Whatever valuable instructions are given to heads of the puppet regime of occupied Abkhazia, long-awaited holiday season there still failed. Sergei Bagapsh probably had advance information about this course of events and therefore issued a decree for local traffic police not to stop vehicles of Russian tourists and not to disturb them with their curiosity in trying to determine their identities. Moreover, Abkhazian policemen were instructed to carefully protect resort leisure of Russian guests. But even this has not helped. While Sukhumi expected invasion of tourist army of 2 million, in reality less than 300 thousand tourists visited Abkhazia and this number includes so-called "one-day tourists" who travel to the "independent republic" only to see New Athos Cave and Lake Ritza.
The reason is quite simple. Well-advertised "independence" and "security" of Abkhazia as a tourist destination initially attracted attention of curious Russians. However, having visited and "holidayed" in the occupied region last year, they have lost the desire to once again visit this truly natural paradise. Reasons for this are more than enough. Russian people visited Abkhazia last year wrote a lot on the internet about it. If, however, negative impressions of visitors were habitually written off then as "Georgian propaganda" now materials about "charms" of holidaying in Abkhazia have appeared not just in blogs but in major Russian media sources as well and, what is more notable, in the Abkhazian press.
Tourist season in occupied Abkhazia this summer has become a very popular topic in Russian information space. The media that discussed this topic can be divided into two categories. Those who write the truth belong to the first category. The second category includes those who accuse the latters of purposeful propaganda against Abkhazia and working on Georgia. Particularly successful in this is Russian newspaper "GeorgiaTimes" purposes of which we have already written about. Svetlana Bolotnikova in her article "Who orders a funeral march for tourists?" criticizes everybody who describes realities of the tourism sector of "independent Abkhazia". Without considering this masterpiece of Russian agitation and propaganda in details, we will just present materials that Bolotnikova calls "ordered".
An interesting report was published in online edition Nakanune.RU. The first thing that strikes the author of the article "Summer evening in Gagra" is queues on the river Psou. "There are queues on the Russian side and on the Abkhazian side. Now even passports are checked with greatest laziness. The important thing is to buy insurance cost of which has increased slightly over the past two years while the amount paid for " in case" remains the same - 30 thousand rubles."
What can be learned from these words? Firstly, it is more important for Abkhazian border guards not to look into passports but to let as more tourists in as possible otherwise the plan is on fire! And there are scrupulous checks on the Russian side because they know very well what a haven for fugitive criminals "independent Abkhazia" has become. And the tourist season is the most suitable period for transition into a criminal paradise.
Secondly, a large number of tourists mean more revenue from insurance that tourists get on the Abkhazian side on a mandatory basis although they do not understand their purpose. holiday costs a family of four almost 1500 rubles immediately after crossing the border of Abkhazia. But it is in the best case. If one gets caught in insurance scam then all 10 000 will be gone. As for the insurance payment which "in case of" is 30 000 rubles the author was just lucky not to verify personally that when there is a case of "in case of" one cannot get one's hands near money . At best they will be advised to leave Abkhazia amicably and get back to homeland. But if a victim seeks justice, then he/she risks to remain permanently in this "free" land together with one's family.
Here's another story about insurance. "Exhausted by the sun pensioners from Penza complain that they arrived for a day - to see Lake Ritza – and they were asked to buy insurance". That is, all are equally fleeced, without taking into consideration whether they arrived for a half day or, for example, for 10 days.
The holiday season has practically failed - confirms a minibus driver in the article. "Somehow season this year is not very good. It seemed that the crisis in Russia was in 2009, although it was then that we "cashed in". People flocked then. And now, where everything's gone? I have to wait for almost an hour to fill a minibus with people wishing to go to Gagra for 50 rubles". So, in the midst of the crisis of 2009, drivers were thriving while in current, more prosperous year they are without work. This situation is directly connected with number of tourists and this indirectly points to "success" of the holiday season.
Doctor of economic sciences Beslan Baratelia gives us his views on causes of such sad state of affairs. His article "The failure of the tourist season - Abkhazia 2010" published on Abkhazian website sites states a number of reasons for dismal prospects to replenish the Abkhazian budget with solid income from visitors.
