At the LV Historic Center, he rides a horse-drawn carriage in traditional Saudi attire and plays chess with locals. What is unheard of in this western Ukrainian city is usually visited by Europeans.
Rejected by anti-Govt restrictions on travelers to Western Europe, tourists from the Gulf countries, especially from Saudi Arabia, are returning to the beauty of Ukraine this year, where they have been since June.
Before the crisis, Asma, a 32-year-old Saudi woman, traveled regularly to the old continent with her husband and two sons.
This summer, for the first time, the family explored Lviv and the capital Kiev. “Bars, food, coffee … everything here is amazing,” he exclaimed in front of the Lviv Opera House.
The visa-free regime adopted in 2020 and the arrival of Arab visitors drawn by cheap direct flights signify the possibility of Ukraine’s tourism sector recovering after a terrible year due to the epidemic.
“We need to take advantage of this opportunity,” mentor Bogton gets. His company, the “Sach Do Tour”, takes tourists by train to the streets of the city of Lviv, which is famous for its architecture.
– 3,900% increase –
In the first half of 2021, the number of Saudi tourists going to Ukraine increased from 14,000 to only 350 a year ago, an increase of 3,900% by the Ukrainian Tourism Company.
Until then, Elviv, one of the country’s main tourist destinations, was mainly visited by poles, Belarusians, Turks, Germans and British.
After traveling across Europe and the United States, Hassan, a 64-year-old Saudi businessman, chose Ukraine this time around on the recommendation of friends. He says he is “very happy” to have stayed in the country for almost a month in “easy to travel”.
Unlike Westerners, who are “always inferior” to the Gulf, Hassan sees the former Soviet republic as “more energetic, more energetic” and admires the “family” values of the Ukrainians.
“We will definitely be back with our daughter and son,” he said, wearing a hijab with his wife on the terrace of a hotel in Kia.
According to Anna Nada, manager of the “Credence Cafe” chain in Lviv, the arrival of Arab tourists surprised restaurant owners, who had to change quickly.
After the first shock, its cafes printed menus in Arabic and, in honor of Muslim customs, replaced the pork with chicken in their sandwiches. “We don’t have alcohol on the menu, it’s our property,” Ms Nada says.
Souvenir shops also have signs in Arabic. “This is the impetus for change,” Anna Nada sums up.
– Rain, a “gif” –
These tourists, who come from very dry climates, are especially appreciative of the Ukrainian trees and rain, Christina Caucus of the Reykjavk Hotel Group in Lviv told AFP.
“There is a high demand for rooms that give even a little bit of trees or a park,” he notes, mainly for large families.
Guide Bogton Gates tells him that he has never seen adults being happy in the rain. “This is Kif for them. They say they came to Lviv on purpose, and they are only interested in it.”
For asthma, even raindrops are “magic”. When promised to come to Ukraine every year, he shouts, “It looks like paradise.”
For the local media, this reputation is likely to decline once restrictions are lifted in Western Europe. Despite this new wave of tourists, the industry’s overall recovery has been slow overall.
The number of foreign visitors to Ukraine is projected to increase by 4.5 in 2020. It grew only 9% in the first half of 2021 compared to the previous six months.