farce, large scale corruption of invested funds, or event delivery disaster.

Having written a few lines in the Odessa Review (pages 44-45) regarding Eurovision as generally being an event that is a financial loss for the host city almost every year, it is therefore imperative that it is the Eurovision legacy in the immediate years that follow are capitalised upon in order to balance the books – or eventually turn a profit.  That means infrastructure spending on what those “Euro tourists” expect to find – and which is in fact what all tourists expect to find and yet remains largely absent in Odessa despite it being a city with a reputation for tourism.  Many of these issues are cheap fixes that should have been fixed long ago, and can be/should be fixed now, regardless of whether Eurovision is awarded to Odessa or not.  The Odessa Review article highlights but a few obvious and easily fixed failings (of many not mentioned).

There are governance issues relating to tourism at the best of times – even with effective communication of which Ukraine and Odessa has none.  That there is almost no effective communication within the Oblast and City administrations or those businesses involved in the industry makes development almost impossible.   Coherence and consistency are required.

Governance, both vertical and horizontal dramatically and directly effects tourism.  It is only necessary to think of issues like border security, Visa issuance (for those that need them), the regulation of the aviation industry, the control (or lack of) it has over any attractions such as castles, catacombs,  the maintenance of public beaches,  parks et al.  This notwithstanding infrastructure such as roads, rail, obligations of e-promotion of the region, the regulation public transport, and of on-line/virtual agents etc.  (Almost everything else can and should be left to the micro-tourism industry itself and/or its industry associations).

Is tourism best placed within the Regional Development portfolio as it is in Odessa, where it is a footnote to infrastructure and FDI?  Tourism in Austria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, FYR Macedonia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the USA, falls within the economics ministries (business, industry commerce and trade).  In the UK, Italy, Turkey and Korea it falls within the culture ministry portfolio.

Would placing tourism within the economics ministry produce further and swifter development than within the regional development machinery?  Clearly a dedicated ministry for tourism such as Egypt, Brazil, Israel, Malta etc enjoy is not going to happen – and perhaps rightly, but if Ukraine has no ministry, does that prevent Odessa having a dedicated Tourism department within the oblast machinery, and would there be the justification for such a stand-alone department at the oblast level?

Whatever the case, is a regional development division clearly far more orientated toward infrastructure and investment chasing, the right entity to also be casting a watchful eye over existing tourism?  (Does it monitor standards and safety within?)

How much effort does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs put into promoting tourism in Ukraine?  It currently has far greater priorities and rightly so, but is any notable effort spent?  Are there nations that Ukraine would/should/could specifically target?  The USA?  Canada?  The Gulf States (which are seemingly more and more inclined to look to Ukraine lately)?  Israel? China?  Others?

For those that need a Tourist Visa to enter Ukraine, how easily and how quickly does a Visa appear in a passport?  Can they be bought at the airport on arrival in Ukraine?  If not, why not, and could or should they be?

The role of government will not remain a static one either.  Even if Ukraine maximised its tourism potential, governance will be required to create and insure conditions for market competitors within the sector – but is government even looking that far ahead when doing so little now?

How best to regulate and manage eco-tourism at the stunning Danube Delta?  The answer surely is jointly with Romania for it falls within the territory of both nations.  Who should facilitate such interaction?  At what level?  Who pays and for what?  Is it possible to find a co-operative funding mechanism?  Should tax revenue generated by eco-tourism be redirected back into eco-tourism – if so, in part or in full?

If promoting eco-tourism or the few niche historical tour operators, is that time better spent than promoting sun, sand, sea, water parks?  Or wineries?  Or mountains?  Diversification matters and some tourism niches require more of a promotional lift than others.

Would the creation of a dedicated “Tourism Investment Fund” be of benefit?  For example could it be used to put new facades in place of those crumbling where tourists regularly frequent, or fund specific issues such as the complete lack public disabled toilets?  Or wheelchair access?  Or Latin letter street signage in the tourist areas?  Perhaps it would be a pointless exercise when both the City Council and Ministry of Culture, both legally charged with preventing illegal construction in the historical town centre, and upon historically listed buildings themselves, abjectly fail not only in their responsibilities of prevention, but also enforcing the law and demolishing offending work despite their protests if and when made.

How effectively can internal/domestic tourism be developed?  What do other nations with very developed tourism industries do to generate internal tourism and thus industry growth?  Music festivals, language camps, sporting events, naturism, nudism, art festivals etc?  How to maximise the legacy of such events, encouraging sustainable and repeat domestic tourism?

Simply leaving tourism to fend for itself as currently appears to be the case is clearly failing to bring development – and the “what to do?” and the “how to do it?” in order to change that are questions that have been answered far more successfully by far less developed nations than Ukraine, and in localities far less attractive than Odessa.

There is a general perception that tourism brings Odessa a far higher percentage of regional income than is actually the case, but there is certainly room, and in many cases at very little expense, to bring the reality closer to that perception.  What is lacking is policy – and the leadership that will pursue it.

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