HOPES AND EXPECTATIONS FOR EU TRAVEL
Georgians are now free to travel to the EU's Schengen area without a visa under certain conditions. Investor.ge spoke with local out-bound tour agencies and tourism organizations about their expectations for Georgians' summer travels this year.
After years of negotiations, deferments and talks, the long-awaited visa-free travel regime between Georgia and the European Union has become a reality.
Starting from March 28, all Georgian citizens holding a biometric passport can travel to and throughout the Schengen area without a visa for up to 90 days in any 180-day period for business, tourist or family purposes.
Investor.ge has contacted several tourist agencies and organizations in Tbilisi and explored what their expectations are on whether and how the visa-free regime is going to impact Georgian outbound tourism toward the EU.
Travel operators envisage that the flow of Georgian tourists heading to European countries will sharply increase after the visa-waiver regime enters into force.
Currently, there is no data on how many Georgians vacation overseas, according to Giorgi Bregadze, Head of Research and Planning Department at the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA).
He told Investor.ge, however, that Geostat is planning to conduct a survey in this area in the next two years.
Very Positive Step
Visa liberalization is a very positive step and we have positive expectations, according to Irakli Gvenetadze from LevonTravel.
"I expect families to increase their trips to Europe," he said, noting that there are inexpensive flights to Europe from Kutaisi Airport.
"There will be an increase to those destinations that are connected with low-budget flights, WizzAir flights. You can go to Berlin and return for 100 euros. Warsaw and Berlin will be popular destinations," he said.
Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili from Georgian Voyage noted that there is already an uptick in interest for travel to Europe. "Tourists are already asking for more info about trips to Europe," she said.
Direct flight connections, low-cost plane tickets, as well as the possibility of choosing a tour instead of a self-organized trip are the factors that will affect Georgians the most when picking a destination, according to travel agents.
"When WizzAir started to fly from Kutaisi, this created a very big opportunity for vacations, and we have already registered an increase [in trips] since such flights were introduced. Direct flights are the main reason to pick destinations," said Natalia Kvachantiradze, Chairperson of the Georgian Tourism Association.
WizzAir told Investor.ge that more than 630,000 passengers from Georgia have flown on their airlines to destinations in Europe. The number is increasing over time, the company noted: in 2016, 168,000 people flew from Georgia, which was 35 percent more than the previous year.
Trouble at the Border?
There is also a degree of apprehension, however. While traveling, Georgian tourists will still have to carry several documents confirming the purpose of their trips and be ready to show them at the request of border control bodies. Traveling without a visa could lead to both tougher border controls and an increase in rejections.
"When you already have a visa, it is easy to pass through border controls - only a few questions are asked, and that's it. Without a visa, the border control will be much tougher. Honestly, we are a little bit afraid. I think that eventually tourism will increase, but I think that for the first few months there will be some sort of adaptation period to see how this process works. We all are expecting travelers to be sent back," one travel agent, who asked not to be identified, said.
Not for Everyone
Enthusiasm aside, tour operators believe that the visa-free regime will not be equally appealing to all strata of the Georgian population.
"Families usually go and take a break in Turkey or Egypt during the summer. We have charter flights to and from these destinations, and this makes the tours cheaper. It is easier for them to have a rest with the entire family there," the Georgian Tourism Association's Kvachantiradze said.
More European Tourists in Georgia?
Eventually, tours operators believe that the establishment of a visa-free regime could bring some benefits to Georgia too by increasing the flow of incoming tourists.
"Georgian tourists in Europe will be like ambassadors. Through them, European people will hear about Georgia and they will feel like visiting it. This will increase the inflow of tourists," one travel agent said.
"I think that tour operators that now have charter flights to Turkey and Egypt will now make new packages with charter flights to Europe including hotels. In addition, low-cost air companies like WizzAir will open up new direct flights. This not only will facilitate Georgians on their way to Europe, but it will also bring more tourists to Georgia," said another travel agent.
However, Georgians who like to travel within their own national borders are not expected to change their habits.
"The visa-free regime will not affect domestic tourism. Georgians love their country and love to travel within it, to go hiking, to visit our mountain and sea resorts. People who are used to traveling within our national borders will not change their habits," noted Saba Suladze from 08 Travel.
"Georgian families like to go to Georgian resorts and rest there. In the winter, they like to go to ski resorts like Gudauri and Bakuriani and in the summer to Batumi and to the Adjara region. This will not change because of visa liberalization. But let's see," concluded Kvachantiradze.
Latest Issue (pdf format)
See more in our archive>>>