THE GEORGIAN TOURISM SECTOR: AN OVERVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL
From a statistical point of view, he tourism industry in Georgia in 2013 can be characterized as a period of further growth. In 2013, the number of international arrivals grew by 22%, overstepping the five million mark for the first time. The five-millionth international visitor was even awarded a prize to stress the importance of the event. The high growth rate in tourism was also highlighted by international organizations. According to the World Tourism Organization's report, "UNWTO World Tourism Barometer" (December, 2013), the increase in the number of international arrivals in Georgia was rated as the highest in Europe in 2013.
Georgia's border crossing registration procedure allows for the identification of different types of arrivals. Out of the total number of visits, 38% lasted longer than 24 hours, 40% were same day visits, and 22% were for the purpose of transit.
A comparison of global international arrivals growth rates with that of Georgia shows that in the past five years international arrivals in Georgia increased considerably faster than in the rest of the world. Even during the global financial crisis of 2008 when arrivals worldwide fell by 4%, the number of international arrivals to Georgia increased by 16%.
The statistics for the past three years demonstrate that the most popular travel season among international travelers is summer. During the summer, the number of international arrivals to Georgia equaled 1,880,515 (June: 490,796; July: 613,604; August: 776,115), which is 35% of all international arrivals for the year.
The majority of all arrivals to Georgia in 2013, 88% (4,732,529), were from neighboring countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey; only 12% arrived from other countries. In 2012, those countries' share was higher, 91%, suggesting a decreasing trend in this number. Turkey is the annual leader in terms of the number of international arrivals to Georgia. Although the number of arrivals from Armenia was greater in December with a total of 121,732 (27%), annual data showed Turkey to be in first place with 1,597,438 arrivals (an increase of 4%).
A significant increasing trend has been observed in the number of travelers arriving from the Russian Federation. This has been caused by the visa liberalization process and the reintroduction of direct flights. In 2013, arrivals from Russia increased by 49%. The largest percentage increases were registered in February (138%) and March (103%).
There has been a significant increase in the number of arrivals from Israel, Poland and Ukraine, caused by the introduction of direct flights to Poland (Wizz Air), and the addition of flights to Ukraine. It is important to mention here that marketing campaigns administered by the Georgian National Tourism Administration played a significant role in the increases. Yearly data shows the following increases in the number of arrivals: Israel 29%, Ukraine 65%, and Poland 79%.
The introduction of direct flights to Iraq boosted the number of arrivals from that country. In 2013, the number of arrivals from Iraq stood at 41,239, a 493% increase over last year.
In 2013, there were 208,754 international arrivals from EU countries, representing a 4% share of total arrivals and an increase of 16% over last year.
The largest share of visitors, 87% (4,699,387) arrived in Georgia by land transport, followed by air transport, 585,701 (11%). Arrivals by sea and railway had almost the same share of 44,239 (1%) and 62,976 (1%) respectively. The busiest border crossing is at Sarpi (on the Turkish border), which saw 1,605,666 crossings in 2013, amounting to 30% of all border crossings. This is followed by the crossing at Sadakhlo (on the Armenian border) at 17% and the crossing at Tsiteli Khidi (on the Azerbaijani border) at 16%.
Travel Behavior of International Visitors, 2013
An inbound tourism survey led to a qualified estimate that almost 5,351,021 international visits were made to Georgia in 2013. A total of 60.3% (3,226,953) of these visits included at least one overnight stay and 40.7% (2,124,068) were day trips.
Out of a total of 5,351,021 visits, 69% were repeat visits and 31% of trips were for the first time. Thus, Georgia had up to 1,643,241 new visitors within the period covered.
Most of those visiting from neighboring countries have traveled to Georgia before. The highest share of repeat visits was observed among residents of Azerbaijan (89%). In contrast, a larger share of European visitors came to Georgia for the first time.
Duration and Purpose of Travel
The average duration of a trip is five nights and varies by country of residence. Visits from neighboring countries tend to last for shorter periods, except for visits from Russia, which average eight nights.
International visits are mostly undertaken for holiday, leisure or recreation purposes (37%). Other frequently observed purposes include visiting friends or relatives (26%), transit (17%), shopping (9%) and business/professional trips (4%). Only 8% of visits were for other purposes.
The most frequently used form of accommodation was hotels (43%). Slightly more than a third of tourists (34%) resided at a friend's or relative's private apartment. Other types of accommodation are less utilized by international visitors. For example, only 10% stayed in guesthouses.
Over 46% of international trips were to Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, while 41% of international trips were to Batumi. Other destinations had a lower number of visits.
Among them Marneuli was the most popular (8%). Other destinations included: Kazbegi (8%), Rustavi (6%), Kobuleti (6%), Mtskheta (5%), Kutaisi (5%) and Borjomi (2%).
Against the backdrop of the global economic crisis, the Georgian tourism industry continues to grow. The outlook for the industry is highly optimistic. It is forecast that the industry will create more jobs and generate more income in the years to come. The number of arrivals to Georgia is expected to increase substantially thanks to the various steps taken by both the government, in general, and the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA), in particular.
