The number of Chinese visitors to Ukraine hit a 10-year-high in 2016 thanks to looser visa rules. The Eastern European country hopes to extend its success in drawing travelers from the world's largest outbound tourism market by offering tours more tailored to Chinese tourists. To achieve that goal, Ukraine's tourism industry is training a brigade of Chinese-speaking guides and forging alliances with neighboring European countries and other former members of the Soviet Union to offer packaged tours
Carpathian Mountains, Ukraine, November 2016 Photo: IC
As more and more Chinese are turning to Ukraine thanks to its eased visa policy introduced in 2016, the East European country is seizing opportunities to win over Chinese travelers, who make up the largest outbound tourism market in the world.
The number of Chinese visitors to Ukraine rose to a 10-year-high in 2016 thanks to the liberalization of the visa regime, under which Chinese tourists can obtain a visa on arrival in two Ukrainian airports - in the capital of Kiev and in the southern Black Sea resort of Odessa.
Ukrainian statistics showed that a record 20,555 Chinese citizens visited the country in 2016, compared with 13,602 visitors a year earlier. The number is expected to further increase in 2017.Luring Chinese
A Ukraine-China tourism forum organized by the Hospitality Industry Association of Ukraine was held in Kiev recently, marking the first step to promote Ukrainian tourism.
At the forum, more than 20 leading Ukrainian travel agencies presented programs aimed at luring Chinese tourists.
Ukraine has a lot to offer Chinese tourists, from traditional sightseeing trips to unique thematic tours, said Yanina Gavrylova, chairperson of All-Ukrainian Guides Association.
There are several aspects of Ukraine that interest Chinese tourists - culture, history and gastronomy, Gavrylova told Xinhua. "Also, we could offer the so-called dark tourism - visits to Chernobyl, World War II facilities and industrial facilities."
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, located some 110 kilometers away from Kiev, witnessed one of the worst nuclear accidents in human history on April 26, 1986. The disaster has caused irreparable damage to the local environment and public health.
Since 2010, Chernobyl has been officially open for tourists as the area's environment has improved. The place now is completely safe if tourists strictly follow the instructions of tour guides.
To make trips in Ukraine completely comfortable, the Eastern European country is preparing highly skilled Chinese-speaking tour guides, Gavrylova said.
To train competent guides, Ukrainians who know the Chinese language or Chinese nationals living in Ukraine are undergoing a professional training course that lasts at least three months, she noted.Tailored tours
Some Ukrainian travel agencies have prepared special tours for Chinese tourists, considering their interests and preferences.
One of the agencies, Kolos, is offering themed trips across Ukraine inspired by How the Steel Was Tempered, a socialist realist novel that is well-known in China from 1950s to 1990s. In 2000, Chinese director Han Gang adapted it into a television series under the same title.
The story follows the character Pavel Korchagin as he changes from a naive teenager into a loyal Bolshevik soldier after Russia's October Revolution broke out in 1917.
Victoria Zarutskaya, head of the Kolos agency, said she conducted in-depth research to create customized trips for Chinese visitors.
"Chinese tourists are interested in Soviet objects. In this regard, Ukraine can offer a lot. In addition, we know that the Chinese love amber and we can offer them individual tours to the Rivne region, which is the birthplace of the sun stone," Zarutskaya told Xinhua.
Another attraction that might interest Chinese visitors is the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
"We are offering bus tours to Chernobyl and tours in a light aircraft and a helicopter. Besides, this spring we will launch tours in a hydrofoil boat around the Chernobyl area," said Sergii Mirnyi, head of Chernobyl tour agency.
He said that prices of Chernobyl tours range from $29 for a regular one-day bus trip to $500 per person for an individual helicopter tour.
Besides, targeting Chinese couples, local agencies are offering romantic tours to the Tunnel of Love in western Ukraine - a botanical phenomenon, where trees and bushes create a four-kilometer tunnel through dense foliage.Cooperating with neighbors
Although individual tourism is gaining momentum, traditional package tours remain the most popular among the majority of Chinese tourists because they often see as many places as possible while abroad.
Therefore, Ukraine is cooperating with neighboring countries to jointly receive travelers from China.
Maryna Ignatusha, head of the Brandberg agency, which specializes in business, cultural, gastronomic and shopping tourism, said her company is working with partners from Poland and Hungary to prepare combined tours for Chinese tourists.
The agency also plans to arrange trips across the countries of the former Soviet Union.
"Taking into consideration the preferences of the Chinese tourists and the geographical position of Ukraine, we plan to jointly organize tours with Belarus, Baltic countries and Moldova," Ignatusha told Xinhua.
In recent months, more and more international travel agencies are turning to Ukraine as the country's image has improved and many people come to understand that the security concerns about Ukraine have been exaggerated, she said.
"The opinion that Ukraine is unsafe is due to the lack of information. There is a troubled region where a conflict is underway. But tourists will never enter there," Ignatusha said.
She introduced that Ukraine is completely safe for travelers as all tourism destinations are far away from the conflict areas in eastern Ukraine.
Kiev lies about 750 kilometers away from the restive Donetsk and Lugansk regions. The Odessa resort city is about 800 kilometers away, while the ancient Lviv city is located in another part of the country - more than 1,200 kilometers away from the areas of conflict.