From the beginning of 2013 up until September, there were 48,785 Ukrainian passport holders staying in Dubai hotels. Image Credit: Gulf news Archives

Dubai: Ukrainian travel agency representatives met in Dubai on Sunday for the second annual ‘Congress of Natalie Tours’ to discuss cooperation plans for the UAE, a key market for the travel operators.

The event, held at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, was also attended by Saleh Al Geziry, Director of Overseas Promotions at Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), and Ghassan Aridi, Chief Executive Officer at Alpha Tours.

Ukraine, which has a population of 45 million but just one million annual outbound travellers, represents a significant opportunity for international destinations like the UAE, Vladimir Vorobiev, President of Ukrainian travel company Natalie Tours, said at a press conference after the congress.

In response to increasing demands for connectivity between Dubai and Ukraine, flydubai has doubled capacity between the emirate and country this year, Jeyhun Efendi, Senior Vice President (SVP), Commercial Operations UAE, Middle East, Europe, CIS, at flydubai said.

According to the airline, between August 2012 and July 2013, passengers travelling to and from Ukraine on the flydubai services increased 46 per cent with Kiev witnessing the biggest increase over the same period (74 per cent).

The most popular onward destination for passengers travelling with flydubai from Kiev and through Dubai over the August 2012 and July 2013 period was Colombo in Sri Lanka.

Despite strong growth, Efendi said there were no immediate plans to launch flights to new destinations. He did say, however, that there are three cities, including Lviv in the country’s far west, that flydubai could one day fly to.

However, other airlines also connect the two countries, including Sharjah-based Air Arabia which already flies to Ukraine and next year Emirates will launch direct flights to the capital, Kiev.

While Ukraine is being pitched as a key source market for inbound travel, Aridi said it is hard to gauge the number of visitors because many Ukrainians travel on Russian passports.

From the beginning of the year up until September, the DTCM recorded 48,785 Ukrainian passport holders staying in Dubai hotels, Al Geziry said.

The number of Ukrainians travelling through Dubai International Airport is also increasing. Al Geziry said total Ukrainian passport holders transiting, arriving, and departing through the airport rose 62 per cent year-on-year in 2012.

Efendi said visa restrictions, particularly those imposed on UAE nationals and other Arab nationals were a deterrent for some travellers.

It is unclear what impact political protests in Kiev were having on Ukraine’s inbound tourism image. Protestors oppose Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to back out of an agreement that would have seen the country form closer ties with Europe. Protests, which are limited to Kiev, are the largest in the country since the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution.

Efendi said the airline has not seen a major drop off but the protests could influence travellers booking last-minute trips.

Bilateral trade reached $429 million in first half of 2013, a 27 per cent increase on the same period last year, according to the Ukrainian Embassy in Abu Dhabi.