Interview with Mariana Oleskiv
President of the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine
Mariana Oleskiv, President of the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine, is first and foremost passionate about her country, especially after travelling alone throughout the country in 2003 and 2006, which allowed her to get to know everything from big cities to major cities.
She has more than 17 years of experience working in the tourism sector, mainly in the MICE and marketing sectors.
His knowledge of Ukrainian tourism resources allowed him to create a tourism website in Ukraine, www.nezabarom.com.ua., which translated into English has a meaning similar to "you can't miss it".
At the same time, he is well acquainted with the hotel sector, having held various responsibilities in large tourist centres in the cities of Lviv, Odessa and Kiev.
On 3 March 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, she was appointed President of the State Agency for the Development of Tourism in Ukraine and at the same time created the company "Travel Ukraine" with the aim of developing domestic tourism in Ukraine.
Dear Ms. Mariana Oleskiv, we are going through difficult times in general, and particularly in your country, do you think we can hope to return to a world of respect and solidarity?
We not only hope for it – we actually fight for it. Unfortunately, world made it possible for such an empire as Russia to exist, to grow economically and to become a threat to the whole democratic world. And now they are threatening all of us with the nuclear weapons… So, the only way for all of us to come back to peace is by making Russia democratic demilitarized state. Of course, Ukraine is on a front line here, but we need help of every human on this planet that believes in peace and democracy in our fight with this pure evil.
I am sure that after Ukraine victory, the global role of Ukraine will be transformed into an action - to visit Ukraine, to discover its power and beauty, to meet the incredibly brave people, to feel the spirit of heroism and sorrow, to meet our culture, to taste local cuisine. To learn how to pronounce “Slava Ukrayini” and “Heroyam Slava!”.
There will be an open window for tourism development. And we are working on this right now – towards the unique touristic routes in the already liberated regions. And the same job is to be done toward Kherson, Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk region and others temporary occupied territories.
Do you think that tourism, as a bridge-builder between peoples, can be the best weapon?
Let us be honest. A lot of people discovered that Ukraine exists since February, 24th. The terrifying news about the unprovoked russian war against Ukraine – became the key source of information.
They observed our country bleeding and shelling, expecting russian victory in a couple of days.
Then, they were amazed by our resistance. After all, everybody understood our passion and internal will to win. Now – the way to victory become more obvious.
In the nearest future tourism will become the best way to feel the true story of Ukraine in war.
I am not about facts and news. But about true understanding of the nation, that stopped russian hordes from going further.
In the future, tourism will become one of the most important things to understand, to feel and perceive the role of Ukraine in the global world puzzle.
And in such a complicated situation, what are you promoting from the State Agency for Tourism Development in Ukraine?
Right now, it is important for us to tell the world the truth about Ukraine fight against ruzhism. We believe it will help Ukraine to win. And to some extent, it is our contribution into future tourism development. We encourage people to visit Ukraine after our victory.
On our domestic market we work with bloggers and opinion leaders on a campaign that would tell Ukrainians that they have a right to take a breath and get some rest in these emotionally very hard times. And the best way to do is to get inspired by the beauty of our country when travelling. With this campaign we want to restart slowly domestic tourism and support out industry.
You are a young woman, where the blow of a war affects emotionally, what do you do to express such strength?
The bravery and freedom is in our DNA. During the first days of the war, we were shocked. The new reality we were facing was difficult to accept. The worst feeling that I had during first weeks of war was a fear to lose our country, our freedom. But the work cures, so I just started doing what I can for my country to win.
After the hard blow to the national infrastructure and other problems related to a normal development of the tourism industry, where to start?
After Ukraine victory, tourism will be obviously changed. From the approaches to urban planning - safety issues with shelters at tourist sites, full-fledged plans for the evacuation in museums etc. – to the new tourist routes in the liberated territories.
Today we have the plan of Ukraine recovery developed by the Office of the President. It is for 10 years. It covers all the most important sectors of the economy, including tourism. We established a special working group that is responsible for this plan development and further recovery of the industry.
So far, to rebuild the damages cause by this aggression we estimate that the State and private investors will invest close to 200 billion dollars.
The numbers might be much higher though, as we cannot estimate the real damages until the full liberation of our land. But money is nothing. Ukraine pays by the blood and lives of our people for the European security.
What about the next steps?
We are supporting tourism business in Ukraine. We are going to build capacity to open Ukraine after our victory. We are ready to face the new demand – to discover the nation that stopped the WWW3.
