Russian Exaggerates Impact of Flight Ban on Georgian Tourism

Russian media outlet Izvestia claims that after the Russian ban on flights with Georgia, the number of Russian tourists in Georgia is down by 70%, instead of the real 14%.

The article quotes Yuri Barzykin, Vice President of the Russian Tourism Industry Association, saying that the number of Russian tourists in Georgia has been reduced by 70%. He noted that Russian citizens who organized a trip themselves to Georgia can travel by land via the Lars checkpoint or through third countries.

“Almost everyone who used to get [to Georgia] by air, has stopped visiting. In addition, package tours are not for sale… It was clearly said that everything was in the hands of the Georgian side. And in the situation that is currently being observed there, the risks for Russians are certainly increased,” he told Izvestia.

Barzykin also said there are still no reasons for the restoration of air traffic between the two countries, adding it is not expected in the near future either.

Izvestia reports that the restoration of direct air flights with Georgia will not be resumed until at least the 2020 parliamentary elections. The article says their source from diplomatic circles informed them that “the current authorities in Tbilisi have ignored Moscow’s demands regarding the safety of travelers from Russia, and the surge of anti-Russian sentiment has not been extinguished.”

“Russia outlined the conditions for the resumption of flights - the cessation of Russophobic policies and rhetoric, including by the Georgian authorities. There has been no progress in this matter, therefore, at least during the year, air communication will not be restored."

"And most likely, this will not happen before the parliamentary elections. At the state level, the anti-Russian policy should be stopped. Without this, we cannot recommend Russians visit Georgia, or, most importantly, be confident about our citizens’ safety in this country,” the source of Izvestia said.

Information about the reduction of Russian tourists in Georgia by 70% is untrue. The National Georgian Tourism Administration (GNTA) says the decline in tourist flow was much smaller as a result of the Russian travel embargo on flights.

In July 2019, there were 159,063 Russian visitors to Georgia, 6.4% less than in the same period in 2018, of which 50,849 were transit visitors and 108,214 were tourists.

The number of Russian tourists was 14.8% (18,851) less than in the same period of 2018. The 14% decline in tourist arrivals was reported as a 70% decrease by Russian media.

Moreover, the article does not mention that in July a record number of visitors and tourists were received in Georgia. According to the Tourism Administration, Georgia's tourism sector grew in July by 5.8%, totaling 1,099,474 visitors. The number of direct tourist visits increased by 1% to 570,482. There has been an increase in the number of tourists from many other countries too, including Saudi Arabia, Israel, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and others. There was also a positive trend from EU countries.

The United Airports of Georgia of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development says in July 2019, all five Georgian airports -Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, Mestia, Ambrolauri- served 571, 848 passengers which is 44,959 passengers less (7.3%) compared to July 2018 (616,807 passengers).

A 7.3% drop in passenger traffic was triggered by suspension of direct flights to Russia from July 8, 2019. According to the official data, in July 2019 Tbilisi International Airport served 384,632 passengers, which is about 10% less compared to the same period of the previous year.

The number of passengers decreased also at Batumi International Airport. In July 2019, 100,432 passengers were served by Batumi Airport which is 10,893 passengers less than in the same period of the previous year.

However, unlike Tbilisi and Batumi, the Kutaisi International Airport saw a 14% increase in passenger traffic. In July 2019, 85,738 passengers were served at the airport. In July 2018, the airport served 75,372.

Georgia’s Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Natia Turnava says that despite the 7.3% decrease of passengers in July, the total number of visitors in seven months of this year increased by 12%.

The Minister added that the government is doing its best to neutralize the consequences of the Russian embargo on flights.

A few days ago, Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze noted that due to the Russian ban on direct flights with Georgia, the tourism sector saw around a $60 million loss last month.

“However, the steps we have taken make me believe we will return to the strong dynamics we had,” the PM said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree banning Russian airlines from flying to Georgia and vice versa on June 21 in response to large-scale anti-Moscow rallies in Tbilisi. The ban took effect on July 8.

Georgian authorities many times noted that the country welcomes tourists from all around the world and that the safety of guests, including those of from Russia, is completely ensured.

By Thea Morrison

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15 August 2019 16:29