Russia imposed “tourism embargo” on Georgia following the June 20 developments – the day when Georgian citizens expressed protest against the arrival of Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov in the country. The public outrage erupted after Gavrilov occupied the Georgian Speaker's seat in the Parliament chamber. Protest rallies outside the Parliament building overgrew into the confrontation between civilians and police, prompting the latter to use rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons. Following the June 20 developments in Tbilisi, Russia imposed ban on direct flights to Georgia from July 8, upon the Russian President’s decision.
The Kremlin posted a presidential decree “On Ensuring the National Security of Russia” on its official website, according to which from July 8, 2019, Russian air companies were temporarily banned to conduct direct flights to Georgia. According to the same decree, tour operators were recommended to refrain from planning trips to Georgia. Moscow cited the state interests as the reason behind its decision. Following Putin’s decision, part of Russian tourists started to cancel their bookings. Georgian government officials accused opponents of the developments on June 20 and aftermath, making them responsible for Russia’s irritation.
Myth 1. Georgia is not safe for Russian tourists
Russian media outlets are actively speculating that Georgia is not safe for Russian tourists and that Georgian lawmaker had been allegedly calling on people to kill Russian tourists. However, neither the Interior Ministry names nor media outlets cover any fact confirming that Georgian citizens had been threatening Russian tourists.
Myth 2. Embargo on flights harms Georgia
According to the Georgian National Tourism Administration, 70% of Russian visitors arrive in Georgia by land transport via Kazbegi and only 29% of visitors arrive in the country by air. It means that suspension of flights would create problems only to a small part of tourists.
Number of tourists in Georgia following Russian embargo
According to the official statistical data of the Georgian Interior Ministry, in January-August 2019, number of foreign visitors increased by 420,745, year-on-year. A total of 6.1 million foreign visitors arrived in Georgia during the first eight months of 2019. The figure stood at 5.6 million in the same period of 2018. According to the Georgian National Tourism Administration, following the June 20 developments, number of Russian tourists decreased only in July and September. Number of Russian tourists decreased by 46,896 in July-August 2019, year-on-year. It is worth noting that number of visitors from the EU member states, as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Israel, Turkey, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia increased by 176,853 in July-August 2019 y/y.
Statistical data in Adjara
Tinatin Zoidze, Head of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara
Following Russia’s tourism embargo, decline in the number of Russian tourists in a period of June-August was also observed in Adjara. According to the border crossing data of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara for June-August 2018, 759,417 international travelers visited Adjara. As for summer 2019, 845,451 international travelers arrived in the region via land, sea and air. 59,065 Russian visitors arrived in Adjara in summer 2019, down from 62,793 a year ago. Number of Russian visitors to Adjara declined by 5.9% in June-August following Russia’s embargo. Tinatin Zoidze, Head of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara, says that Moscow’s ban on direct flights was unexpected; however, the loss caused by the Russian embargo was compensated by visitors from the European countries.
“According to the data of past six months of 2019, Adjara hosted 570 British, 2,536 German and over 51,000 Russian visitors. Tourism sector faced a challenge this summer in the form of “Russia’s tourism embargo,” but I think that our country managed to cope with this challenge through active cooperation between the government and the private sector… It is very important for our country and our region to actively diversify tourism markets, to attract as many European guests as possible and not to depend on one, two or three markets,” Tinatin Zoidze says, adding that flights from Vilnius and Estonia were added to further diversify the market. She also noted that the work is underway to maintain old markets, such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and the Baltic states.
Russian embargo has improved wine quality, now it’s time for tourism
Alexander Kikava, Manager of Hotel Admiral
Alexander Kikava, Manager of Batumi-based Hotel Admiral, is sure that the decline in Russian tourists will pose no threat to the development of tourism in the country, if correct calculations are made and emphasis is laid on service quality, security in the country and market diversification.
“I believe that there is only one way for tourism development in Georgia – stable quality, quality in infrastructure, service, security, informing tourists, food, etc. This industry that is so important for the country cannot depend only on one country. Accordingly, like we took our Georgian wine to an absolutely new level and informed the entire world about the 2006 Russian embargo, we should now ensure high tourism quality; we simply have no alternative,” Alexander Kikava said.
“Europe, the West, other markets”
Zviad Eliziani, expert in tourism
Like Alexander Kikava, Zviad Eliziani, expert in tourism, also believes that market diversification is the only solution.
“This example has once again convinced everyone that economic relations should be developed in all directions, but Europe, the West and other markets represent a priority for us,” Zviad Eliziani says.
Response to embargo – “Spend Your Summer in Georgia” #spendyoursummeringeorgia”
“Spend Your Summer in Georgia” is the name of the campaign launched by the government and private sectors to counter Russian disinformation, anti-tourism propaganda and anti-Western sentiments. A group Spend Your Summer in Georgia was created on Facebook, where various photos and videos are posted under the hashtag #spendyoursummeringeorgia. This creative initiative attracted the attention of many foreign tourists and prompted them to arrive in Georgia. The purpose of the campaign was just to interest European countries as well as to compensate the loss caused by Russian embargo to Georgia. Russia’s ban on direct flights to Georgia prompted the initiators to launch the campaign. Besides Georgians, foreign citizens actively joined the campaign with the posts being actively written on the campaign’s Facebook page in both Georgian and English languages. The social campaign was launched on June 22 and in two days, number of Facebook group members exceeded 100,000. Today, the group already has 290,000 members.
The article is published within the framework of the project #FIGHTFAKE, which is implemented by MDF in cooperation with its partner organisation Deutsche Gesellschaft e.V.
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