Tbilisi: An Interesting Week

Tbilisi is always interesting, and my all-too-brief stay there last week once more conjured up some surprises and ideas. It always does, and suffice it to say that were I to decamp and move to Georgia, a thought that has crossed my mind more than once, I would collapse under the deluge of potential.

Georgia is, you see, a remarkable country. In many ways similar to many post-Soviet lands, it has a vibrancy and excitement that I have not seen in others. The exceptions, of course, are the Baltics, Poland and possibly the Czech Republic, but they have had the EU to assist and boost. No, Georgia has had less structural support; it has, of course, had significant financial support from both the US and from the EU, but nevertheless there is a fascinating evolution going on. Young Georgians, and by that I mean those under about thirty-five in mind or body are so competent and alive; they leave the young whippersnappers that Deloitte and other “Global Consultancies” send to Georgia to help them mend their ways and reach the future.

So the Big Idea now was to run charter flights to Tbilisi for three and four-day escapes. A great idea, and one that warmed the cockles of a tour operator’s heart; there is good accommodation in Tbilisi, sufficient rooms for this kind of operation and a local nightlife that would sell. The idea was mooted in December during my previous visit, and I and a couple of others have been doing a little sleuthing since then.

The key, of course, to a successful tour operation is to be able to buy each component for a significant discount; the hotel rooms must be reasonable and the cost of the aircraft acceptable. It is, whichever way you slice it, a significant risk to charter twenty flights on spec. An operation to Georgia must logically be operated by an airline with the rights to fly on the route, and also an aircraft available with the minimum of deadheading; operating an empty flight to come an pick up the passengers.

The first quote, from a Georgian carrier was for €32,000 per rotation, which seemed pricey to us. Following a series of meetings in London our second quote came from a rather obscure South African airline, of whom I had never heard before Monday. Their offer was US$19,500 per rotation, a significant discount to the original benchmark.

The third meeting was the best; I am yet to get a price, but am assured that it will arrive by Friday (tomorrow at this point).

And so it will come to pass; we will offer holidays in Tbilisi to the denizens of Baghdad; oddly, we now think that 50% of our market will be Iraqis, rather than a complete market of ex-patriots. The market remains to be seen, as do a number of other issues. Georgian visas for Iraqis for example, and the roughly $500,000 financial commitment, but the project seems very sound.

Interesting too, which is important; I have a fairly short attention span. Concentrated and sharp it may be, but it is short.