A little more than a month ago, Kevan Cowie, Exeter International's director of sales and marketing (pictured right), said that he had not seen any cancellations for trips to Ukraine. But a lot can change in a month, and the tour operator has now closed its Ukraine trips until the current situation is resolved.
"Requests for Ukraine have completely fallen off during this time of conflict," he said, adding that while there have been no major issues in Kiev recently, the situation in the country in general remains volatile. "We do not believe that this is the best choice for clients at this stage--though are hopeful that calm will prevail and that the Ukraine will return in the near future."
Last week, Jewish residents of Donestk, Ukraine, were handed flyers "by masked men holding the Russian Federation flag," as New York Magazine reported it, demanding that they register their citizenship and declare their property, a deliberate echo of early Nazi tactics of intimidation. No political party has yet claimed responsibility for the flyers or attempted to enforce the demands, but it will certainly not help the international perception of the country and the conflict. Cowie said that Exeter has not seen an "immediate" reaction to the situation. "With no requests for or bookings to the Ukraine, it has not been a topic of conversation with any prospective clients," he said.
The Russia Situation
While travel to Ukraine has been curtailed, Russia is another story. The major tourist (and business) hubs of Moscow and St. Petersburg are more than a thousand miles from Ukraine, Cowie noted, adding that the "vast majority" of travelers to Russia understand that travel to the main areas of the country is safe.
"Currently, only political meddling (changes to visas, etc.) is likely to affect travel to these areas," he said. "In fact, this is a good time to visit Moscow and St. Petersburg since, with the overall general drop in tourism there, the museums, which are usually extremely crowded in both cities (and especially St. Petersburg), will have fewer visitors and therefore will be very comfortable and easy to visit."
Exeter International's trips to Ukraine will most likely remain closed for the immediate future, Cowie added—at least through coming summer season. "This is temporary hold, and should the destination settle over the next few weeks, we will be happy to open it for bookings as soon as calm prevails," he added. For 2015 and beyond, he said, the company hopes that "things will be stabilized" and the destination will return in full.
Russia, meanwhile, is likely to remain soft for the remainder of the 2014 season—"though, as mentioned, bookings do continue to come in, especially shore excursions for St. Petersburg," Cowie noted.