Putin Attacks Georgian Tourism, Georgians React with Social Campaign

President of Russia Vladimir Putin has banned flights from Russia to Georgia and suspended Georgian air companies from flying in its territory from July 8.

His decision follows days of protest in Tbilisi that began after a Russian MP gave an address from the Speaker’s seat in the Georgian parliament.

Protestors gathered in front of the Parliament building on Thursday to contest Russian occupation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow considers the protests to be an “anti-Russian provocation”.

Encouraging Russians to avoid visiting Georgia, Putin signed a decree on Friday evening stating that flight suspension was necessary to “protect the national security of the Russian Federation.”

The escalation in tensions between Russia and Georgia is aimed to pressurize the Georgian economy, that relies heavily on tourism. In 2018, Georgia’s tourism industry accounted for 7.6% of the GDP.

With 1.4 million Russians visiting Georgia last year, Russians account for the highest number of tourists in Georgia.

In the face of Putin’s attempt to shrink Georgia’s tourist industry, a group of young Georgian women started an initiative to encourage international visitors from around the world to visit Georgia.

Launched on Saturday, the social initiative ‘Spend your Summer in Georgia’ attracted over 100,000 members within 48 hours.

‘Spend your Summer in Georgia’ hopes to attract more visitors to Georgia by publicizing the country’s tourism potential.

Members from around the world have posted on their good experiences in the country: ‘Georgia is definitely my favourite travel destination. It was amazing to spend almost a month there,’ wrote one Polish member.

“The main aim of the campaign is to interest people in Georgia and encourage them to come here, as well as help Georgian businesses to receive a lot of tourists in summer despite Putin’s announcement,” Mary Jobava, one of the initiative’s organizers, told GEORGIA TODAY.

Georgian businesses who rely heavily on Russian tourists will lose a large number of customers this summer. An estimated 80,000 Russian bookings have been cancelled since the announcement of the ban.

“We want to help these businesses by reaching out to people around the world to come to Georgia.”

As part of the initiative, the organizers hope that foreigners will share their experiences using the hashtag #spendyoursummeringeorgia.

Through spreading awareness about visiting Georgia, as well as logistical advice, the group aims to become a hub for tourism in Georgia and ultimately increase the number of tourists by diversifying the tourism industry.

“We will share information on visiting Georgia: what to see, where to go, how to plan their trip. It should become a hub for tourism,” Jobava said.

Distancing themselves from the recent protests and Putin’s statements, the group will remain apolitical. “We want to run a positive campaign and avoid political announcements,” Jobava explains.

With so much interest in the first 48 hours of the campaign, ‘Spend your summer in Georgia’ has attracted a lot of attention from the media and businesses. The group plan to launch a website with travel advice and continue to encourage others to share positive experiences about Georgia.

By Amy Jones

24 June 2019 17:50