With less than one hundred days left to the European football championship, Euro 2012, high UEFA official Martin Kallen cannot afford to beat about the bush, Andrius Vaitkevičius writes in 15min.lt. The biggest problem now, he has said, is accommodating the guests, especially in Ukraine, where inflated accommodation prices are threatening to give bad image for the tournament and its hosting country. Ukrainians will end up with no one coming at all, Kallen warned, if they do not lower the prices.
|Martin Kallen, „Reuters“/„Scanpix“|
I realized what he had in mind when, once tickets to Euro 2012 games were in my hands, I started looking for affordable hotel rooms in Lvov and Kiev for myself and my family. One or two football fans could still land a reasonably-priced place to stay, provided they dedicate enough time and effort for scouting. But for a family of five – no chance, it turned out.
During the championship, Ukraine expects to receive up to one million football tourists. It is only natural that owners of hotels, campsites, or apartments-to-rent want to make some money. I had been prepared for prises above those usual for these cities at any other time. But what I saw knocked me out.
Our family enjoys active recreation – we drive around Europe every year and have had a taste of all forms and prices of accommodation. We have spent nights in cheap camping sites, in mid-range private apartments, and higher-end hotels. And yet, the prices that greedy Ukrainian businessmen have set for this summer are unparalleled anywhere in Europe.
Lvov: price race
I started my accommodation hunting in Lvov, where we were planning to spend two or three days and do some touring, besides watching football.
Usually camping sites are the cheapest way for tourists to spend the night. Ukraine, however, does not sport many of those. It turned out, moreover, that even those available are not, well, that available. One camping site outside Lvov offered us two nights in their tents for 436 US dollars (we would have to rent one double tent for 162 USD and a four-seater for 274 USD).
The same place can also offer a bed in a 32-bed dormitory. One bed would set you back 87 USD. The five of us, therefore, would have to pay the same 436 dollars in total.
No, thank you. I decided to look further.
UEFA website has put up their partners’ ads for booking accommodation during the tournament. But none of the three linked websites could offer anything for the specific dates I requested. So I had to turn to world’s most popular hotel booking service, booking.com.
The Dutch company that runs the website claims it can offer the best price to its clients. Booking.com search returned “67 hotels and 2 offers for the dates selected.” One of them would set me back 2,093 US dollars, the other one (a “good offer,” according to the heartless search engine) – 3,128 dollars.
Since I’m not one of those who find two or three grand for two nights in a five-bed hotel room a price worth paying, I asked Booking.com to show me everything available within a 100-kilometer radius around Lvov. Results were far from comforting. 511 dollars for two nights is also a little beyond my family’s price range.
Google suggested that renting out private suites had become increasingly popular in Ukraine. Sure, what they refer to as “suites” might also include regular flats. As I scanned through their rates, I though this could be it for a family looking for affordable accommodation. All you need to do is contact renting firms (their services are a little more expensive) or individual landlords themselves.
How naïve of me. “Hello. We are a family of five from Lithuania. We are looking for accommodation in Lvov. What are the terms for renting an apartment? Is the price indicated for your place of 350 grivnas (112 litas) per night available for these specific dates?” I wrote to Ina, landlady of a two-bedroom apartment in Lvov oldtown.
I soon received a reply. “During the European championship, the rent is 250 euros per night. Minimum rent period – 4 nights. Half of the rent must be paid in advance.”
Thank you for the offer. Let’s keep looking.
“Prices for June – 400 euros. Minimum rent period – 5 nights,” I was helpfully informed by another landlord, Andrei, who would normally rent out his apartment for 380 grivnas (122 litas).
Olga, owner of an apartment in downtown Lvov, advertising, for some reason, with an image of a young well-coiffed but unshaved man, agreed to rent her 300-grivna (96 litas) apartment for 300 euros a night. When I refused, she offered another place for 240 euros.
After extensive search, I finally came across a hotel that would put us up for 254 dollars for two nights. They even promised us a breakfast. Granted, the place is rather remote – over 100 kilometers from the Euro 2012 stadium. Lvov sightseeing will have to be postponed until better times.
Poverty stimulates greed
While looking for accommodation in Lvov, it crossed my mind to go to Poland to sleep. No wonder that almost all Euro 2012 teams chose to stay in Poland. Only three (Ukraine’s, Sweden’s, and France’s) out of sixteen will be staying in Ukraine.
|Boris Kolesnikov, AFP/„Scanpix“|
UEFA is not the only one to have voiced warning that the country might end up without any tourist at all. Ukraine’s deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure Boris Kolesnikov reminds that, starting from 15 May, Ukraine announces a two-month “open sky” initiative. It means that all international airlines will be able to fly to Ukraine without any constraints.
The Ukrainian initiative has already caught attention of several budget carriers. Ukrainians have calculated, that a football fan from Western Europe might be able to fly in for a game and fly back the same evening for as little as 200 dollars. Finding a place to stay, especially in Kiev, for a similar price is complicated.
Many football fans might also opt for much cheaper Polish hotels. It is possible that Europeans will only catch Ukraine through a window en route from an airport (or station) to the stadium and back.
“Poverty stimulates greed. Once, we exempted hotels from paying taxes for ten years and we have hoped for their loyalty. And here’s how they repay. But the government will find ways to curb their appetites,” Mr Kolesnikov threatens.
