YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The number of Armenians visiting Georgia’s Black Sea coast on vacation is on course to reach a new record high this year, according to local government projections cited by Armenian diplomats.
The Georgian Black Sea region of Ajaria has come to be the most popular destination of Armenian vacationers attracted by its beaches and inexpensive resorts. An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 of them spent their summer vacation there in 2007.
The figure fell sharply last year because of Georgia’s brief but devastating war with Russia. Thousands of Armenian citizens rushed back home in the days following the August 8, 2009 outbreak of fighting in and around South Ossetia. Many others cancelled their planned visits to Ajaria for the same reason.
According to Hakob Haji-Hakobian, Armenia’s consul general in the regional capital Batumi, 25,000 Armenians have already visited the area bordering Turkey this summer. “And bear in mind that most of the tourist influx occurs in August,” he told RFE/RL this week. The Ajar government expects the number to reach 70,000 by this fall, he said.
A brief stroll in Batumi is enough to see that the picturesque region has restored its allure, with cars with Armenian license plates and Armenian-language speech again being a fixture in public places. “Armenians are everywhere,” said one young woman from Yerevan.
“Walking here, you feel like you’re in Yerevan,” observed her friend. “Everyone is Armenian.”
“Vacationing in Armenia is expensive,” said another, male tourist, summing up a key reason why many Armenian vacationers prefer Georgia to their country. He said a weeklong trip to Batumi will cost him, his wife and two children only 200,000 drams ($540) in total. That would not be enough for the family to spend a week in most Armenian resorts.
The fact that Armenia is a landlocked country is another reason. It explains why a record-high of its residents are also expected to spend their summer holidays on the Turkish Mediterranean coast in 2009.
Earlier this summer, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan urged Armenians to spend their summer vacations in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, as a way to boost tourism there and infuse much-needed revenues in to the Karabakh national budget.