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Half a million Russian tourists flock to Crimea for extended May holidays as Covid-19 restrictions boost appeal of domestic travel

Half a million Russian tourists flock to Crimea for extended May holidays as Covid-19 restrictions boost appeal of domestic travel
Half a million tourists visited Crimea during Russia's two-week May holidays, more than the area has seen in this time period since the fall of the USSR, as citizens seek alternatives to foreign trips due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Speaking on Tuesday, the regional head Sergey Aksenov revealed that 75% of all visitors had come via car, across the Crimean Bridge, which connects the ancient city of Kerch to the Russian mainland. The other 25% of tourists came via air and rail, with less than 1% passing through the border with Ukraine.

Crimea was re-absorbed into Russia in March 2014, following a referendum there. The vote is not recognized by most of the world, which views it as an illegally occupied Ukrainian peninsula. Crimea had been part of Russia until 1954, when it was transferred to Kiev's control by former Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev, himself a native of Ukraine's Donbass region.

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The peninsula has been a popular holiday destination since the 19th century, when improved infrastructure brought tourists from throughout the Russian Empire. During the Soviet era, the government promoted the region, building sanatoria and advertising it as a "health" destination.

In 2021, with travel restrictions imposed due to Covid-19, many Russians are again looking to domestic offerings for their tourism fix.

Writing on social media, Aksenov said that 520,000 people visited Crimea from April 29 to May 10 - up 72% from 2019.

However, it's not all good news. While traditionally seen as a cheaper alternative to travel abroad, the border closures now mean that a trip to the peninsula is significantly more expensive than before. Some hotels have raised their prices "unreasonably," says Crimean Hotel Association chairman Sergey Makovey.

"Some facilities have very severely and speculatively raised prices, which does not make [a trip to Crimea] more attractive," Makovey explained. "I am worried that when the Covid period is gone, we will lose quite a number of tourists, as we are now seen as an expensive destination."

Makovey also pointed out that prices in Crimean shops have shot up, with some products costing twice as much they do in Siberia.

Last year, when restrictions were first imposed due to the spread of Covid-19, Crimea received 6.3 million tourists, 15% fewer than the year before. 2019 was a record year for the peninsula, with 7.43 million people visiting.

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