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Is The Travel Industry really supporting Ukraine?

2021 tourism revenues less than half of pre-pandemic levels

Most of the world is in a state of shock after witnessing the brutal attack by Russia on Ukraine. The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, someone who knows how to maneuver in show business showed he has what it takes to also lead his country.

The Ukrainian people had been resisting Russia with everything they got and more. The human tragedy is already beyond comprehension, creating the largest refugee crisis the world ever experienced.

In the lifetime of most people, global peace has never been that fragile at this time. Global leaders everywhere are trying to find a solution to this crisis, but action is under the control of one unstoppable man by the name of Vladimir Putin.

Tourism is a custodian of peace and has a role in this process. Perhaps this role is bigger than most people want to admit. Peace Through Tourism is now more than a nice phrase everyone in the world can agree to. IIPT needs to speak out strong!

Tourism is a people to people business. After all, the war in Ukraine is not a war between the Ukrainian and Russian people, but a war about government interests.

Even with crippling sanctions in place against Russia, with horrifying video coverage from Ukraine, the world has not managed to stop Moscow. It’s understandable, Russia may have felt squeezed by NATO.

For Russia to justify taking this frustration to the brink of WWIII, by committing unspeakable war crimes should be beyond comprehension by any decent human being.

Stopping Russia’s economy from affording the war is a valid and desperate approach for a world to push for. Obviously, nuclear war is not a solution for any country.

Unfortunately, sanctions will only work if the world is united. The reality is, that this world is far from speaking out with one voice. Propaganda, misinformation, and the 8 years of civil war killing so many innocent citizens in the Donbas region in Ukraine are painting a very confusing picture of the situation. The picture is full of myths, fake media reports, and conspiracies.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) supports peace but has not clearly spoken out for a boycott of Russia. WTTC last week discussed the Ukraine situation in its member task force meeting. WTTC members include the largest travel companies in the world.

SKAL is promoting doing business amongst friends and is involved in a number of great humanitarian efforts for Ukraine. SKAL however is hesitating to make a clear statement condemning Russia but is calling for peace and diplomacy.

UNWTO took a stand. The UN-affiliated agency is waiting for a vote on expelling Russia from the World Tourism Organization. after an appeal submitted for this move by Ukraine.

The newly founded World Tourism Network has taken a clear stand with its scream.travel initiative to encourage travel and tourism to scream for and with Ukraine. WTN’s position is that staying neutral is not an option.

World Tourism Network however is against travel restrictions, realizing that in times of conflict an exchange between ordinary people can be an important contribution to peace. Travel is a human right, as determined by UNWTO.

WTN’s position is to support a boycott against Russia if this is clearly helping the victim, Ukraine, to survive. The State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine has demonstrated the need for this boycott in documents provided and an MOU with WTN. The sanctions are supposed to cripple Russia’s economic resources needed to afford the war against Ukraine.

Many travel companies contribute to the human cause in Ukraine with money. Marriott donated more than a million Dollars, but Marriott Hotels in Russia are operating.

US hotel companies including Marriott, Hyatt, Wyndham, Hilton, and Radisson among hotel groups operating in Russia at this time. This is despite the U.S. is leading the economic sanctions against the Russian Federation.

It appears business is doing well for travel companies in countries that stay neutral or are on the Russian side. There is a long list of countries Russian tourists are welcome to visit.

Turkish Airlines is making up lost revenue after COVID by keeping Russia on the map. Ironically Turkey is also a member of NATO. Turkish Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance Group.

There is Israel, a country that officially condemned Russia. El Al, the national airline of the Jewish State is still operating sold-out flights between Tel Aviv and Moscow. Israel has a high percentage of Russian and also Ukrainian residents.

Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar Airways are doing very well in connecting Russia with the rest of the World. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar voted with abstention at the UN on the question of whether Russia was to be kicked out from the UN Human Rights Commission.

With Western Airlines out of the picture, air connectivity is shifting even more to a route through Istanbul, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Doha. Sanctioning airlines providing flights from and to Russia will have an impact on travelers and commerce, including government and business travelers, and cargo. It may contribute to supporting sanctions against Russia.

Lufthansa, British Airways, Japan Airlines, and most other carriers from European and many Asian countries that have sanctions in place against Russia are adding hours of expensive detours between Europe and Asia to avoid the now illegal Russian airspace.

There is Air China, another Star Alliance Airline, China Southern Airlines, and China Eastern Airlines. They are owned by the Chinese government and connect Russia with destinations in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and beyond that voiced full support for Ukraine. China supports Russia. Chinese Airlines now have a clear time advantage in connecting to Europe. Since they also operate at Russian airports they directly contribute to the Russian economy.

They are allowed to use Russian airspace cutting hours on many flights compared to airlines that are now allowed to fly over Russian airspace. Should travelers avoid flying on any of these three Chinese Airlines?

There is Ethiopian Airlines, the national government-owned Star Alliance airline based in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia supports Russia. Ethiopian Airlines is not currently flying to Russia but over Russian airspace. The airline is flying to Europe, to North America. Is this a reason to question Ethiopian Airlines? Not flying Ethiopian Airlines will not mean a direct economic impact on Russia but on Ethiopia. Sanctions against Ethiopian Airlines would not assist Ukraine.

Star Alliance is headquartered in Germany. Germany is a clear supporter of Ukraine. Star Alliance seemingly integrate networks among their member airlines, such as United Airlines, the Lufthansa Group, Thai, Singapore Airlines, ANA, Asiana, Turkish, Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airlines, COPA, and others. Member carriers should establish a policy on Russia.

22 Countries are standing behind Russia and against Ukraine based on their UN votes:

  • Algeria
  • Belarus
  • Bolivia
  • Burundi
  • Central African Republic
  • China
  • Cuba
  • Democratic PR of Korea (North Korea)
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon
  • Iran
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Laos
  • Mali
  • Nicaragua
  • Syria
  • Tajikistan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vietnam
  • Zimbabwe

What is the solution for the global travel and tourism industry?

The travel sector must speak with one voice

WTTC will have its global summit in Manila, Philippines from April 20-22. Some of the most influential and wealthiest private industry leaders will attend the event with government ministers. Some are from wealthy countries that voiced a neutral stand in the Ukraine – Russia conflict.

Does it mean a neutral approach by the Global Travel and Tourism Industry is on the horizon?

If this was the case, what would this look like with so many major players in the private industry also from countries that support Ukraine 100%?

After COVID-19 is taking a secondary role, a strong relaunch of global travel is essential for this sector. This relaunch is already a reality in many tourism-dependent regions, including the Caribbean and Hawaii for example.

A sustainable and long-lasting relaunch however needs peace. Clearly, a neutral stand may not be a solution after all.

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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