Iranians Flocking to Georgia After Visa Waiver

Demand to visit Georgia has increased by 300%, as tour operators expect 150,000 Iranians to visit the country by the yearend
Tbilisi’s Eastern European charm has compelled some to ditch the sandy beaches of Antalya in Turkey.Tbilisi’s Eastern European charm has compelled some to ditch the sandy beaches of Antalya in Turkey.

Security threats in Turkey and a visa-free regime offered by Georgia have compelled Iranians to ditch the sandy beaches of Antalya for the classic Eastern European feel of Tbilisi.

According to Akbar Ghamkhar, a board member of Tehran Tour and Travel Agencies’ Association, demand for travel to Georgia this summer has witnessed a staggering 300% increase compared with the corresponding period of last year.

“They’re running out space; they don’t have enough hotels to accommodate the influx of Iranian tourists,” he told ISNA.

Iran and Georgia restored a visa-free regime in February, which had been abolished in July 2013, only two years after it was first introduced. Iranians can stay in Georgia for up to 45 days without a visa.

Georgia is not the only country that has benefited from Turkey’s struggle with political instability and attacks carried out by Daesh, the Arabic acronym for the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group.

Following a failed coup attempt last month by a faction of the Turkish Army to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, Iran imposed a ban on tours to Turkey.

Although the ban was lifted earlier this month, Iranian tour operators wasted little time to offer alternative destinations, such as Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Russia.

“Demand for tours to each of those countries has more than doubled this summer, but demand for Georgia is through the roof,” Ghamkhar said.

Although Turkey remains the number one foreign destination for Iranian holidaymakers, the travel agent says Georgia has managed to entice 10% of travelers who had initially opted to travel to Turkey.

“Around 60,000 people traveled to Georgia last year, but we expect the figure to reach 150,000 this year,” he added.

The current Iranian year ends on March 19, 2017.

In addition to Turkey’s security problems and Georgia’s visa waiver, the rise in flights between various Iranian and Georgian cities and the affordability of tour packages to the Eurasian country have also played a part in attracting Iranians.

Ghamkhar noted that Georgian culture and traditions resonate with Iranian travelers, making the country an ideal destination for Iranian families.

Iranian carriers ATA Airlines and Qeshm Air as well as Georgia’s national airline Airzena offer year-round flights, while Zagros Airlines and Taban Air offer seasonal charter flights.