Issue 1, 2015. February-March

   

A NEW STRATEGY FOR TOURISM

The Georgian National Tourism Administration, the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development and the World Bank are working together on a new national strategy that will identify the country's priorities, needs and vision to develop a sustainable and competitive tourism sector.

Georgia's tourism sector has been steadily growing for the past decade - and the boom of international arrivals from 2010 (1,067,338) to 2013 (2,065,296) indicates the industry holds promise for the future.

But the growth has also highlighted real challenges in the sector: problems such as a lack of accommodation, poor facilities, and undertrained cadre threaten to hamstring development.

To tackle the problems and tap into Georgia's potential, the Georgian National Tourism Agency, together with the economy ministry and the World Bank, is developing a national, ten-year strategy for tourism development.

"Tourism is one of the most important and priority sectors of Georgian economy. The field is developing at a rapid pace and still holds immense potential for the country. This year, Georgia will finalize its Tourism Development Strategy, which identifies key issues, barriers and solutions for further development of the field," the head of the National Tourism Administration, Giorgi Chogovadze, told Investor.ge.

He added that the strategy will help the tourism administration focus its efforts on key issues, including raising international awareness about Georgia; assisting the private sector in creating higher quality and niche tourism products; stimulating the domestic tourism market; and improving service quality.

Chogovadze noted that the improvements will help Georgia not just develop a better tourism sector - they will help the sector earn more money from tourists willing to spend more for their holidays in the country.

"Therefore, the country will adopt a more sustainable and profit-oriented policy of attracting higher spending tourists. One of the major aspects in this regard, and our competitive edge, will be emphasizing Georgia's uniqueness and authenticity as a tourism destination," he said.

Ahmed Eiweida, the World Bank's program leader for sustainable development programs in the South Caucasus, said today tourists in Georgia do not spend very much - in part, because there is not much for them to spend their money on.

"Tourism can be measured in numbers ...but also by spending," he said, noting that today tourists are just spending an average of $600 a visit - which does not reflect Georgia's real potential.

But to get the money, Georgia has to develop.

Currently the country ranks low in terms of competiveness, according to the World Economic Forum Tourism Competitiveness Report: just 80 out of 140 in business environment and infrastructure and 91 out of 140 in terms of human, cultural and natural resources.

Pilot programs by the World Bank as part of its regional development projects in Imereti and Kakheti have found gaps in the market in terms of facilities, tours, souvenirs and services - all areas that can generate spending from tourists and revenue for locals.

Role for the private sector

"Tourism is a crucial aspect of the Georgian economy. This growing industry offers significant potential for job creation and economic benefits across all regions of the country," Chogovadze said, noting that the new strategy - as well as the new tourism legislation - will "focus" on supporting private-sector investment in the tourism industry.

The World Bank's Eiweida said the business community is a "cornerstone" for turning the strategy into a reality.

"We see them [the business community] as a cornerstone in the strategy. Tourism is by nature a kind of private sector," he said."Tourists when they come, they are served by the private sector."

The strategy, which has been developed over the course of several months and included intensive consultation with all major stakeholders, including local communities, businesses, and the Georgian Orthodox Church, will be finalized this spring.