"1. Tourist business has becoming more and more globalized every year and Abkhazia is experiencing growing competition from a growing number of countries that provide tourism services. At that quality-price ratio grows and not in our favour. Prices in Abkhazia are European; while quality of services ... I'll leave it without comment to avoid foul language;
2. Compared with last year many foreign currencies dropped and prices on vacation abroad have done the same;
3. The global financial crisis and the debt crisis in Europe also led to a reduction in the cost of hotels, tours etc;
4. FIFA World Cup 2010. It also had a negative impact on holiday season in Abkhazia. Many fans prefer to watch broadcasts of matches sitting at home or, at least, in special clubs and bars, of which there are few in Abkhazia;
5. Lack of progress in simplifying the procedure of crossing of the Russian-Abkhazian border. Memories of tourists about difficulties (unbearable heat, long queue, crying children, etc.) during crossing of the border, I think, suppress in many of them desire of another visit to Abkhazia;
6. Insurance in Abkhazia. Many tourists do not like that they have to buy insurance when entering Abkhazia. Well, it is understandable as it is not needed in Turkey and Egypt as well as in many European countries. But it is necessary in Abkhazia. It is a detail but still not very pleasant. Especially if you have to stand again in a queue after hours of crossing the border or to pay for insurance when leaving Abkhazia, if you get caught without it;
7. Absence of breakthrough in tourist security. Robbery and theft are not a rare phenomenon encountered by tourists. This happens in hired homes and apartments, on the market, public transport and even on the beach. Some earn on this while the country as a whole loses a lot ".
So, according to Baratelia, the main aspects that played a fateful role for tourism business of Abkhazia are as follows: inadequate quality-price ratio; prices do not match service and Abkhazia cannot keep pace with international standards in this sphere of business. More, it is far behind. And problems on the border with Russia completely kill any desire not only to come for a holiday next year, but even to go to Abkhazia on a day trip from resorts in neighbouring Krasnodar region. and there is insurance as well. who likes to pay extra money for no reason at all? In addition, there is an acute issue of security of holidaymakers.
At the end of his article Baratelia notes that if the Abkhazian leadership does not take appropriate action "tourism expects similar fate as agriculture" - that is that tourism will practically die. However, tourism cannot develop without agriculture. competitive prices in the tourist industry are heavily dependent on cheap and high quality agricultural products. So there is another massive problem facing Abkhazians - need to restore agriculture. And this is not a simple task even for large and developed countries. Europe spends huge amounts of money not only on reconstruction and development but for just maintaining of agricultural sector. Can the puppet regime that is completely dependent on Russian subsidies do this? And would Moscow want to throw away large amounts of money to help Abkhazian farmers? These are rhetorical questions ...
When we talk about security of holidaying in Abkhazia it is not only about danger from criminals, but also about behaviour of local "guardians of order." Ekho Abkhazii newspaper of July 6, 2010 published an article "We are tourists, not homeless!" It describes that various Russian organizations had been preparing a number of festivals - music, theatre - in the occupied territories... one of the music festivals in the Gagra district was agreed at the level of so-called prime minister of Abkhazia, but when people came to the event Abkhazian police welcomed them with news of cancellation of the festival and did not even bother with explanations. Moreover, "workers of Tsandripshi police started chasing participants of the festival out of their tents and houses in the adjacent village of Khishkha. People in panic were hiding in forests, basements. The situation reminded the repression in the thirties. Majority of people that arrived for the festival were in Abkhazia for the first time. So they were confused and did not know what to do and where to go". According to the organizers "negative repercussions have already started, since many know each other in this sphere".
Let's return to "Summer Evening in Gagra". Here are brief excerpts from the article allowing us a glimpse into the service and facilities in Abkhazia:
"... Old Gagra - a city of contrasts. Sochi construction that stretched over to the nearest to the border town is mixed with vacant holiday homes and sanatoriums of Soviet-times that are decorated with traces of gunfire ... Holiday house "Chaika" (house of Prince of Oldenburg) looks good only on souvenirs ... Communication is only local, and there is no ATM. One needs to go to Adler to withdraw money... communication is more complicated. Over the past two years the second mobile operator arrived in the country but Russian "Big Three" still have not reached there. internet providers have yet to come as well. Internet is rare and expensive ... Petrol is four or five Russian rubles more expensive than in Russia ... Another "tax" is for environment - 250 rubles. It is charged at the entrance to Ritza National Park ... Another thing is surprising. Other guides, whose tents are scattered throughout the resort area, are offering to take to Ritza just for 250 rubles. And that means that if they pay taxes honestly they will be left with nothing. Even histories that guides tell that that tourists are sometimes fooled and are only taken to the Blue Lake (tiny pond halfway to the Ritza) do not explain this economic focus ... Some holidaymakers even maintained that in the supermarket they were forced to show contents of bags, in their opinion, solely due to the fact that they were Russian. If you do not know prices, you can get from Gagra to the border (approximately 20 km) not for 50, but for all 60 rubles. By the way, minibuses on the Russian side of the Psou offer to take to the airport for 100 rubles, despite the fact that just 700 meters away there is a stop of public transport with a fixed fee of 14 rubles. We'll say nothing about taxi drivers offering to take to Abkhazia for 4000 rubles...».
It is hard to say after such experiences who would want to come again and holiday where expenses are not justified. And, in the end, I'd like to answer Svetlana Bolotnikova's question that she asked in her article"So who is ordering funeral music when there is no corpse?" with a question. Dear Svetlana. Is it justified from a moral point of view to try and hide a corpse? After all, the dead tend to decompose and that can lead to people being poisoned and killed...