Antonio Santos, president of Tourism and Society, was lucky enough to live in Kiev and Kharkiv for a few months for professional reasons, and he tells us that Ukraine is a country different from what we expected. What does your country have to make everyone fall in love with it?
Ukraine has the awesome tourism resources. We have mountains, seas, rivers, forests and even deserts. Ancient culture, unique traditions, incredibly delicious cuisine. Modern cities with bright nightlife and authentic settlements in the Carpathian Mountains, where you can fell calmness and meet the nature. We have the infrastructure - roads, airports, hotels, restaurants. But our greatest advantage is our people. Brave and indomitable, and incredibly hospitable.
I am sure, in the nearest future, shaking hands with our heroes will be the new trend in tourism.
From a tourist point of view, what can we find in a country where, despite such a tragic situation as the one they are living in at the moment, its citizens keep smiling at you at every corner?
Ukrainians learned to live and work in wartime conditions, thus supporting Ukraine's economy. Today we can even see that domestic tourism has gradually started to recover.
Nevertheless, we want the world to remember that Ukraine is a great tourist destination. Therefore, after our victory, we want to use our current interest in Ukraine and welcome foreigners to travel to our indomitable country and meet our brave citizens.
In Ukraine, you can find everything - city tourism, skiing, sea and beach. But the most important thing is the people you will meet during your travels. Our bravery is already the Ukrainian brand.
What are the main objectives on the agenda of the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine?
To support the tourism business, to help transform and adapt to the conditions of the war. Our main tasks are to restore the tourism industry, to help our heroes’ rehabilitation, to develop the concept of war sites visiting in the de-occupied territories. And support the domestic tourism - encourage Ukrainians to travel, thereby supporting the Ukrainian tourism industry and the country's economy.
After the war, what are the main steps to be taken for the revival of the national tourism industry?
Thanking to Covid2019, we intensified domestic tourism. 2020 was almost the best year in terms of the development of domestic tourism.
In 2021, we welcomed more than 3 million of foreign tourists. For example, the visa free regime for Gulf countries had significantly increased the touristic traffic from this part of the world.
We had very ambitious plans for 2022. But the war made the corrections. During the first 6 months of 2022 taxes from the tourism sector dropped by 26%.
But today we can even see that domestic tourism has slightly started to recover. Domestic tour operators have already renewed their activities by 20-50% compared to last year. Ukrainians began to travel around the country. There is mostly a weekend getaway to relatively safe western and central regions. However, these trips are rather for a reboot, not for a vacation or rest.
What culturally defines the country's tourism offer?
Ukraine has very rich and diverse cultural product. Amazing opera scene and significant opera houses in Lviv and Odesa. Many festivals of electro, jazz and classic music, such as Atlas Weekend, Leopolis Jazz Festival and MozArt festival.
There are 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ukraine. These are the Cathedral of Saint Sophia and the adjacent monastic buildings, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the architectural ensemble of the historical center of Lviv, the residence of the metropolitans of Bukovyna and Dalmatia, the Tavrian Chersonese, the wooden churches in the Carpathian region of Poland and Ukraine, the Struve Arch, the ancient beech forests of the Carpathians. We have well-developed folk crafts, which are included in the list of intangible heritage of UNESCO and have always been an integral part of Ukrainian culture - Petrykiv painting and Kosovan ceramics. Ukrainian borscht was also recently added to this list.
Let's talk about tourism professionals in Ukraine. Do you consider the training and professionalisation of tourism workers to be adequate?
Many people from the tourism industry retrained at the beginning of the pandemic. During the war, the number of specialists who were forced to leave their jobs in tourism increased significantly. But we understand that it is very important for us not to lose qualified personnel, which will be necessary after the victory and the restoration of the tourism industry, particularly in Crimea. That is why SATD plans the establishment of the Hospitality Institute. We want this organization to act as a Think Tank to unite the efforts of international specialists for educational programs development and attract many international universities to Ukraine.
Tourism and culture are closely related. What programmes are you developing in this strategic relationship to make known one of the great treasures of Ukraine's cultural identity?
Indeed, culture and tourism are closely connected. We have many joint projects with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy. One of the largest one is the President’s program "Great Restoration", which was started in 2021. Together with colleagues from the ministry, we developed the criteria to include sites into this program. We assessed the tourist potential, developed the list of castles and other locations that might be attractive for travellers. The work was supposed to continue in 2022.
