HOW CAN GEORGIA IMPROVE?
It is not news that many counties build their economy and economic strategy mainly on tourism. The hospitality sector plays a huge role in a country's further development. From my position as the deputy director at River Side Hotel Georgia, I have unique insight into how Georgia's strategy for the tourism sector is playing out in real time. While I believe the government's policy and priorities to develop the tourism industry are largely correct, I believe there are several areas that need improvement if Georgia is going to reach its full potential as an international tourist destination.
I work with tourists every day. And every day I see ways we need to improve if we want to compete with Turkey, Greece and the hundreds of other holiday destinations available in our region and further abroad.
- Advertising - Georgia had nice ads that were actively distributed in many EU countries. Currently, it appears that there is no clear strategy on where and how our country is to be advertised. If such a plan exists, we are not aware of it; it is a problem of internal communication or, maybe, a lack of information. For example, the United States and western EU countries like Spain, France, Germany, Great Britain, etc. may be very interested in our country's tourism and business potential. By partnering with their tourism agencies and famous channels, Georgia can actively and successfully advertise itself.
- In order to make effective ads, Georgia must change. Currently, there is need for infrastructure improvements in Tbilisi and the rest of the country. For instance, Georgia suffers from an insufficient number of modern toilets in cities and on the roads. Many other minor issues also exist: roads, signs, accessibility, parking, safety infrastructure, and cleanliness. I often listen to some of our guests who discuss their experiences during their visits. While they like our beautiful country, they usually admit that our infrastructure needs improvements in every way.
- Taxation - Many EU countries have used tax relief to encourage investment. For example, VAT for the hospitality sector in many Western countries has been reduced to 6-8%, while it is 18% in Georgia. Research from Deloitte has concluded that lowering VAT for hotels can stimulate tourism, lower the costs of accommodations, and make these businesses even more profitable.
- Make tourists come to Georgia and spend here - Organizing international forums, fairs, meetings, and concerts will also facilitate Georgia's ability to attract tourists. For example, Maroon 5 will be holding concerts in EU countries in May and June. Georgia could have also hosted one of their concerts and boosted its own popularity among neighboring countries. Georgia used to host famous music stars in Tbilisi, especially during Christmas and the New Year period. These resulted in high tourist inflow, mainly from our neighboring countries.
- Attitude is everything. From the moment people exit the plane, Georgia is being judged. If we can offer good service from touch down to wheels up, tourists - and investors - will continue coming back. That means the government - not just the private sector - needs to focus on a motto that we love in the hospitality sector: "How can we help you?" One of Georgia's biggest problems is a shortage of qualified labor. We face this problem in our hotels too, when candidates often do not have sufficient knowledge of what is required. Even proficiency in several languages is now a major issue, and we constantly motivate candidates to learn. Taking care of one's team is the most important factor.
- Implementing new and effective policy to preserve ecology.
To summarize, tourism in Georgia should be boosted in numerous ways and supported by appropriate agencies, ministries, and officials.
Georgia, despite being very small and suffering from territorial disputes, is rich in nature and beauty that should be utilized in a sustainable way to further the country's development.
However, the government must have the desire to make Georgia better than yesterday and better than any other more-developed country in order for Georgia to compete internationally. Walt Disney once said, "If you can dream it, you can do it." We all can change Georgia for the better.
Dimitri Shvelidze is the business development managerat Mira-Group LLC. The author of four books, Shvelidze graduated from the law faculty at Tbilisi State University in 2011 and the private law faculty at the University of Georgia in 2013 with honors. He also has a diploma from Cambridge College, UK, in Business Management.
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