Issue 4, 2011. August-September

   

EVENT TOURISM: KEY TO MILLIONS?

From MTV to folklore, wrestling to gourmet cooking, festivals, conventions and concerts are an effective way to attract tourists and their pocket books. But planning and promotion are key to translating events into revenue.

(More photos available at www.batumijazz.ge)

Pop star Enrique Iglesias rocked Batumi to MTV fame on August 2, a concert that reportedly attracted several thousand fans and generated thousands of lari in revenue for local hotels and restaurants.

The MTV event was the latest in a long series of concerts choreographed to bring international fame - and its lucrative sidekick tourism - to Batumi. In the month leading up to the Iglesias concert, Batumi hosted Chris Botte, Sting, Macy Gray, and a score of jazz musicians.

MICE means money

The music is nice, the publicity - a welcome change from conflict-driven headlines. But the flashy lights and sounds of MTV mean much more: concerts are one part of a lucrative formula that turns tourism into a heavy hitter for local business and economies.

Last year, meetings (and other events, like concerts, conventions, and exhibitions) brought a cool $106 billion to the US GDP, according to a 2011 report published by the Convention Industry Council - making it the tenth largest industry in the United States.

The findings in Canada are similar: a report issued last year found that meetings and event-type tourism led to $32.2 billion in domestic spending, and $11.3 billion to the country's GDP.

Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions or, for industry insiders, MICE, is a type of tourism packaged as destination travel that could be pure gold for Georgia, local tourism industry specialists believe.

Events, like conferences and festivals, could help Batumi reinvent itself from a summer beach resort to a year-round city destination, noted Vaja Diasamidze, the acting head of the department of tourism in Adjara.

The May "Vine to Wine" event in Kakheti brought wine experts from around the world.

"All spring, we need some festivals, famous singers, to bring more tourists and to give tourists more attractive activities [to come]," he said in an interview before the summer season.

Folk festivals, Turkish pop stars, and conferences - like the annual Batumi Expo - are all geared to bring tourists during the off season.

Maia Sidamonidze, the head of the Georgian National Tourism Agency (GNTA), stressed that MICE tourism could be a vehicle to promote tourism outside of the traditional resort spots - like Batumi - and into the regions.

"MICE tourism in general, meetings, concerts, events and all kinds of festivals, I would say these are a priority for us. First of all to promote Georgia as a tourism destination but also it is quite interesting market for us because we think it has potential," she said.

GNTA has paired up with USAID's Economic Prosperity Initiative to develop MICE tourism in Georgia. The agency is preparing a catalogue of potential MICE venues around the country, and an action plan to develop more infrastructure and promotion.

Promotion: the key to success

Fashion shows, wine conferences, tasting exhibitions, and folklore festivals could provide a steady stream of visitors, noted Ia Tabagari, president of the Association of Georgian Incoming Tour Operators, if they are properly promoted.

In July, there was no information available about upcoming concerts or festivals at the main tourism center in Tbilisi. The lack of information is frustrating for tour operators like Tabagari.

Festivals and concerts "attract tourists," she said, but only if tour operators know about them in advance.

She added that sometimes tour operators only find out about festivals in Svaneti or other popular tourism destinations a day or two before the event.

"[I]f something happens we are always trying to [bring tourists] but it is very hard to get information about when it happens. If we know it, we try to bring tourists there," Tabagari said.

Sidamonidze stressed that the GNTA is publishing a quarterly calendar of events, although sometimes festivals and regional celebrations are planned too late to be included. In addition, the agency's website is only partially operating due to a rebranding program.

The key to cultivating interest is to create annual events, noted Natia Cholokashvili, a founder of Smart Pencils, a PR and Event-management company based in Tbilisi.

Cholokashvili and her team have brought guests from around the world to fashion shows and a wine tasting event in Georgia.

"If there will be many interesting events, many festivals, it can give support to Georgia to attract many tourists," she said.

"So I think it should be done annually, like wine. I think it will be great if it is every year to attract people."

Events like the Jazz Festival and the native folkart Artgene Festival, have attracted a following among tourists.

Mikheil Giorgadze, the director of Eastern Promotions - the company that produces the annual jazz concerts, said tour operators from Israel and other countries contact him through Facebook to arrange trips around the concert dates.

"Both the number of people increase from year to year and the number of foreigners. This year we have direct bookings from tourism agencies, asking for arrangements for people in Israel, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Baltic States," he said.

"They came to us. This makes us happy because they came to us."