In what will come as welcome news to Georgia’s tourism industry, low-cost carrier Ryanair announced Wednesday that it will begin operations in the country. In November the airline will launch three routes: Tbilisi to Milan, Kutaisi to Bologna, and Kutaisi to Marseille. A fourth Tbilisi to Cologne route will kick off in April 2020
The former Soviet republic has heavily invested in building its tourism industry over the last decade, but the addition of Europe’s largest low-cost carrier is something of a milestone. As Skift reported in early July, tensions with Russia leading to a flight ban mean that its biggest inbound market — accounting for 20 percent of arrivals — isn’t a particularly stable one. The tourism board’s ongoing efforts to court higher-spending travelers from Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S. will only be helped by Ryanair’s expansion. And judging strictly by Tbilisi’s fawning lifestyle media coverage, it’s already achieved the status of “it” destination.
“These four new routes … will further promote Georgian tourism and will deliver over 170,000 customers annually to/from two European countries to one of Europe’s fastest-growing tourism destinations,” Ryanair Chief Commercial Officer David O’Brien said. “We look forward to developing new Georgian traffic growth, new routes, and jobs in the coming years.”
Maia Sidamonidze, head of the Georgian Tourism Network, a member association that represents the tourism industry and private sector interests in Georgia, told Skift the network expansion comes after some other promising news for the sector.
“The recent Russian tourism ban was expected to impact Georgian tourism industry negatively, but according to latest statistics we still experience increase of total international visitors,” Sidamonidze said. “Ryanair will definitely add more value and volume to Georgia’s tourism industry, attracting visitors from many different countries at the same time as increasing awareness of our country as an emerging travel destination.”
Of course, with the gift of a low-cost carrier route also comes something of a risk. Georgia has hitherto not been subject to the kinds of arrival figures that invoke the word “overtourism” in other parts of the world — perhaps in part because it hasn’t been a place that costs just €9.99 ($11.09) to fly to. While overtourism is a complex phenomenon caused by many factors, low-cost carriers can certainly be a contributing one. The future success and sustainability of Georgia’s tourism industry, as with all destinations, will be a balancing act.