British holidaymakers eager to help the people of Ukraine are being urged to book with travel companies that are using their resources to support those fleeing the conflict.
Dozens of transport providers, tour operators and accommodation websites have jumped into action. Eurostar is offering unlimited free tickets to Ukrainians travelling from any Eurostar station to the UK, while Wizz Air will provide 100,000 free seats on flights from Ukraine’s neighbouring countries to any available destination.
Airbnb is providing short-term housing for 100,000 refugees, and is calling for more hosts to offer beds, plus donations, while an unofficial social media campaign saw thousands of users booking Airbnbs in Ukraine as a way of getting money to people there, with Airbnb waiving fees.
A new organisation, Hospitality for Ukraine, launched last week, is encouraging those in the hospitality sector to offer free accommodation for refugees: 220 accommodation providers have signed up so far across 19 countries.
“We see this campaign as long-term support, therefore we are continuing to encourage accommodation providers to sign up,” said co-founder Charlotte Hall.
Likewise Hospitality Helps is connecting refugees with hotels willing to provide free rooms in European cities, and Every Bed Helps, created by the Alliance of Serviced German Apartments Provider, covers cities across Germany, as well as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
Other companies are focusing on fundraising. Accommodation specialist Sawday’s and its glamping brand Canopy and Stars are donating 5% of its March revenues to the international Choose Love Ukraine Crisis Fundraiser. “As a company, and as consumers and holidaymakers, we feel we have a duty to help in any way we can, by donating as individuals, but also by choosing to book holidays with businesses we trust,” said managing director Mike Bevens.
Ferry and cruise company Fred Olsen is crowdfunding to deliver trucks of donations to Ukraine, while adventure operators Explore – which was expecting to send 250 customers to Ukraine this year – and Intrepid are raising money for the Red Cross. Explore, which claims it was the first operator to pull out of Russia over the invasion, said it had received emails from customers committing lifetime loyalty over its response.
Aito, which represents dozens of independent UK travel companies, said most of its members were helping, whether by donating money or collecting goods. “The best way for British holidaymakers to help is to keep travel alive,” said spokeswoman Sue Ockwell. “If the economy in Britain and Europe is healthy, governments will be in a position to continue to place sanctions against Russia and to starve the war of funds.”
Others are taking more immediate action. Anika and Jon Krogh, founders of adventure operator Nomad Greenland, have put work aside to drive minibuses back and forth from their home in Denmark to Ukrainian border crossings in Poland. They have so far rescued 84 women and children.
“Through our work in the tourism industry we have knowledge on how to move people from A to B in a fast, effective way – and can find the right people for a task, which has aided our mission,” said Anika, adding that those helping in the streets, stations and refugee centres seemed to be predominantly small volunteer groups, rather than larger NGOs.
The question of whether British travellers could also assist more directly by visiting countries near Ukraine is difficult. The economic boost from tourism would certainly be beneficial, but though the Foreign Office is not currently warning against travel – except to Ukraine, Transnistria and Belarus – travellers will be understandably cautious, and an impact on bookings is already being felt.
Last week Jet2 cancelled all flights to Poland for two months as demand fell. Regent Holidays, which has sold trips to Ukraine for 25 years and is fundraising for its Ukrainian guides and partners, said cancelled bookings to Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Moldova were being refunded or rebooked, and that it had noticed a “slowing in inquiries for the Baltics”, with some travellers swapping to Iceland or Scandinavia.
Dorota Wojciechowska, director of the Polish Tourist Office in the UK and Ireland, said: “If British travellers want to help Poland they shouldn’t cancel their trips. By going on holiday to Poland they are helping the country that helps Ukraine. The country remains safe. Tourism has not been impacted.”
Some may want to travel to eastern Europe to volunteer. “Volunteering holidays are, particularly now, a fantastic idea,” said Wojciechowska. “Krakow and Warsaw have plenty of opportunities for tourists and volunteers.”
The website allaboutberlin.com has links to organisations looking for volunteers there. And travellers could attend events in support of Ukraine being created in numerous eastern European cities. Kaunas, Lithuania, which is one of the European Capitals of Culture 2022, is replacing its planned Festival of Happiness with a series of Ukraine-related events, and will donate profits from merchandise sales. In the country’s capital, Vilnius, the Energy and Technology Museum is donating all proceeds from ticket sales to CulturEUkraine.