Issue 2, 2018. April-May

   

GEORGIA GRAPPLES WITH QUALITY OVER QUANTITY IN TOURISM

As the number of international tourists traveling to Georgia increases every year, the government and tourism-industry specialists are asking how to turn the country into a premium tourism destination.

Lika Jorjoliani

Each year, Georgia breaks new records for its number of international visitors and tourists. While the growth has brought new income to local communities, industry specialists and state agencies are looking for ways to develop Georgia to maximize its earning potential as a premium destination-attractive for tourists who spend more than $500 per day during their trips.

The current average tourist expenditure is around $320 per day.

Georgia's Tourism Strategy 2025 calls for increasing the annual revenue from tourism to $5.5 billion dollars, a sharp increase from the current level of $2.8 billion.

The strategy also calls for increasing foreign direct investment in the tourism industry to close to $1 billion per year, and increasing the sector's contribution to the Gross Domestic Product by 6.7 percent.

The strategy, which was developed in 2015, also targets increasing the yearly number of tourists to 11 million. By all counts, Georgia is well on its way: the expectation for 2018 is 8 million visitors.

Targeting High Spenders

'The focus of Georgia's tourism strategy moving forward should be on the quality and diversity of visitor arrivals, not the number, as Georgia's Tourism Strategy 2015-2025 rightly points out,' noted Galt & Taggart Research in a 2016 report on the tourism sector.

'In order to attract more high-yielding visitors, the industry needs to focus on several niche areas, in which Georgia has great potential - winter tourism, wine tourism, medical and wellness tourism, and gaming,' the report's authors recommended.

Galt & Taggart noted that pre-visitor spending in Georgia is lower than that in similar countries, in large part due to the high number of visitors who stay for just over 24 hours, either in transit or on one-day trips, and spend considerably less than more traditional tourists.

The report noted, however, that the number of the short-term visitors has decreased from 52.2 percent to 38.7 percent of all tourists.

Another reason for the low level of spending is the fact that the vast majority of tourists to Georgia come from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, visitors who spend 'significantly less than visitors from Russia and non-neighboring countries do,' according to the report.

'This leaves substantial upside potential if the country can manage to attract more high-yielding visitors. In that respect, the trend in 2016 is positive-the increase in the number of tourists has outpaced overall visitor growth, as has the growth in the number of Russian visitors,' Galt & Taggart found.

The Deputy Head of the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA), Tornike Zirakishvili, told Investor.ge that the government is targeting 'diverse' groups to meet its goals for the tourism sector.

One focus is on European countries, and the GNTA is working with TripAdvisor and Expedia, as well as international media outlets, to promote Georgia as a travel destination.

'TripAdvisor has published many articles about Georgia, and films about Georgia have been broadcast on CNN to popularize Georgia in other countries,' he said, adding that 'Georgian has become a very serious tourist destination for European tourists. The next key avenue for us is the markets of the Middle East and Asian states characterized by a high-income population.'

He noted that work is also underway to attract more tourists from countries all over the world, including China and Scandinavian countries. Some results are already visible: there is an increased number of tourists from Germany and the UK, according to Zirakishvili.

The GNTA is also working to increase business tourism to Georgia, he said, noting that GNTA completed a strategy for business tourism, funded by GIZ and other donors, in December 2017.

The head of 'Go Tour,' Nino Tsiklauri, agreed that more should be done to attract business tourists to Georgia.

But he warned that in order to attract higher-spending tourists, tourist services need to improve in the country, and the government needs to help control the 'chaotic' tourism market.

'The relevant level of services needs to be available to attract tourists with high and upper-average income to Georgia,' he said.

Tsiklauri noted that his agency is also working to attract business tourists. 'But when we talk about organizing conferences with 200-300 participants, we face serious challenges. While we are able to organize large-scale conferences in Tbilisi, that is not possible in the regions. In fact, we can organize an event with just 80 participants because there is a lack of appropriate places to hold conferences and exhibitions,' he told Investor.ge.

An additional issue, he noted is that the tourism market is 'chaotic,' and more regulation is necessary in areas like quality of guides and taxi prices.

'The tourist market is chaotic, considering the services of guides, and taxi drivers. The increase in service prices has not created a positive image for the country. Many tourists don't want to visit our country due to the high prices. These segments of the market are not regulated and, in my opinion, we should cooperate with the government to work on this,' he said.

Increase Flights, Increase Demand

One area the government is working on is increasing the number of direct flights into Georgia, with some notable successes, such as FlyDubai.

Jeyhun Efendi, the First Vice-President of FlyDubai in the UAE, Middle East, CIS and Europe, said the airline plans on offering four flights each day to Tbilisi, two each day to Kutaisi and one each day to Batumi for the summer season, starting in June.

'This is double the number offered last year and demonstrates our interest in transporting passengers from the countries of Persian Gulf and Middle East. Moreover, the flights will be provided in line with the flights from Emirates, which provides a link to more remote directions, such as Asian countries like India. We will provide opportunities for flights to Australia and Japan, via Dubai,' he told Investor.ge.

GNTA's Zirakishvili said the government is trying to increase the number of flights and the number of airlines flying into Georgia.

'Flight connections have an impact on the rise of visitors in Georgia. Its expansion is a constant process. Our position is to attract new air companies to the Georgian market,' he said.

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