MOSCOW, June 22. /TASS/. About 5,000-7,000 Russian tourists who bought tours via travel agencies are currently staying in Georgia, but the number of those who organized a trip on their own is two or three times higher, the head of the Russian Association of Tour Operators (RATO) has told TASS.
"About 5,000-7,000 organized tourists are currently staying in Georgia. The number of independent tourists is two or three times higher," RATO Executive Director Maya Lomidze told TASS on Friday.
"The duration of those tours varies, but some trips are booked until the beginning of September. Reservations for September have also been submitted," she added.
The official said that while cancelling their trip to Georgia under present circumstances, tourists are entitled to a full return of their money. Under article 14 of the Russian law on tourism, customers who cancel their trip due to unexpected developments in the country of their temporary stay, which pose threat to their life or health, should have their losses fully compensated by the travel agent. Those who had to cut short their trip under similar circumstances are to get a full compensation for the remaining period.
The Federal Agency for Tourism (Rostourism) issued a recommendation for travel agencies to suspend sales of tours to Georgia "until the situation is back to normal." It also obliged travel agencies to inform tourists willing to buy a tour to the country about the latest developments in the country.
"Our official stance is as follows: tourists should refrain from trips to Georgia, while travel agencies should suspend sales of tours," Rostourism head Zarina Doguzova told TASS, adding the number of travel agencies offering trips to Georgia is relatively small, but many Russians prefer to organize trips to the country on their own.
"Anything that the agency [Rostourism] should do, will be done," she added.
Russian tourists in Georgia were advised by Rostourism to "show caution and avoid areas of mass gathering," to take all necessary measures and safety precautions and "not to leave hotel areas except for an organized transfer to their airport of departure."
Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry recommended Russians to avoid visiting Georgia.
Meanwhile, the head of the Social Policy Committee of the Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Russian parliament), whose sphere of responsibility also includes tourism, said that Russian tourists in Georgia are unlikely to face any problems while returning from their trips.
"I don’t think there can be any problems with the return of Russian tourists from Georgia. There is always a possibility to travel to nearby Russian regions by car or by railroad. Of course, citizens should show caution, to avoid all kinds of rallies and mass gatherings, to stay on the territory of their hotels or within the coastal zone," Valery Ryazansky said.
According to the senator, the evacuation of Russians from Georgia is highly unlikely, but possible if necessary.
Georgian tourism industry expert, Niko Kvaratskhelia, said the suspension of direct flights to Georgia will entail losses for the country’s tourism sector.
"Naturally, the ban on flights from Russia will cause losses for our travel sector. Many Russians arrive in Georgia by plane, but it will take time to analyze everything and calculate the figures," he said.
Meanwhile, a source in Georgia’s flagship air carrier Georgian Airways, which performs direct flights to several Russian cities, said the company would continue its work in normal regime.
The former Georgian republic of Abkhazia, which broke away from Georgia following the armed conflict in 2008, invited Russian tourists to visit its resorts instead.
"Abkhazia is ready to accept all tourists who followed the official recommendations <...> and cancelled their trips to Georgia due to recent events. Our sea is warm, our air is clean, and our people are hospitable," Abkhazian Deputy Minister on Resorts and Tourism Astamur Bartsits told TASS.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree, which imposes a temporary ban on passenger flights with Georgia from July 8, the Kremlin press service reported on Friday. In addition, tour operators and travel agents are recommended "for the duration of the ban ... to refrain from selling a tourist product that includes transportation (including commercial one) of citizens from the territory of the Russian Federation to the territory of Georgia."
On June 20, several thousand protesters converged on the parliament in downtown Tbilisi, demanding the resignation of the interior minister and the parliament’s speaker, and tried to storm the building. In response, police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators. According to Georgian media, dozens were detained, 240 people suffered injuries, and 55 of them remain in hospitals.
The protests were sparked by an uproar over a Russian State Duma delegation’s participation in the 26th session of the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO). On Thursday morning, IAO President Gavrilov opened the session in the Georgian parliament building. Opposition lawmakers were outraged by the fact that Gavrilov addressed the event’s participants from the parliament speaker’s seat. In protest, they did not allow the IAO session to continue.
Later, a decision was taken to wrap up the session and for the Russian delegation to leave the country. Members of the ruling ‘Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia’ party said that they did not know that Gavrilov had been scheduled to open the event, claiming that the protocol office had made a mistake.
Secretary General of the ruling ‘Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia’ party and Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze announced on Friday that Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze had decided to tender his resignation.