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Putin’s ban on flights- problem or opportunity

By Inga Kakulia
Monday, June 24
Following the outrage caused by Sergei Gavrilov, the member of the Russian Communist Party who took the Chairman’s seat in the Parliament of Georgia, Vladimir Putin has issued an order to suspend all flights to Georgia to damage the country’s growing tourism industry.

Putin signed a decree on June 21, suspending flights to Georgia by Russian airlines, starting from July 8. The order also calls for the return of all Russian citizens currently in Georgia. The Kremlin said the suspension on Russian airlines flying to Georgia was to “ensure Russia’s national security and protect Russian nationals from criminal and other unlawful activities.”

The suspension of flights is designed to put pressure on Georgia’s tourism industry, which accounted for 7.6% of the country’s GDP in 2018. More than 1.4 million Russians visited Georgia last year.

Mikhail Degtyarev, Head of the Committee on Physical Culture, Sport, Tourism and Youth Affairs of the lawmaking body, called for a “boycott of all resorts and trade goods of Georgia” after which he called the demonstrations in Georgia “Russophobic” in an update to his social media. He suggested that Georgia try and sell “Borjomi” (Georgian Mineral Water) to the European Market and expect tourists from the USA and the EU.

It isn’t the first blatant attack on Georgian Economy from Russia, who put an embargo on Georgian wine, as well as mineral water in 2006, along with the restrictions on air travel, which considerably affected Georgia’s economy. At the time, it seemed like it would irreversibly damage the wine export it was dependent on Russia, but Georgia has managed to adapt and open new pathways for trade and improve its economic relationships with new trading partners, the ones respecting Georgia’s sovereignty.

In May of this year, “Geostat” published the report on Inbound Tourism Statistics Of the 1st quarter of 2019. One of the most interesting findings of the report was that the most significant increase seen in the amount of Russian tourists, which increased by 24.3% increase, compared to the 1st quarter of 2018.

The number of visitors from Russia reached 222.7 thousand. This number makes up for 21.4 percent of the total number of visitors. The largest number of visitors travel from neighboring Azerbaijan but the increase compared to the 1st quarter of 2018 is only 3 percent.

The amount of Russian tourists is considerable, but the experts are saying that the ban won’t have the long term effect and will, in turn, allow the Georgian Tourism to focus on tourists from other countries.

When talking about the ban on air travel, it’s important to note that a lot of Russian Tourists come to Georgia by land. Therefore, it is debatable whether or not this ban will change the amount of incoming Russians drastically.

Even before the ban, many people were speaking out about the dangers of relying heavily on Russia for income from tourism. Having a running history with the unpredictable Russian governance, it seemed like the issue that could get out of hand pretty quickly. Being economically dependent on the country currently occupying 1/5 of Georgia should’ve have been seen as a red flag a long time ago.

At a glance, the ban on flights from Russia seems like it would do great damage. But considering how far Georgia has come since 2006, the Georgian people, including experts, remain largely optimistic and are willing to put in work themselves to help the country to stay resilient in the time of economic uncertainty.

Georgian community has managed to find unity, as it usually does in times of need and is working on the campaign to attract tourists from other countries.

Through Social media, a new initiative is gaining momentum. With the hashtag #spendyoursummerinGeorgia, Georgians are seeking to connect with the international community and spread awareness about the holiday destinations within Georgia.

The campaign will take a more cohesive turn in the future, launching a website and an Instagram page to help promote tourism in Georgia.

Instead of backing down, the Georgian community chose to see this challenge as an opportunity for growth and improvement. It seems like most people see it as a necessary push to launch the country into a difficult but essential process of eliminating economic dependence on Russia. While the ban and the movement against it are new, the considerable part of Georgians is determined to work for the change they want to see in the country.