Rebel Abkhazia's tourist dreams hampered by crisis

Thu Jun 11, 2009 6:58am EDT
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

SUKHUMI, Georgia (Reuters) - Burned-out Soviet tower blocks loom over the Black Sea coast of Georgian breakaway region Abkhazia, whose ambitions to become a tourist hotspot are shattering as the global crisis cripples Russia's economy.

Though pockmarked from the separatist war with Georgia in 1992-93, this sub-tropical strip of land attracts tens of thousands of Russian tourists drawn by prices long gone in the motherland and a longing for Soviet nostalgia.

Russian-backed shiny hotels and restaurants have sprung up along the winding promenade in the region's capital Sukhumi.

Filling such places, though, is getting difficult.

"I fear this crisis, and it's making it hard to say if people will come or not," said Nikolai Chekhalin, a 26-year old hotel manager from Nizhny Novgorod in western Russia.

He runs the Inter-Sukhum in the capital, which charges 1,200 roubles ($38.47) for a single room and was revamped from a crumbling Soviet eyesore last August.

New buildings clash with bombed out health resorts across the 8,000-square km (3,088 sq miles) strip that was once the playground of the Soviet elite.

Rates at the hotel will be slashed by a fifth beginning next month if demand slumps as expected, Chekhalin added.   Continued...