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Prof. Hennady Naumenko, vice president of the Institute of Tourism, says Ukraine has a great tourist potential
Prof. Hennady Naumenko, vice president of the Institute of Tourism, Federation of Labour Unions of Ukraine.
Mr Naumenko (b. in 1942 in the city of Taganrog, Russia) actively promotes tourism in Ukraine both by practical work and by writing scholarly papers.
The Institute of Tourism, of which he is one of the founders, is a leading educational establishment in the sphere of tourism in Ukraine.
Mr Naumenko was interviewed by Yevhen Budko, Senior Editor of Mizhnarodny Turyzm Magazine.
You worked in tourism back in the soviet times; you are working in the sphere of tourism now. Are there any essential differences in the attitudes of the state to tourism?
Yes, there are. In the soviet times, tourism was regarded as a branch of “the sphere of services” and “the services” were much neglected in the Soviet Union. By contrast, in many western countries, anywhere from thirty to fifty percent of the working population are involved in “services.”
We gradually come to understanding that we work to live rather than live to work. For considerable lengths of time, practically no foreign tourists were allowed to come and no soviet citizens were allowed to travel abroad. Even when the ban was lifted, a lot of restrictions continued to exist, and no adequate tourist infrastructure was developed. Things began to radically change after the collapse of the Soviet Union. People began to travel abroad in increasing numbers and it opened the eyes of so many on how the world actually lives. Travel agencies are on the way to becoming a lucrative business. Tourism has been recognized as an important economic factor.
Last year, about fourteen million Ukrainian citizens travelled abroad (or to be more precise, there were fourteen million cases of Ukrainians crossing the border registered; one and the same person could cross the border several times, thus increasing the overall number of “crossings”), and twelve and a half million people visited Ukraine. I think that we have all the necessary pre-conditions for being integrated into Europe, though it’s a long way to go to joining the European Union.
I find that today’s students are very different from what we — our generation — were as students. They clearly see what they want, they understand the political situation better, they are better prepared for life. They know how to deal with certain problems in tourist business better than we do, people of older generations!
Some time ago, a tourism-related government body, Derzhkomturyzm (State Committee on Tourism), was created — what’s its main function?
In the soviet times there was such organ, though there were some other bodies under strict government control that were in charge of tourism. A basic tourist infrastructure was created, and we continued to make use of it. Derzhkomturyzm, established in independent Ukraine in 1993, dealt with tourism in all of its complexity and helped tourism to be given a status of a branch of the national economy. Before that, tourism was looked upon as some kind of a sport, or a cultural activity, in other words as something that was not a lucrative commercial enterprise. Derzhkomturyzm worked out a new law on tourism, and two programmes of the development of tourism in Ukraine.
Was there anything else done by the government to support tourism?
Yes, there was. In 1997, Ukraine joined the World Tourist Organization (WTO) and has since established itself as a worthy member. The Cabinet of Ministers and the president adopted several important decrees on tourism; there was a considerable support of the necessity of the development of tourism in parliament, the local authorities were encouraged to promote tourism. Unfortunately, in spite of the right government rhetoric, tourism in Ukraine has not become a really important branch of economy, the way it is, say, in Turkey.
But does Ukraine actually have what to offer to attract tourism?
Of course it does! According to the World Tourism Organization experts, Ukraine has three decisive tourist resources — historical landmarks; scenic nature, and a great potential of ethnic and rural tourism. Ukraine’s geographical position at the intersection of important international transport and tourist routes is a great asset as well. We have many other advantages as well — we do not have to begin from scratch, we have excellent conditions for winter tourism in the mountains, and for summer tourism at the seacoasts. In between the seasons, we have a great many places people can go to and combine holidays with medical treatment and general health improvement. In other words, Ukraine can have tourism going all the year round.
There’s a lot of talk about Ukraine’s tourist potential and about what tourism can give to Ukraine’s economy. Can tourism in Ukraine really be a viable commercial enterprise?
Absolutely. In fact, the tourism potential in Ukraine has been underestimated. It takes twenty times less investment to create a job in tourism than in any other branch of economy. You do not have to have raw materials, special machinery, or scientific research to get things going. As they say, all you’ve got to do is “to learn how to sell the air.” You can start a tourist agency from a very modest beginning — a room, a computer and a couple of people eager to work. There’s still not enough understanding in this country what a lucrative business tourism is. There’s not enough statistics available either. But we know, for example, that the revenues from tourism in Ukraine in 2003 amounted to 28 billions hryvnyas which included the tourists expenses for transportation, accommodation and meals. But it’s a very incomplete figure. Take, for example, Polish tourists who come to Lviv — so many of them chose to stay at somebody’s private apartments rather than at hotels, and it’s anybody’s guess how much money they spend during their stays. But they are counted as tourists. In fact, even the president of Poland, who came to Kyiv three times during the Orange Revolution, was, according to the WTO standards of tourist statistics, a tourist, he used a number of services provided by the receiving side, and paid for them — his visits were a profit to the state!
