A last minute scramble to the Ukraine has been launched by England fans while British ministers said they would continue to stay away from the country despite the team’s progression to the knockout stages.
England’s slender victory over Ukraine yesterday evening put them top of Group D, and after an unusually muted build-up to the tournament, expectations are beginning to reach a more traditional level for their quarter final meeting with Italy.
The wave of interest caused a spike in air fares between UK and Ukraine for the coming weekend. At the start of the day, Lufthansa was offering a fare from London for £370 return; by 4pm, the cost of a ticket had risen by 50 per cent.
Hoteliers are also cashing in. Although Kiev is a huge city in European terms, its tourism infrastructure is modest. With many hotel rooms assigned to Uefa officials and media, prices for the remainder of city-centre beds are rising steeply. Yesterday, the four-star Alfavito was charging £800 for each of Saturday and Sunday nights.
Demand from Italian fans, for whom access to Kiev is easier has also pushed up rates.
Travel and logistics difficulties have meant fan numbers from across Europe have been lower than normal in Ukraine, and tickets for the Quarter Final were available on Uefa’s website today for as little as €40 (£34).
“People’s expectations are higher now, but Kiev is still quite an inaccessible place,” said Kevin Miles of the England Football Supporters’ Federation. “We can expect around 5,000 for certain, but it remains to be seen whether that many additional people are willing to pay to get out to Kiev.”
Should they win Sunday’s game England could face Germany or Greece in Warsaw in the semi-final.
“Some will come for the quarter, but the prospect of a semi-final against Germany, in Warsaw, is likely to really get people interested,” said Mr Miles. “If they make it past Italy we could see a rush of people.”
A rush of fans from home may help the England campaign given they lost a few of their local fans on Tuesday night after the controversial refereeing decision which denied Ukraine an equaliser even though the ball had crossed the line.
“I’ve always liked England and was rooting for them as my second team, but after that goal I don’t think I can support them any more,” said Andrei, a 29-year-old fan from Donetsk. “We were at home, we were the better side, and they stole the victory from us. I’ll be rooting for Italy in the next game. Forza Italia!”
British government ministers will not be in town for certain, however. The government announced that the group-stage boycott will continue to the Italy game, in protest against the jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other concerns about rule of law in Ukraine. However, the Foreign Office has left it open that if England were to reach the final, also in Kiev, they may reconsider.
In Donetsk, brothers David and Paul Wheatley from Leeds were preparing to take the overnight train to Kiev yesterday. They have been based in the eastern Ukrainian city for the past nine days and seen two of England’s three group games. “We’ve had a great time here, I think it’s a bit of a rough gem,” said David, 32. “Everyone has been friendly and it’s a shame that the media coverage beforehand was so negative.”
Such reports will help boost tourism in the vast ex-Soviet republic beyond the competition.
Ted Wake, managing director of Kirker Holidays, yesterday described Ukraine as a “niche experience”. He predicted an expansion, but not to England’s venues in Donetsk and Kiev. Lviv, one of the Euro 2012, is widely touted as the “new Prague”, while Odessa and the Crimea offer excellent beaches and rich histories.
A spokesperson for Lonely Planet travel guides said “Sales of our Ukraine guidebook have significantly increased compared to last year’s, suggesting that people are considering it more and more as a tourist destination”.
Ukraine has traditionally played second fiddle to Russia in terms of international tourism, but Euro 2012 may start to change the relationship.