Georgia Expecting Boom of Russian Tourists in 2012

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The FINANCIAL — Despite Putin’s return to Russian presidency, Georgian-Russian business relations and investments are expected to grow.

 

Russia, which remains the number one donor country in terms of transfer of money to Georgia, is showing interest in the development of economic relations with this small country only recently invaded by Moscow. The National Tourism Agency of Georgia told The FINANCIAL that it plans to host 400,000 Russian tourists in 2012 out of the 3.5 million foreign tourists expected.

Ski and mountain resorts appear to be the favourite destinations of Russians in Georgia. Furthermore Georgian President Michael Saakashvili announced just last week that there will no longer be visa requirements for Russians coming to Georgia for tourism or investment purposes. 

Political relations are expected to remain tense as Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin returns to office. “The best that we can hope Putin will do is just maintain his hostile stance towards Georgia. We should not expect any improvement. We can expect only a worsening of the situation,” Professor Zurab Davitashvili, Head of the International Relations’ Division, Faculty of Social and Political Science at Tbilisi State University, told The FINANCIAL.

“Restoration of bilateral diplomatic relations will not just be hard but actually impossible until one of the sides radically changes its position. Compromise from the Georgian side means forgetting Abkhazia and South Ossetia and getting used to the division. Whilst a Russian compromise would mean withdrawing forces from the occupied territories, acknowledging its independence and not hampering Georgia’s integration into NATO,” Davitashvili said.

“The status of a safe country is the main reason for the increase of Russian visitors in Georgia,” Beka Jakeli, Deputy Chairman of the National Tourism Agency of Georgia, told The FINANCIAL.

“A free visa regime for the North Caucasus region’s citizens has also stimulated Russian tourist numbers. All this was as a result of President Saakashvili’s recent initiative to abolish the visa regime for all Russian citizens,” Beka Jakeli said to The FINANCIAL.

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“The number of Russian visitors to Georgia has been increasing year on year. Whereas in 2009 127,937 Russian tourists came to Georgia, in 2011 this figure had sharply increased and reached more than 278,000 in total. In 2011 the number of Russian tourists increased by 63% compared to the previous year, counting an additional 170,584. This all has been happening notwithstanding the existing political environment,” Jakeli said.

“In winter 2010-2011 lots of Russian tourists visited Gudauri. They were mostly from Vladikavkaz and some were also from Moscow. The main interest of Russian tourists in Georgia is travelling around Georgia’s mountainous regions. The number of Russian tourists travelling for cultural and wine tours is rising as well. And of course the country’s seafront resorts are also interesting to them,” he added.

Jakeli said that different marketing campaigns are being used for the country’s promotion. The national administration of tourism recently arranged several press conferences and introductory tours for leading Russian travel media and tourist companies. As a result Russian printed media actively reported on the tourism potential of Georgia. According to Jakeli, one of the most effective ways to advertise the tourism potential of the country is via social networking websites.

“We are actively cooperating with Russian travel companies. Georgian tourism companies have started active cooperation in this direction. Considering the variety of Georgian tourism potential, Russian tourists will find entertainment tourism, eco tourism, and medical tourism all interesting,” Jakeli said.   

Russia still remains the dominant country in terms of money transfers to Georgia. In 2010 the total volume of transferred money from Russia was 555,567.1 million USD. The figure increased in 2011 amounting to 655,216.8 million USD.

Davitashvili, TSU, said that many Georgians will be disgruntled with the situation and share their opinions with Russian tourists in the country. It’s difficult to prevent such conversation taking place between ordinary people. Although he does not think that Russian tourists will be in any discomfort because of it. Tourists will come here for leisure and entertainment and political debates will not be of much interest to them.

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“Georgians feel great antipathy towards Russian officials and the state. As for the Russian people, Georgians carry a sense of resentment toward them as they did not express any protest during the Russian aggression of 2008 nor acknowledge the independence and integrity of Georgian territories,” Davitashvili said.

Davitashvili does not think that the encouragement of officials to restore bilateral relations will influence citizens. “The alienation between Russians and Georgians has its reasons and the various statements of those in power will not result in any serious changes in regards to this.”  

“Georgian officials did not abolish the visa regime in response to Medvedev’s statement recently that Russia is interested in the development of economic relations with Georgia. It was Georgia’s initiative and gesture of goodwill to show the whole world that it is open to Russian citizens and does not have a hostile stance towards Russian citizens,” Davitashvili said.

According to RiaNovosti, on March 7 Vladimir Putin blamed Georgia’s leadership for problems in bilateral relations.

“This is the result of the current Georgian leadership’s actions,” Putin told journalists who asked him about the outlook for relations between Moscow and Tbilisi when he is sworn in.

“We have special relations with the Georgian people. I hope a solution will be found,” he said. Putin said “the situation would be different now” if Georgia had behaved in a different way in its conflict with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He said he had repeatedly warned President Mikheil Saakashvili prior to the escalation of the conflict that bloodshed must be avoided.

 

 

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