TUI Travel, UEFA’s official travel agent, has recently refused to book rooms for its clients in several Kharkiv hotels. Website Ukraine2012.gov.ua has listed thirteen hotels that had their contracts canceled. The decision by the official travel agent has had an effect on accommodation prices – Kharkiv became cheaper overnight.
Expensive accommodation provides goldmines for swindlers. German broadcaster Deutche Welle has reported that fraudsters have started selling places in non-existent camping sites in Kharkiv. Ukrainians have calculated that accommodation in their country during Euro 2012 will cost as much as in London during the Olympics. The only difference will be in service quality – in London it should be world-class, in Ukraine – Ukrainian.
Just like in Lvov, we were planning to spend a few days in Kiev. Running ahead, I can say that I was very lucky to find, after several weeks of searching, an affordable accommodation for two nights. None of the stories about Kiev’s incredible beauty, breath-taking architecture, and hospitable citizens that I hear from friends and travel agencies have any effect on me anymore. I will not be seeing much of Ukraine’s capital city.
|Kiev, AFP/„Scanpix“ photo|
In Kiev, too, I started my search with camping sites. Even though they are more plentiful around Kiev than Lvov, the prices were not encouraging. So, back to Booking.com.
Three nights in a hotel would cost me 1,974 USD, in another one – 2,183 USD, then 2,151 USD, 3,588 USD, 3,728 USD and so on. I even indulged in a game that I call “Find Pricier Hotel.” Would you try guessing the ceiling of greed I managed to find?
You won’t guess. I came across an offer for my family to spend 3 nights for 15 thousand dollars – someone must be taking me for a lazy loaded capitalist looking for something to splash my money on. But then another offer flashed on my screen – 18 thousand. Someone in Ukraine is simply looking for fools, I thought.
I found an affordable place in Kiev on one of UEFA partner websites. I was offered two rooms (3-bed and 2-bed) in a student hostel, three nights, for 238 euros.
I’ll have to share bathroom facilities with next-door neighbours, breakfast is obviously excluded, but it’s still better than paying 40-80 euros per night for a place in an 8-bed dormitory of “budget” hostels.
I filled in the registration and when I was ready to pay, it turned out that the payment system was down. I kept checking several days after that if someone perhaps had fixed it, but I was apparently the only one who cared.
Correspondence with private landlords in Kiev was much the same as in Lvov. I posted an ad in a rent website, saying I was looking for “reasonably-priced” accommodation (under 150 USD per night). I did not get a single offer. And people I wrote to did not give me good news either.
“First, rent during Euro 2012 will be 400-500 euros per night. Second, we are not taking reservations for that period yet. Yours sincerely, good luck with your search and have a nice weekend,” I was informed by Zoya, owner of a flat that was normally 550 grivnas per night (176 litas).
“Of course, you can rent the place. In June, it will be from 200 US dollars per night. You know – Euro 2012. Let me know your decision! Best wishes, Larisa,” landlady of a 300-grivna flat wrote to me.
Finally, I found a 134-dollar apartment on a real-estate agency website. Even though the location seemed less than ideal, the price was just right.
The ad said that people servicing the apartment (i.e., those I’d have to talk to on our arrival) did not speak English, only Russian. Well, fair enough. Perhaps, I though, that is why the price is significantly lower, as they do not expect to rent it out for westerners who do not speak Russian.
|The bill that never got paid|
I filled in the form, indicated I wanted the place for 3 days, sent everything to the firm, and received a reply saying everything was OK. All I had to do now was to pay the reservation fee – one night worth of rent – within 24 hours. Otherwise, the reservation would be canceled.
I was saved by my habit to review all documents several times. I opened the bill I received several times. I ran the numbers in my head many times. I do not know what calculus Ukrainians use, but multiplying 134 dollars by three nights would not produce 1,030 USD – yet that was the total indicated on the bill. Since in my universe three times 134 gives 402, I did not pay it.
A few days later, the same place had a new price tag – 343 USD per night.
I did manage to find an accommodation in Kiev in the end. One bedroom apartment in city centre – some 5.5 kilometers from Euro 2012 stadium – will cost my family of five 330 US dollars for two nights.
I began thinking that if someone offered me to tour Ukraine after the tournament was over, I would refuse. Perhaps I will change my mind once I see the country with my own eyes. But for now, I’m fuming at greedy businessmen who act to the detriment of their country.
During Eurobasket 2011 tournament in Lithuania, participants and fans were, too, aghast at accommodation prices.
Panevėžys businessmen particularly stood out. Four-bed hotel room cost 700 litas per night – four times the usual rate.
A camping site set up in Panevėžys for the tournament was also luxurious in prices, if not quality of services. It must have been Europe’s priciest camping site. Six nights in a tent-like cabin for four people would set you back 2,250 litas. Simple double tents cost 720 litas for six nights.
Hotels in Vilnius and Kaunas, too, raised their rates four-fold.
Businessmen did not get away with it – inflated hotels and camping sites did not receive as many guests as they’d hoped.
Private landlords were far less greedy. They charged 20-30 euros per person per night, so many basketball fans opted for private accommodation instead of hotels.