Monday, March 19, 2007

Ukraine and the "Hospitality" Business

The Ukrainian Observer's cover cartoon this month seems partially right to me. Tourism is on pretty shaky ground in the country.
The bus in the picture too, seems full, but is that really the case?

The country has just hosted a seemingly successful Eurovision. There were a lot of people that showed up to celebrate the event in Kyiv. I suppose a lot of those folks were from outside Ukraine. They were Europeans or others that were able to enter the country relatively hassle free due to the temporary easing of visa restrictions. Presumably many not only enjoyed the festivities, sights and sounds of Khreshchatyk but also visited its parks, museums and ancient churches, as well as the city's many other historic places. Indeed, Kyiv is both historic and beautiful - it can also be exciting.

But as a whole, what is the status of what has become known as the "Hospitality Industry" in this country?

The hospitality business is big business these days most everywhere. It's my fairly educated guess that in the country I come from, the United States, there is not one of its fifty states that does not have a governmental department with a fairly substantially budget to promote the grand adventures a visitor can obtain just by visiting that fair state. It seems I recall that there is hardly a state line, border if you will, that doesn't welcome visitors with a sign that says, "Welcome to Mississippi" (or Florida, Texas, etc.). As one passes the sign almost invariably there is a Welcome Center. The Welcome Center has a staff, exhibits, brochures and all manner of materials designed to entice the visitor to visit particular areas of that state. The object is to get those people who have come to that state (i.e. crossed their border) to stay somewhere, go somewhere, or do something to spend their money.

Ah, spend money. Why? Because it creates jobs. It benefits the state's economy. Makes their individual citizens more prosperous.

Now Mississippi or South Dakota may not have has much to offer as say California or Florida, for example, but all the states have reasonably large budgets for promoting all the benefits their state can offer. And surprisingly, maybe to some, the per capita spending by these individual states may not differ too much. And this is true in spite of the fact that Florida has many more places to visit, from DisneyWorld to its many beaches. Also, Florida has a better overall climate and thus longer season than most states. And Florida has a fairly wealthier per capita than many states. Yet all the states devote a lot of time, money and effort to promotion.

And again, why? Well, in addition to creating jobs and wealthier citizens and helping the state's budget, it does so fairly painlessly from an overall budgetary standpoint. One gets more "bang for the buck", so to speak, for the budget dollar spent on promoting the hospitality business than almost any other. The executives, the governors who run these states and their statehouse constituents and citizens know this.

My example has been the United States only for convenience of reference. It should be the world. For the executives, the presidents, the prime ministers who run most of the counties of the world are in on this gig too. Thus, for just one small example, I notice some great, beautiful advertising on my TV at home extolling the beaches and wonders of Croatia. Croatia? Yes, small, tiny little Croatia. Almost next door. But I've noticed that Turkey and Bulgaria too are in on this. Damn near everyone in fact... everywhere.

Which brings us to Ukraine.

Yes, Ukraine has a department set up for this. But it must be a very small budget. Also, somebody hasn't gotten the word out that we need to be welcoming people at the border. Okay, so we let a few people in for Eurovision. Why just till September?

Why does Ukraine want to keep people out? Are we afraid somebody is going to come here to steal something? Take away all our manufacturing jobs? Anyway, just who is it that has been banging on the door to rush in?
Most of the world does know that this thing called the "Hospitality Industry" is big business and it is worthwhile.

I submit two points I believe valid. First, Ukraine has a lot to offer visitors. From the Black Sea beaches to the Carpathian Mountains. From the many rivers to its historic cities. Kyiv alone. There is much, so much that I will not go on. An inventory of what Ukraine has to promote would be impressive.

My second valid point is that, contrary to what some might say, Ukraine doesn't have to spend a lot of money on infrastructure before it gets big time into the hospitality biz. It might be nice, however, if we could build a few nicer hotels, some better skiing digs, a few marinas, a golf course or two...heck a Six Flags Over..., or something like it, etc. But it's not necessary, and Ukraine's budget can't afford those things. Besides government would screw them up since those are the things private business does. This isn't a "build it and they will come" kind of deal. It's more a "invite the people in, and then the infrastructure will be added" deal. It will be by natural process... a profit motive. As an example I note that as automobiles have become affordable to more prosperous Ukrainians that we've now begun to see the beginnings of the development of restaurants and a few hotels along the highways of Ukraine.

What else to do? Well, I can sum up another big thing in one word. What? Hospitality. The word that now defines the industry. This involves education and a change in attitude. In order to be hospitable one has to provide... Service... with a capital S.

I ask that one compare the service and attitude at the beaches of Turkey or Bulgaria to the service and attitude one finds in Crimea. I think that may effectively demonstrate the problem. A huge change in attitude needs be made.

The subject of this article is one I've wanted to write on for some time. This is partly because I care very much for this country. I've visited and enjoyed most all parts of it. It's also partly due to a background in business that frequently has involved the hospitality business, primarily beach and mountain resort developments. Also, I spent a lot of time in two U.S. states that heavily promote the hospitality business, Georgia and Florida.

To sum things up.

Ukraine needs to create a hospitality industry in order to create jobs and add income to the budget. Ukraine cannot be said to have entered the hospitality business to date.

Ukraine then needs to aggressively promote that industry. It will not take a lot of money, at least comparatively and particular in relation to economic benefit.

Ukraine needs to employ some professional, trained and high-level people for this process to effectively begin. The job can't be handed to someone without extensive experience in the industry...and the people can't be professional politicians or friends or associates of same.