KIEV, March 16 (Xinhua) -- As more and more Chinese are turning to Ukraine thanks to the eased visa policy introduced last year, the East European country is seizing opportunities to win the Chinese market, the largest outbound tourism market around the world.
The number of Chinese visitors to Ukraine rose to a 10-year-high in 2016 thanks to the liberalization of the visa regime, under which Chinese tourists can obtain a visa on arrival in two Ukrainian airports -- in the capital city of Kiev and in the southern Black Sea resort of Odessa.
Ukrainian statistics showed a record of 20,555 Chinese citizens visited the country last year compared with 13,602 visitors a year ago and the number is expected to further increase in 2017.
FIRST STEP TO ATTRACT MORE TOURISTS
A Ukraine-China tourism forum organized by the Hospitality Industry Association of Ukraine was held in Kiev this week, marking the first step to promote Ukrainian tourism.
At the forum, more than 20 leading Ukrainian travel agencies presented their programs aimed at luring Chinese tourists.
Yanina Gavrylova, chairperson of All-Ukrainian Guides Association, said that Ukraine has a lot to offer Chinese tourists, from traditional sightseeing trips to unique thematic tours.
"Ukraine has several aspects that are of Chinese tourists' interest -- culture, history and gastronomy. Also, we could offer the so-called dark tourism -- visits to Chernobyl, World War II facilities and industrial facilities," Gavrylova told Xinhua.
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, located some 110 km away from the Ukrainian capital Kiev, witnessed one of the worst nuclear accidents in human history on April 26, 1986. The disaster has caused irreparable damage to the local environment and public health.
To make trips in Ukraine completely comfortable, the East European country is preparing high-skilled Chinese-speaking tour guides, Gavrylova said.
To become a guide, Ukrainians who knows the Chinese language or Chinese nationals living in Ukraine are undergoing professional training lasting at least three months, she added.
SPECIAL TOURS FOR CHINESE TRAVELERS
Some Ukrainian travel agencies have introduced special tours for Chinese tourists, considering their interests and preferences.
One of the agencies, the Kolos, is offering themed trips across Ukraine inspired by "How the Steel Was Tempered," a socialist realist novel which was very famous in China and adapted into a television series of the same title in 2000 by Chinese director Han Gang.
Victoria Zarutskaya, head of the Kolos agency, said she conducted in-depth research to create customized trips for Chinese visitors.
"Chinese tourists are interested in Soviet objects. In this regard, Ukraine can offer a lot. In addition, we know that the Chinese love amber and we can offer them individual tours to Rivne region, which is the birthplace of the sun stone," Zarutskaya told Xinhua.
Another attraction, which could be interesting for Chinese visitors, is the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Since 2010, Chernobyl has been officially open for tourists as the environmental situation in the area has improved. The place now is completely safe if tourists strictly follow the instructions of tour guides.
"We are offering bus tours to Chernobyl and tours in a light aircraft and a helicopter. Besides, this spring we will launch tours in a hydrofoil boat around the Chernobyl area," said Sergii Mirnyi, head of Chernobyl tour agency.
He said that prices of Chernobyl tours range from 29 U.S. dollars for a regular one-day bus tour to 500 dollars per person for an individual helicopter voyage.
Besides, targeting Chinese couples, local agencies are offering romantic tours to the Tunnel of Love in western Ukraine -- a botanical phenomenon, where trees and bushes are creating a 4-km-long tunnel in a dense forest.
MULTI- EUROPEAN COUNTRY TOURS
Although individual tourism is gaining momentum, traditional package tours remain the most popular among the majority of Chinese tourists as they want to see as many places as possible when traveling abroad.
Therefore, Ukraine is cooperating with neighboring countries to jointly receive travelers from China.
Maryna Ignatusha, head of the Brandberg agency, which specializes in business, cultural, gastronomic and shopping tourism, said her company is working with partners from Poland and Hungary to prepare combined tours for Chinese tourists.
The agency also plans to arrange trips across the countries of the former Soviet Union.
"Taking into consideration the preferences of the Chinese tourists and the geographical position of Ukraine, we plan to jointly organize tours with Belarus, Baltic countries and Moldova," Ignatusha told Xinhua.
In recent months, more and more international travel agencies are turning to Ukraine as the country's image has improved and many people get to understand that the concerns about Ukraine's security situation were exaggerated, she said.
"The opinion that Ukraine is unsafe is due to the lack of information. Of course, there is a troubled region where a conflict is underway. But tourists will never enter there," Ignatusha said.
She introduced that Ukraine is completely safe for travellers as all tourism destinations are far away from the conflict area in eastern Ukraine.
Kiev lies about 750 km away from the restive Donetsk and Lugansk regions, Odessa resort is about 800 km away, while the ancient Lviv city is located in another part of the country -- more than 1,200 km away from the conflict area.