Russians slam ban on flights to Georgia - GulfToday

Russians slam ban on flights to Georgia

Georgia-Tourist

Russian tourists take selfies in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Saturday. Associated Press

Russia’s travel industry and ordinary Russians hit out Saturday at a decision by the Kremlin to suspend flights to Georgia as a politically motivated move that has little to do with safety concerns.

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree banning Russian airlines from flying to pro-Western Georgia from July 8 late Friday in response to anti-government rallies in the ex-Soviet neighbour.

The protests were sparked by a parliamentary address in Tbilisi by a Moscow lawmaker earlier this week.

The Kremlin said the ban was to “ensure Russia’s national security and protect Russian nationals from criminal and other unlawful activities.”

Authorities recommended travel companies stop selling holiday packages to Georgia and advised Russian tourists to return home.

Many ordinary Russians bristled at the Kremlin’s latest initiative, while key players in the industry said they were blindsided by the move.

“Tourism in Georgia is on the rise, and the decision has shocked the whole industry,” Aleksan Mkrtchyan, head of Pink Elephant, a chain of travel agencies, said in a statement.

Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Tourism Union, refused to say whether the ban was justified, adding she did not comment on political matters.

But the general consensus within the industry was that Georgia was not a dangerous destination, she said. “Georgians have traditionally treated Russians well,” Tyurina said.

It was too early to estimate any potential industry losses stemming from the ban, she said.

According to the transportation ministry, the issue was discussed at a meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov on Saturday.

Airline customers were returning their tickets “en masse,” the ministry said.

“This ban is silly,” Margarita Semyonova, a 19-year-old student, who visited Georgia last year, said, suggesting that everyday Russians and the Georgian travel industry would suffer. “Why are they deciding for us what we cannot eat, where we cannot fly, who we cannot be friends with?” Elena Chekalova, a prominent chef and culinary blogger, wrote on Facebook.

Yan Nalimov, writing on social media, said the “political ambitions of some people are destroying the business of those who simply want to work and make money.”

Agence France-Presse