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Hilton Hotel Batumi: Batumi Suffering from Lack of Flights

Hilton is a world renowned brand and when you mention ‘Hilton’, the usual response is “Hotel!” just as “Hoover” is synonymous with vacuum cleaners and “Coke” is known as a fizzy drink. The Hilton hotel has made Batumi one of the main tourist and business destinations. For Hilton, the past year has been a success but recently it has begun to face challenges in terms of business conference cancellations. The problem has arisen due to the lack of flights to Batumi and the fact that Batumi is far from Tbilisi, doubling expenditure for tourists. GEORGIA TODAY spoke to Stuart Nelson, General Manager of Hilton Hotel Batumi, to discuss the current challenges the hotel faces and how he envisions the way out.

Mr. Nelson, what is the general picture of flights to Batumi?

We’ve had some really positive responses from holiday tour operators and charter flight operators who are currently promoting Hilton within the Israeli market, and we hope to have other destinations flying into Batumi from the Gulf regions and beyond in the near future. This initial work has resulted in other operators coming to the market and benefiting other hotels within the city so we started offering the same competitive prices- they really do increase interest in the destination, a real bonus for the city and for Georgia during this latest Low season.

We’re seeing flights arrive from March to December and will look to see the market grow to a year-round flight in 2017. This is sure to be a great boost to all tourism destinations, and the local economy as a whole.

What’s more, it’s really encouraging to see other independent travelers, like those from Iran, benefiting from a visa free status set up by the Georgian Government. We hope that all these efforts will continue to result in a busier Batumi.

The Hilton hotel has had troubles in attracting business recently. Why?

We’ve had real challenges attracting conferences from Tbilisi, our prime market. All of the companies we have spoken to are unwilling to ask their employees to make a 12 hour return trip by road or train, (if a ticket can be purchased at all) to Batumi.

There have been no flights since January and none are for sale online for the rest of this year.

Batumi is an island, cut off by the lack of flights since Georgian Airlines, the nation’s flag carrier, decided to stop flying. The inconsistency of flights, sometimes canceled on the day of departure, has seen trust in the service rapidly deteriorate.

This can be reversed by great marketing, attractive offers, pricing management, maybe even a limited government subsidy and a determination to deliver consistent, affordable seats on regular flights. This would allow not only Georgian companies but international companies to come to Adjara to hold their conferences.

All of us in tourism in Batumi need to lobby hard to have this situation reversed and I trust that with coordinated determination, we’ll achieve this together.

Have you turned to any organizations or the Georgian Government itself to solve the problem?

We’ve asked the Government for assistance and this indeed has been our message over the last year.

We also have other travel industry partners keen to promote this safe and visa free destination.

The proof of all this work will be presented as increased flights, not only Charters but regular flights from Tbilisi and other destinations, and an increased promotion of the region. Great steps have been made so far and I’m sure this will continue. It has to as we all need to see real tourism numbers grow and not just border crossings being counted.

There needs to be a visible plan that all government has for tourism that will plug into the international hotel brands plans. As such, Georgia will be helped by all the brands within their regions and internationally.

Do you have your own action plan to improve the situation?

All of our plans within the hotel are co-ordinated to improve visitor numbers, revenues, and provide great service within Hilton Batumi.

We’ll continue to lobby and press for action and trust that our efforts, along with all those of the local hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions, will create a voice that cannot be ignored by airlines or government, both local and national.

Further to these strategic plans, we’re looking to buying local produce and help to guide all quality and consistency so we can support local producers. We’re seeking out farmers to grow for us and have formed great partnerships with the likes of Merci Corp to help us do just this.

We in Hilton have a strong local social conscience, so we’re fundraising for local children’s charities to help with their needs and dreams. We’re committed to the local area and will do all we can to see it grow and develop.

This goes along with our commitment to improve, grow and develop the infrastructure for tourism within this wonderful destination.

Meri Taliashvili

31 March 2016 21:06