Issue 4, 2017. August-September

   

MEMENTOS AND KEEPSAKES: BUYING A BIT OF GEORGIA

As tourists travel to Georgia in increasing numbers, a gap between what buyers demand - and what souvenir shops have to offer - has appeared. The country's souvenir market is developing but still falls short of visitor demands and seller expectations, according to entrepreneurs and tourism companies.

Nino Bakradze


Wine, felt scarves, enamel jewelry-Georgia's traditional products and crafts are widely available in the capital of Tbilisi and other major cities.

But while the souvenir market has grown exponentially over the past several years, expanding to include chic bags and designer goods, as well as neatly packaged spices and other delicacies, there are still gaps between sellers' inventories and buyers' expectations, according to tourism industry experts.

More than Drinking Horns

Georgia is ranked 70th out of 136 countries in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index developed by the World Economic Forum, scoring above neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan but below Russia and Turkey.

In some areas, like prioritizing travel and tourism, Georgia scored in the top 45, above all its neighbors. But in cultural resources and business tourism, it ranked at the bottom of the scale, under Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey.

The study did not look specifically at souvenirs as a factor in a country's rating. But the low score in the area of cultural resources is a reflection of a larger problem in the tourism sector, according to Manana Mertveli, a tourism specialist.

"Cultural monuments are not the only part of cultural resources. In this regard, the level of services directed to cultural resources ... is quite low in Georgia. Specifically, there are no special tours for visiting museums, and different entertaining facilities do not exist at cultural heritage sites. The souvenir business is at a low level of development, etc.," she was quoted as telling the Georgian newspaper Commersant.

This is not to say variety has not improved-the days of only being able to find a bottle of wine or a ceramic drinking horn are long gone. Shops, stalls and artisans now offer a wider spectrum of goods, in Tbilisi and elsewhere. But there is room for improvement, tourism specialists noted.

Not Enough Business

The souvenir stalls at the Tbilisi History Museum (also known as Karvasla) are lovely, full of handmade crafts and traditional Georgian wares.

But sellers complain tourist spending falls short-especially in the winter months.

Nino Antelidze, a pediatrician by profession, has been producing enamel souvenirs for more than 10 years. She started her family business six years ago with her husband and opened a workshop, Nima Enamel House, in the Karvasla Tbilisi History Museum.

In the small shop windows, colorful artworks are exhibited. Various types of jewelry and souvenirs are also for sale, with items priced at 50 lari and higher.

The artworks made by Antelidze and her husband, Irakli Tatishvili, are popular with foreign tourists in the summer, but that is not enough to support their business, she said.

Giorgi Komshiashvili, who sells painted wooden souvenirs sculptured near the central Shardeni Street-an area popular with tourists-agrees.

"My friend and I came to this place two years ago. Before that, we had exhibited our works near "Kartlis Deda." For more than five years I have been working in this area. In recent years, the income from this business has sharply declined compared to what it used to be," he said.

"The number of tourists is quite high, but they are not willing to buy souvenirs despite the low prices. The starting price of souvenirs is 15 GEL so they may be affordable for tourists," Komshiashvili tells to Investor.ge.

Part of the problem is variety, according to Irakli Kabulashvili, the head of Omnestour. He noted that his clients often ask him where they can purchase more "interesting things."

Kabulashvili also noted that not all tourists are interested in purchasing local souvenirs. While some groups, often from Western Europe and other developed countries, spend money on local crafts and traditional goods, others do not, he said.

Economic Impact of Souvenirs

The general trend for spending, both domestic and of foreign tourists, is up, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council's 2017 report on Georgia.

"Leisure travel spending is expected to grow by 9.4 percent in 2017 to 4,914.3 mn lari, and rise by 6.3 percent to 9,054.9 mn lari in 2027," it stated.

The Georgian National Tourism Association does not conduct surveys about the souvenir business in the country, or subsidize any programs in this field, according to GNTA spokesperson Giorgi Gabrichidze.

But souvenir sales are a factor in travel spending, and a way tourism can help combat poverty, according to the World Tourism Organization.

The World Tourism Organization has identified the sale of tourism-related products as one of its seven "mechanisms of poverty reduction," especially if vulnerable communities are included.

Sopho Barbakadze, projects assistant at the NGO Elkana, said that the organization started a special program called "Empowering Poor Communities and Micro-entrepreneurs in the Georgia Tourism Sector" in 2015.

The project works to generate employment and increase household income for poor and vulnerable communities in the Kakheti and Imereti regions, where there are ongoing World Bank-financed regional development projects to support tourism development and urban regeneration.

So far, they have funded about 270 entrepreneurs who produce different kind of souvenirs, she said.

Elkana and World Bank funds each entrepreneur with $500-2000, so they could buy raw materials or machines to produce their goods.

The grant includes training of entrepreneurs in marketing, accounting and tourism as well.

Latest Issue (pdf format)




Recent Issues






See more in our archive>>>