Ukraine: What Russia's war means for the global travel industry | Travel Distribution | DW | 02.03.2022
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Ukraine: What Russia's war means for the global travel industry

Russia's assault on Ukraine has shocked the world. How is the fighting affecting travelers, travel agencies, airlines and cruise operators?

Last week's Russian invasion of Ukraine is impacting political, economic and trade issues worldwide. Financial markets have also been affected, and seemingly no economic sector is immune. Certainly, the human toll is paramount. But alongside the urgent humanitarian catastrophe, economic ripple effects are already beginning to be felt across many industries.

Asking how the travel industry, often seen as a luxury, will fare seems an inappropriate thing to do at this time. "These questions are overshadowed by the many people dying in and hundreds of thousands fleeing from Ukraine; that is what really matters now," says Marten Lange-Siebenthaler of Dreizackreisen, a travel agency specialized in eastern European travel destinations. And yet the livelihood of millions of people in Europe depends solely on tourism and travel, so travel agencies, airlines, hospitality purveyors and cruise operators are also concerned. Two years into a pandemic that has devastated many parts of the tourism industry, this comes as another blow.

Aviation industry hit

Following the outbreak of war, Dreizackreisen ceased offering package holidays to Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Many other travel agencies have too. Ukraine, however, was never a major package holiday destination in the first place, says Siebenthaler. Instead, it tended to attract visitors interested in the country's culture. But alongside the tourism industry itself is the airline sector.

The Russian attacks on Ukraine and increasing calls for a no-fly zone have serious ramifications for the aviation industry. Civilian airplanes from Germany and 35 other states — among them France, Poland, Finland and Canada — have been banned from Russian airspace. Before that, the EU barred Russian planes from flying over or landing in the Europe. 

On February 24, immediately after the Russian military began its assault on Ukraine, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) warned airlines not to fly over or near the war zone, urging "extreme caution." This warning extends to the airspace of Moldova and Belarus. It will remain in place for 90 days, unless the agency reassesses the security situation.

An online flight tracker shows aircraft avoiding Ukraine after the Russian attack on February 24

An online flight tracker shows aircraft avoiding Ukraine after the Russian attack on February 24

Airlines are now expecting a lengthy blockage of east-west flight routes. These restrictions will place additional strain on carriers, according to Wolf-Dietrich Kindt of the German Aviation Association (BDL). "Flights bound for the Far East, which typically pass over Russia, need to bypass the area using alternative routes," says Kindt. "This means flights will take longer and cover greater distances, which increases fuel consumption and costs for carriers."

Longer flights, greater fuel costs

Lufthansa, Germany's largest airline, states on its company website that on "flights to the Far East, there may be short-term changes in departure and arrival times due to rescheduling of flight routes." A Lufthansa spokeswoman told DW the company estimates flights to the South Korean capital Seoul will now take 90 minutes longer than ordinary. And travelers to Tokyo will have to prepare for up to two hours of additional flight time.

A airport fuel tanker

The price of kerosene, typically used to fuel airplanes, shot up as well

The Ukraine war has also caused oil prices to spike, temporarily surpassing the $100 (€90) per barrel mark. This hike in fuel costs will add further pressure on the aviation industry, which is only slowly recovering from months of pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Despite the grim circumstances, BDL spokesperson Kindt assures tourists not to worry about visiting Europe: "Europe is open and safe; we are welcoming all guests."

Refugees from Ukraine rest after arriving in Korczowa, Poland

Refugees from Ukraine rest after arriving in Korczowa, Poland

Indeed, tourism experts have confirmed that unrestricted travel to Poland or the Baltic states, for example, remains possible. Holidaymakers should, however, bear in mind that the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine is spilling over into neighboring countries. So far, some 700,000 people are said to have fled the war-stricken country.

Cruises cancelled

Cruise lines have also responded to the new situation. The Norwegian Cruise Line on Thursday scrapped all trips to Russia. Soon after, TUI Cruises, MSC Cruises and AIDA Cruises followed suit. None of their vessels will be calling at St. Petersburg port this year.

Phoenix Reisen, a German agency offering ocean and river cruises, has called off tours along Russia's Volga river in April and May. A company spokeswoman said further steps may follow.

After slowly recovering from the economic hardship wrought by the COVID pandemic, the travel sector faces yet more uncertainty as images of war rattle prospective travelers. Indeed, the German Travel Association (DRV) recently issued a statement expressing hope that "diplomacy will prevail and that Russian military operations in Ukraine will be stopped."

AIDA cruise ship Aidasol pictured at sea, with onlookers taking in the scene

AIDA Cruises has announced it will not be sending any ships to Russia

In light of the rapidly developing situation, travelers are advised to seek up-to-date information from reliable sources before embarking on their journey. Numerous European countries have urged nationals to leave Ukraine. France and the US have also advised its citizens to get out of Russia. Germany discourages travel to Russia, and explicitly warns against heading to the country's south and border with Ukraine.

This article was originally written in German.

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EINSCHRÄNKUNG DW Personenfoto | Corporate Communications | Carla Hagemann

Carla Hagemann

Corporate Spokesperson and Head of Corporate Communications


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