Kremlin Leans On Business to Rescue Crimea Tourism
Published: June 17, 2014 (Issue # 1815)
When Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea earlier this year, it regained not only harbors for its navy and abandoned Ukrainian military bases but also long stretches of pebble beaches that were the summer destination of choice for millions of Soviet citizens. This summer, however, tourists need a push to go and some help in getting there.
For years, two-thirds of the 6 million tourists traveling to Crimea each summer came from Ukraine. But many Ukrainians are still bitter over Russia's seizure of the peninsula as well as over local residents' submission to Russian rule; as a result, few are planning to vacation there this year.
But Russians are not rushing to go to the newest part of their country either. Some may prefer more luxurious destinations or be deterred by the difficulties of getting to Crimea, with land routes across southeastern Ukraine effectively blocked because of fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatists.
With Crimea's beaches eerily empty at the start of the summer season and the livelihood of many under threat, the Kremlin has come up with an ingenious way to attract tourists to the peninsula: It has asked state-controlled companies to get their employees to go there on vacation by paying for all or part of their trips.
In the Soviet era, many state enterprises provided a summer vacation, known as a putyovka, for their employees. Organized by trade unions, these were either free or heavily subsidized. They were more readily available for industrial workers, particularly those who worked in harsh conditions and climates. Major enterprises owned sanitariums, leaving a legacy of magnificent "palaces for the workers" in seaside resorts across the former Soviet Union.
Some companies have kept sanitariums on the Russian Black Sea coast and still provide free summer vacations for some employees. Others sold theirs long ago but still subsidize their employees' summer travel.
Rostourism, the federal tourism agency, sent out letters last week to the country's biggest state-controlled corporations with a "suggestion" to buy package tours to Crimea for tens of thousands of employees.
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