Among the actions taken by the GNTA toward increasing the number of travelers in the country are: the development of tourism infrastructure; the facilitation of international travel; the improvement of service quality; increasing awareness about Georgia; large-scale marketing campaigns; internet marketing; targeting new markets; and tourist product development.
The development of tourist infrastructure stands high amongst the priorities of the government. New tourist information centers are in the process of construction in Tbilisi (Pushkin Square), Martvili and Chkhorotsku, and major reconstruction works related to tourism are underway (e.g. information centers in Zugdidi, Tsalenjikha, Poti, Kazbegi, and Bakuriani).
Significant steps were taken toward travel facilitation and visa relaxation over the past several years. Georgia has a no visa-free regime with around 117 countries. Among them are the United States, Canada, and European Union member states, whose citizens can enter Georgia solely on the basis of a passport. Travelers from most other countries are issued visas on arrival.
A new visa law has recently been voted on, although it has not been implemented yet. According to the latest information, as written, the new visa law will have minimum effect on tourism in Georgia. It is not yet been made public which countries' citizens will be subject to additional procedures to enter Georgian territory. However, it is known that these countries will not be from neighboring countries or EU countries, which are the main contributors of international travelers to Georgia.
Another significant issue is service quality enhancement. This is achieved through intensive training for representatives of the tourism and hospitality industry throughout Georgia. New services for tourists have been introduced as well: a 24-hour hotline for tourists, mobile guides and English-speaking taxis are among the successive projects introduced in 2013.
Flyers with the number of a 24-hour hotline are distributed at all border crossings of Georgia. By using this number visitors can receive information about all tourist products of Georgia immediately.
In the summer season mobile guides (mainly represented by Georgian students) were instructed to give all required information to tourists at every tourist destination of Tbilisi. This kind of project improves tourist information accessibility and stresses the importance of tourism for the country.
The GNTA has actively worked to increase awareness of Georgia on the international level. For this purpose, famous Georgians were appointed as representatives of tourism in the UK and Japan to promote Georgia as a tourism destination in those countries. In addition, according to an agreement between Japan and Georgia, a new information center will be established in Tokyo. The information center will be responsible for giving all types of tourism information about Georgia to Japanese citizens, with the objective of increasing tourist flow from Japan.
Marketing undoubtedly plays a vital role in tourism growth. Activities undertaken by the GNTA include promotional campaigns in both domestic and international markets, press and familiarization trips, participation in international travel-fairs, production of print materials, social media marketing, etc.
Online marketing is a priority for Georgian tourism administration. A new website under construction will allow potential visitors to find all tourist information in one place. Using this website, tourists will be able to plan trips to Georgia, book hotels, buy tourist packages and upload photos and video materials taken during their trips to Georgia. In addition, a new Facebook page allows establishing direct contact with visitors who express their interest in travelling to Georgia and are looking for more information. Other social networks are used to deliver information to tourists as well. Among them are Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, VKontakte and YouTube.
Choosing the right markets is undoubtedly an integral part of marketing. While maintaining existing markets, the GNTA also concentrates on tapping into new countries, including new emerging economies with immense potential. Seven presentations were held in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Lithuania and Latvia in 2013. More than 600 travel agencies and representatives of different media attended these presentations.
Making the most of Georgia's rich natural and cultural resources by offering new tourist products provides increased possibilities for targeting travelers of different tastes. The GNTA efforts focus on the development of different types of tourism such as MICE (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions), wine tourism, ecotourism, and adventure tourism, to name but a few.
As a result of these projects, the competitiveness of Georgian tourism on the world market increased by seven positions, ranking 66th among 140 nations in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness index in 2013 (Score: 4.10), as compared with 2011 (73rd position). In addition, according to "Rough Guides," Georgia ranks 5th among the top ten countries to visit in 2014, coming behind Brazil and Turkey. Georgia was successful in international relations as well. Georgia has been elected as Vice-President of the Committee on Statistics and the Tourism Satellite Account of the UNWTO. Georgia is also Vice-President of the European regional committee of the UNWTO.
European Youth Olympic Festival 2015
The 39th General Assembly of the European Olympic Committees chose the Georgian capital to host the Youth Olympic Festival in 2015. Over 4,000 athletes from 49 European countries will participate in the festival, which is to take place in Tbilisi. The sporting infrastructure of the city will be renovated according to European standards and an "Athletes' Village" will be built. For this event the city of Tbilisi is expected to host more than 10,000 visitors, of which approximately 5,000 will require 3-star hotel accommodation and about 200 will need 5-star hotel accommodation - all within Tbilisi. Considering the fact that there are only 6,207 lodging beds in Tbilisi (including guesthouses and family home stays), there is an immediate need for new hotel investment to fill the gap in supply. This festival represents a good opportunity for the country to showcase its rich tourism potential.
UEFA Super Cup 2015
The UEFA Executive Committee has given Tbilisi the opportunity to host a mega sporting event, the UEFA Super Cup. The UEFA Super Cup is an annual football match between the winners of the Champions League and the Europa League. The game will be held at the newly renovated Mikheil Meshki Stadium. This event will gather football fans from all over the world.
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