The International U-Nation Conference was held in Odesa on April 22, organized by Yan Shapiro of the Odesa Regional Development Agency, to discuss how to promote future tourism in Ukraine and attract international investments in the sector, especially for the Odesa Region. Among the 20 speakers were the leaders of local tourism operators and foreign experts.

Talking about international tourism and investments in Odesa, constantly attacked by Russian drones and missiles, may seem like madness. Yet, it is useful to start talking today about development opportunities and how to attract foreign investors, while waiting for the end of the war. It is important to remember that tourism is an industry that creates many jobs.

Russia’s invasion brought Ukraine to the fore in the international press and this constitutes, in marketing terms, great publicity for the country and its cities. Furthermore, large foreign investors are looking with interest at the reconstruction of the country.


Expanding the Odesa brand

As for Odesa, the city is continually under the spotlight of the foreign press, almost more than the capital Kyiv, due to its strategic role as the maritime capital of Ukraine and its fame as a city of art. In fact, in the midst of the war, thanks to the technical assistance of the Italian Ministry of Culture, the historic center of Odesa entered the list of UNESCO world heritage cultural sites.

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The name of the city has been a successful international brand for more than a century, considering that it is used in various sectors: music (a Bee Gees album in 1969), books (Frederick Forsyth’s novel “The Odessa File,” 1972 ), cinema (“Little Odessa,” 1994), fashion, design and cosmetics collections. There are at least 12 locations in the United States dedicated to the Black Sea city (Odessa, Texas is the largest), one in Canada and one in Brazil. Finally, many women around the world bear the name of the Ukrainian city, such as the Australian actress Odessa Young.


These two elements of marketing, advertising and branding, will have a notable impact on post-war tourist flows to the “Pearl of the Black Sea.”

However, Odesa is not yet prepared to adequately exploit this future international tourism trend, due to its Soviet-style economic paradigm. In fact, the city organizes itself commercially only during the summer season. The beach clubs open in early June and close in the first week of September. All the major international events take place in the summer. But from October to May the city shuts down and tour operators reduce staff and save for the following summer season.  The city offers the classic services of beach tourism: hotels, restaurants, beach clubs and discos. Yet despite its cultural heritage, there are no year-round offers for cultural tourism, which is also active in autumn, winter and spring. The great European tourist destinations, Paris, Venice or Prague, are visited all months of the year.

Therefore, the challenge for Odesa, and for Ukrainian cities in general, is to organize events every month, even in the low season and to update the museum and cultural offering also for foreign visitors. The objective is to distribute the flow of tourists also in the other months of the year to make Ukrainian operators work more during the low season. Moreover, international statistics show that the average cultural tourist spends twice as much as the beach tourist. But the highly lucrative segment is congress tourism (conferences of industrial and professional sectors), which spends up to four times more.


What the experts say

To overcome these challenges, the Miguel Martin, Award-Winning Start-up Investor Mentor from Spain, offered free consultancy to Odesa tourism operators to develop innovative tourism projects. He declared himself ready to support Ukrainian entrepreneurs, innovators and their start-ups to obtain international visibility and investment opportunities. Anyone can contact him through the U-Nation Conference organizers.

Particularly interesting was the speech by Toronto’s Dan Christian , Managing Director of Acceleration Team and founder of Travel Trends Podcast, who illustrated new trends in international tourism.

  • “Passion based travel.” People travel according to their passions. The goal of the trip is no longer to see a place, but to find something that corresponds to your hobbies (for example: yoga travel, which has grown exponentially).
  • “The new inspiration.” Social influencers who create fashions or trends have a very significant impact on bookings. So, a competitive tourist resort must have its content creators, who attract enthusiasts of a particular activity (for example: organizers of couple dance festivals, or marathons)
  • “Destination marketing is evolving.” There are growing trends in tourism: gastronomy (both iconic dishes and wine), wellness, sport. Many tourists travel to enjoy spa treatments or beauty treatments. Others like to practice sports on holiday (diving, golf, paddle).
  • “Effective story telling.” Tourism is driven by evocative stories: the life of a famous person (George Clooney who buys a villa on Lake Como), films shot in a city, or internationally bestselling books.

The lesson for Odesa is that if tourist facilities do not adapt to these trends, tourism will have an initial peak, driven by the curiosity of war publicity, and then decline in favor of better equipped tourist destinations.


In terms of gastronomy, Eduard Gorodetsky, Honorary Consul of France in Odesa and wine producer, spoke out and recommended investing in events to promote Ukrainian wine and the typical cuisine of Odesa and the nearby region of Bessarabia. Many people travel to taste new wines and gastronomic specialties.

As regards the wellness/beauty farm sector, Odesa has a historic heritage of healing waters and muds, which had already created luxury spa centers in the 19th century. A tradition also taken up by the sanatoriums of the Soviet era. Here is an interesting sector for international investments, which could modernize structures that are still active, but in a dilapidated state.

But more international events throughout the year are not sufficient. Work is also needed by public administrators. For example, the city’s museums must adopt electronic ticketing and offer digital guide services via smartphones, if they want more foreign visitors. Furthermore, a city attractive to foreign tourism must have a local police force that can speak English and other languages. The foreign tourist who is robbed or scammed at a restaurant with an astronomical bill must be able to receive a copy of the police report in his language, in order to be reimbursed by his insurance.

In conclusion, to exploit the great chances for tourism in Ukraine it is necessary to make a revolution in the traditional approach to services, especially in a city like Odesa which has thus far been fossilized with low-cost beach tourism. But to make revolutions we need not only new ideas, but also new heads. In the past, Odesa has had a great contribution from European entrepreneurs and the city has had Italian, French, English, German and Greek mayors. Having foreign managers lead Odesa’s city and regional tourism centers would be a smart choice and, at the same time, in line with its historical tradition.

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