Crimea and the Sochi area in Russia, major holiday spots during the Soviet era, remain today attractive draws for holidaymakers. Crimea has sufficient natural resources to assure that it will continue to grow rapidly, but recent major developments seem to mark out Kiev and Sochi as the tourism growth hotspots for the coming years.
At the International Olympic Committee's executive board meeting in Guatemala City earlier this week, President Vladimir Putin led the Russian delegation in the winning bid for Sochi to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Sochi, already well developed, is expected to see an unprecedented Olympic venue building boom, fueled by Russia's bulging coffers of petro-dollars, with ski-fanatic Putin deeply involved. Some suggest that Putin might even take the Olympic preparation role as a fitting post-presidency position.
Ukraine had similar good news, as it was chosen to co-host along with Poland the Euro 2012 football championships. The other good news is that Kiev's old Olympic stadium, built for the 1980 Olympics, has been chosen not only for some preliminaries but also the Euro 2012 final championship game. The less good news is that refurbishment of this venue alone could run as high as $250m.
The first meeting of the Euro 2012 Coordinating Council was chaired by President Viktor Yushchenko, who was reported saying, "There is no time for declarations and speeches and it is time we started doing practical things." The president's statement suggests that he is mindful of just how weak and disorganised Ukraine's tourism infrastructure is to support such an event.
Stepan Romanyuk, president of the International Tourist Agency Ukraine-Rus, summed it up for OBG, "Even in Kiev we do not have any information tourist bureau of the type that exists throughout the world. For ten years this has been a subject of discussion, but still nothing has been done."
With state tourism development infrastructure inadequate, there is the additional challenge of very limited numbers of high quality accommodations. Kiev has about 120 mostly Soviet-built hotels with less than a half-dozen meeting international standards. The city's first five-star hotel, the Premier Palace, has been only recently joined by the 5-star Hyatt Regency Saint Sophia, the 4-star Radisson SAS Hotel Kiev, and the 4-star Hotel Opera. With less than 2,000 rooms considered either 4 or 5 star, a hotel building boom looks inevitable. Coupled with the necessary refurbishing of the old Olympic stadium required by Ukraine's agreement with UEFA, the construction boom seems likely to stretch the nation's capacities considerably.
Even before the Euro 2012 announcement, Kiev's old Boryspil International Airport was already set for another expansion with approval of a yen soft loan from Japan. However, even that loan is expected to be just a small part of what may be needed to prepare the country's largest international gateway for the coming influx.
Some of the economic predictions relating to the project reached extremely high levels. For example, Dmytro Tabachnyk, deputy prime minister and first deputy chairman of the Euro 2012 organising committee, said in his initial report to the committee that Ukraine needed to attract $18bn in new investment and that up to 3m jobs would be created.
However, Tabachnyk is almost certain to be replaced within three to four months, after the parliamentary election set for September 30.
"It is also important to use this event to unite the Ukrainian nation. We must show Ukraine's advantages and open the country for ourselves, our guests and European friends," President Yushchenko recently said.
Just how well Ukraine's government and business community deals with the challenges of staging the Euro 2012 championships is expected to be a real test of the country's political maturity.