Paths to Improve Georgian Tourism
Interview with the director of Discover Georgia Nina Kekelidze
What is the focus of Georgia’s tourism policy? What would you say is Georgia’s strongest advantage in tourism?
The main focus of Georgia’s tourism policy, as indicated in the Georgian Tourism Development Strategy 2025, is to develop sustainable tourism and increase tourism revenues, improve the tourism , and reach these eight primary objectives, that are being implemented by the private and public sector:
- Increasing state and private investments in tourism;
- Improving the business environment to increase foreign and local investment;
- Attract tourists from high-spending markets through an efficient marketing and informational campaign, and incentivizing the internal market;
- Increasing competitiveness by offering world-class tourism services;
- Using Georgia’s natural and cultural heritage assets to allow for a unique and authentic visitor experiences;
- Enhancing respect, protection, and promotion of the natural and cultural heritage of Georgia;
- Improving data gathering and analysis, and evaluating the possibilities of the tourism field;
- Setting up partnerships between the government, the tourism industry, non-governmental organizations, and communities to achieve these objectives.
Georgia’s strongest tourism advantages are traditional and cultural fields, natural, recreational, wellness and spa, as well as adventure tourism fields like skiing, hiking, maritime and river sports, agricultural and MICE tourism.
What are the three major concerns you have regarding Georgian tourism?
Georgia has a unique geographic location, as a midpoint of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The country’s unique culture, traditions and hospitality, diverse nature and rich history have a positive influence on Georgia’s tourism development prospects.
The Georgian tourism industry plays a significant role in Georgia’s economic development. According to a 2018 report assessing the impact of travel and tourism on the economies of 185 countries, published by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) last year, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP in Georgia was 9.3%, and it is anticipated that this rate will increase to 10.5% by 2028.
Taking into consideration all this information, the Georgian tourism industry is still facing challenges, with the most crucial ones related to Georgia’s geopolitical situation and the Georgian national identity, at a time when 20% of the Georgian territory is occupied by Russia.
What challenges need to be addressed?
First of all, Georgia is facing several geopolitical and national identity challenges which negatively influence Georgia’s development as a tourism destination. Only after that it is possible to discuss other challenging areas such as service, University-level and vocational tourism education, tourism law, as well as the standards and regulations which have to be updated, tourism infrastructure, and others.
What is Georgia’s traditional market, and is attracting new markets among your goals this year?
Georgia’s main, traditional markets are neighboring Post-Soviet, and European countries. Additionally, Georgia is attracting new markets from Asia, mostly from Gulf countries.
What does the traveler look for in a destination in Georgia?
According to the National Statistics Office of Georgia, the primary goal of a traveler’s trip to Georgia is holiday, leisure and recreation with 42.7%, after that comes visiting friends and relatives with 20.3%, business professionals with 8.7%, shopping at 6.9%, health and medical care 2.7%. Popular tourist activities include enjoying Georgian cuisine and wine, sightseeing, visiting national parks, natural landscapes, swimming in the Black Sea, visiting religious, historical, and cultural destinations.
Which are the five most popular destinations for travelers?
The five most visited destinations in Georgia are Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Mtskheta and Kazbegi, after comes Borjomi, Signagi and Telavi.
Do you believe that the tourism sector of Georgia has potential regarding investment from foreign entrepreneurs?
The Georgian tourism sector has significant potential for investment from foreign entrepreneurs. The Georgian Chamber of Commerce, as well as the state agency “Enterprise Georgia”, support and promote foreign direct investments to Georgia, highlighting the country’s potential as a new tourism destinations with easy doing business environment.
What are the main challenges for tourist companies in Georgia, and what are the best ways to face these challenges?
One of the main challenges for tourist companies in Georgia is an old-fashioned tourism law signed in 1997, which featured weak or non-existing clauses regarding several international tourism norms and regulations, like permits, licenses, or others, related to tourism company formation and management. On the one hand, Georgia offers environment with ease of doing business, where everybody can establish his/her own tourism company in one day, only paying 105 GEL, and this seems quite good for professionals who understand the tourism industry well, and who have structured its business plan and strategy, but, on the other hand, when a person with no tourism education nor tourism experience forms a tourism company, without any bank guarantee or other necessary licenses, an unregulated tourism private sector develops, which is clearly visible everywhere in the old part of Tbilisi, with small cars and minivans offering tourism services all around the country.
Russia has recently banned flights to Georgia. How many visits were flown between Georgia and Russia last year? Where are we this year in regards to early bookings? And how could Georgia attract other countries to keep the same number of tourists?
Recent relations between Georgia and Russia are a vivid example of why Georgia’s economy has to diversify its export markets, and not focus mainly on the Russian market. Last year, there were 1,404,757 international visitors from Russia to Georgia, which is assumed to have decreased this year. Most early bookings of Russians traveling to Georgia are canceled at this moment, but nevertheless, it is argued that despite the banned flights from Russia to Georgia, Russians can still visit Georgia either by land or flying in via a third country.
The following case would be a good example for Georgia to follow in order to diversify its tourism market, and begin a marketing campaign oriented to other strategic visitor source countries. The Georgian government has to anticipate and reduce upcoming risks related to the country’s economic development, which means not being over-dependent on tourism from Russia. Georgia should stop spending finances on the Russian market, and redirect marketing campaigns to other countries with high-spending ability tourists.
What are your strategies for 2019 concerning Georgia?
Discover Georgia’s the strategy for 2019, which focuses on diversifying the market and attracting travelers from the EU, Post-Soviet space, as well as from Gulf countries. Together with incoming tourists, one of our company’s main services is a training center, where we focus on improving the tour operators’ training process to maximize the quality of tourism service education in Georgia.
What is your vision for collaboration with the National Tourism Administration? What are the goals set for the immediate future?
Discover Georgia is actively involved in various projects with the Georgian National Tourism Administration in order to increase Georgia’s awareness as a new tourism destination. During 2018 and 2019, we took part in several international tourism fairs for promoting Georgia, as well as implemented a joint project on Georgian Tourism Fair in May 2019, where Discover Georgia, in cooperation with Georgian Tourism Expo, GNTA and the representatives of the private sector, organized Tbilisi Info Tour for Travel Agencies from Post-Soviet countries.
For the immediate future, Georgia has to increase a marketing campaign in countries where Georgia has direct flights, and more articles in media should be published, as well as TV shows which have to be broadcasted internationally about Georgia’s secure environment and tourist attractions.