You mentioned that some tourists prefer to stay at private apartments rather than at hotels. But the owners of these apartments do not pay taxes, do they?
No, they don’t, and it is what we call “the shadowy economy.” I’m sure that this problem can be easily solved — all you have to do is to establish tourist apartment-rent centres which will provide tourists with information, supplied by those who want to rent their apartments to tourists, about the availability of private apartments to stay at, and the owners of such apartments will have a legal basis for their business. We estimate that in Kyiv alone there are at least fifty thousand such apartments.
You say that there’s such a great potential in Ukraine, that the basic tourist infrastructure is there — but tourism does not seem to be developing the way it should. What’s hindering it?
One of the most disruptive things is the constant change in all the echelons of power, from top to bottom. I worked in Derzhkomturyzm for nine years, and during that time Ukraine had eleven prime ministers and five vice prime ministers in charge of tourism. We did what we could, we tried to encourage tourism from the ground level up, but our encouragement, without proper government backing, had little effect.
Tourism can be as important in terms of revenues as agriculture or any other industry, but tourism does not get budget support the way agriculture and industries do. It’s all a matter of priorities — the heavily industrialized regions of Ukraine should continue to develop their industries, but, say, the regions where green tourism can be developed should be given the go-ahead signal and budget support. Incidentally, the heavily industrialized regions I’ve mentioned, can be a great source that supplies tourists to other parts of Ukraine. It will not only be good for internal tourism — it’ll be good on the cultural and social levels too. People from different parts of Ukraine will come to know each other much better! Miners from the Donbas region will learn so much more about the life of people, say, in Western Ukraine, they will see that they share the same values, that they are all patriots of their country. It will help to mend the damage done by certain political forces during the presidential campaign when they tried to split the country along the language and economic lines of difference.
What should be done, in your opinion, without delay, to speed up the development of tourism in Ukraine?
Tourism should be supported by capital investments — that’s first. Then, a simplified and transparent form of registration of tourist companies and agencies should be introduced.
There are now about two and a half thousand tourist companies in Ukraine. There used to be about five thousand but after the introduction of the ruling that these companies bore financial responsibility towards their customers, their number dwindled. Most of the employees working in the existing tourist companies have received specialized tourism-oriented education, and in this respect the situation is totally different from the one that existed in the soviet times when the guides, hotel and tourist managers had had very little or no special training before they started work. Later, they could get some training at the refresher courses. Now, we have professionals with specialized education working in tourism.
Speaking about specialized tourist education — could you say a few words about your Institute?
Our Institute was the first educational establishment of higher learning in Ukraine to graduate students majoring in tourism. At present, there are about seventy schools and departments in Ukraine that train students in tourism-related majors. Unfortunately, most of these schools run into problems — no adequate premises, not enough qualified instructors, no support from the state or private companies. Our Institute in this respect is luckier — we have sponsors who support us financially. It allows us to have adequate classrooms, computer classes, a well-stocked library. Our instructors possess high expertise both in teaching methods and in what they teach. We provide knowledge that is relevant to the realities of the tourist business of today, not just a theoretical background, like some other schools do, which can hardly be used upon graduation.
We also provide all kinds of incentives, like, for example, we conduct the ceremonies of “initiation” into studentship on Mount Hoverla in the Carpathians, and we hold the graduation ceremonies when the graduates get their diplomas in the place called Kholodny Yar, near an age-old oak. We take our students to various places in Ukraine which are connected with Ukrainian history or important cultural events. We take students to ski in the mountains, to explore caves, to go down rivers on rafts. We organize all sorts of tourism-related competitions. Our students, in addition to theoretical training in class, get their hands-on training in hotels, tourist centres. Senior students take part in organizing tourist business and establishing tourist agencies.
Can your graduates find jobs easily enough?
No problems. Many start working part time when they are stills students. Some are bright and enterprising enough to start their own businesses and then they pay for tuition from the money they earn.
What you say sounds very optimistic. But what should we expect in the nearest future, after the Orange Revolution which reflected a great political and social tension in the country?
In the nearest future a slump could be expected in the incoming tourism because tourists from the west may not want to come to a place which was politically unstable a short while ago. The number of Ukrainian tourists, both in internal tourism and outgoing tourism, will also be reduced because of economic uncertainty and possible difficulties. But I’m sure in several months the situation will radically change and the number of incoming tourists may greatly increase because people will want to have a look at the land where the Orange Revolution that sent reverberations all around the world, took place.
I do hope that the new president and the new government will rightly assess the tourist potential and will give tourism its due — at all the levels, both political and purely economic ones. We have the well-educated professionals, we have the resources, we have what to show, we have all the proper natural conditions — what else do you need for developing tourism? Just a little bit of help from the tourism-friendly government.