The top Black Sea vacation destination of Crimea is buzzing once again this summer season.
Just not with tourists.
Russian military jets and helicopters are whizzing over Crimea’s warm, sandy beaches as they take part in the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine, choking off tourism, the region’s bread and butter.
Sergei Romashkin, chief executive of Russian tour operator Dolphin, said hotel bookings in Kremlin-controlled Crimea this summer are down as much as 40 percent compared with last year.
Other tour industry executives said demand could fall 50 percent as the war in Ukraine continues with no end in sight.
The beaches in Feodosia in eastern Crimea were largely devoid of tourists in May while many storefronts that would normally be serving Russian guests were vacant, according to a local blogger who is also an RFE/RL contributor.
Russia closed the sky over Crimea for civil aviation when it invaded Ukraine on February 24 amid expectations of a quick victory.
However, Russian forces have faced fierce resistance, losing thousands of men and hundreds of pieces of equipment.
Now, three months later, Russia is bogged down in trench warfare in the Donbas with Ukraine vowing to fight on, forcing the Kremlin to prolong the ban on civil aviation over Crimea.
The Kremlin forcibly annexed Crimea, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based, in 2014 following the ouster of Moscow-leaning Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
For a significant number of Crimeans, the success of the holiday season is a guarantee that we will live through the next winter."
Crimea’s main airport in Simferopol can handle as many as 7 million people a year. Russian tourists will now have to arrive by train, bus, or car over the Crimean Bridge.
But Russia’s rail system cannot carry more than 2.5 million people to Crimea annually, Kommersant reported.
Rail is an unattractive option for many Russians living in the Urals and further east, as the trip can take days.
Some of those who can make it by rail or road are worried about the impact of the war on land travel, said Russian blogger Alyona Bardovskaya, who has been living in Crimea since 2014.
“People are afraid that if they drive over the bridge by car, the bridge will be destroyed,” she said.
The Kremlin ordered the construction of the 19-kilometer-long road bridge following its annexation of the peninsula to ensure a route that avoided mainland Ukraine.
Bardovskaya said other tourists are refraining from vacationing in Crimea because of a lack of money and clarity about the job market.
Experts forecast Russia’s economy could contract as much as 15 percent this year and unemployment could surge after the United States and its allies imposed crushing financial and technology sanctions on the country for its invasion.
With the price of goods and services in Russia rising nearly 18 percent compared with last year, hotels in Crimea are limited in how much they can cut their prices to attract customers.
The sharp drop in tourism will be devastating for many local residents, who earn a large portion of their annual income during the summer months, working as guides, waiters, store clerks, and hotel maids.
“For a significant number of Crimeans, the success of the holiday season is a guarantee that we will live through the next winter. [Now], there are great concerns in this sense,” the Crimean blogger and RFE/RL contributor wrote.