Unfortunately, the war postponed our planes. Terrorists from russia destroyed many monuments of culture and architecture during the seven months of the war. These losses are recorded by the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy. According to their latest data, since the beginning of the full-scale war, the russian occupiers have destroyed or damaged 388 cultural monuments.
DART is very also interested in cooperation within the Orange -Creativity Innovation and Technology (O-City) Project. The goals of O-City are to identify, popularize and expand the cultural (tangible and intangible) heritage of the cities. At the same time, it should stimulate the economy by training professionals (experts) in creative technologies to integrate this knowledge into existing or new companies. This goal will be achieved through the creation of multimedia elements (videos, video games, photos, 360º videos) that represent the heritage of cities (we call it cultural realities). These multimedia elements will be uploaded to the O-City platform.
Do you consider the digitisation of the national tourism industry to be important, a priority or secondary?
Digitization is one of the main vectors in the development of the Ukrainian economy over the next 10 years. It is also very important for us. We are currently creating a single tourist register that allows all the permits to be issued online. The license will be replaced by registration. The tour operator will fill out a special electronic form and these data will be synchronized with other registers.
We also plan to create a special web site where consumers can check the reliability of tour operators and travel agents. Each of the participants in the register will have their own account and possibility to update information there.
Tourism, culture, and sustainability are invincible offers in the tourist offer of any country, how are you integrating these concepts in the current offer and that of the coming months?
Today, one of the main projects that SATD is engaged in - is the strategy for visiting war memorials. We are developing this project in cooperation with the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine and the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy together with NGOs. Our main task is to create a professional platform for discussion to generate ideas and proposals. The key issue that deserves special attention – how to prevent excessive tourism and unwanted tourism, as well as the devaluation of the sacrifice made by Ukrainians for the victory.
Let's talk about the tourist areas that are being affected by the war, where to start?
I can say that SATD, together with the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine and the Kyiv School of Economics, is already developing the strategy for the Crimea rapid recovery with the involvement of world best practices and global investors.
It is already obvious that the russians have turned Crimea into a military base and destroyed great part of the flora and fauna. However, after liberation, thanks to the President’s program, Ukraine intends to turn Crimea into one of the most attractive tourism destinations in the world. And of course, to do this transformation we will need the professional help of the entire world tourism community.
Do you think they are receiving enough help and collaboration?
Today, part of the East, South of Ukraine and the Crimea are occupied. It is difficult to evaluate the state of tourism and recreational infrastructure there. We cannot even imagine the amount of job to be after the deoccupation of these territories. First of all, we will start with the assessment of losses and the restoration of infrastructure, as well as the involvement of international investors.
At the de-occupied territories - Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, many international organizations are involved in reconstruction, and we are very grateful to them. But the main thing for all Ukrainians is to liberate our country from invaders. That’s why the most important thing for us today is military aid. Heave weapons will help us to save the lives of our people, our children and loved ones, as well as our cultural and historical heritage
Tell us how we can collaborate in the development of the national tourism industry and supply
Ukraine needs help right now. We will restore everything we can. For this, we will need your good advice, your professional input, your experience in the development of the tourism sector. We will be glad to receive your help in development of educational programs toward hospitality and involvement of the best specialists. We will grateful for any experience and cooperation that help us to restore tourism and support the regions, suffered from this war.
The Tourism and Society Think Tank is made up of experts in different areas involved in tourism development, tell us five areas where we could collaborate?
First of all, we are looking for partners who would help us to establish the Institute of Hospitality. We are interested in the professionals that can share their experience with us, give lectures and create educational programs. Second, it is important for us to receive expert advice on how to rebuild our healthcare facilities into rehabilitation facilities - to develop the rehabilitation program for the psychological and physical recovery of our military. The third, we are interested in the specialists that help us to develop the concept of visiting war memorials.
Fourth, you may help to promote Ukraine as a tourism destination in the world. And you can do it today. Tell about our incredible country and its brave fight for independence in your publications and websites.
Add Ukrainian dishes to the menu of your restaurants.
The fifth, is about strategic planning. We will be glad if global marketing agencies help us to create a strategy with which we will be able to attract as many tourists as possible after our victory.
Finally, Ms. Mariana Oleskiv, when can we hold a TSTT meeting in your country?
After our victory, Ukraine will be glad to welcome TSTT experts as guests.
Of course we would love to take the lead. We would feel much honored to host such an event and it would also give us the opportunity to promote the benefits and attractions of our country to broad global audience.
Dear Ms. Mariana Oleskiv, as the American writer Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness". Thank you for your time, kindness and injecting us with hope for the future.
The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.