The FINANCIAL — 73,474 tourists visited Adjara in the first two months of 2012.
This is 21.9 percent more compared to the same period of 2011 according to data of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara A.R. In total 1,319,513 tourists visited Adjara in 2011 with 838,661 being Georgians and 480,852 – foreign visitors.
“2011 was quite a successful year for Adjara,” David Kikava, Chairman of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara A.R. told The FINANCIAL. “We plan to improve on this result and host up to 1,800,000 tourists by the end of 2012. We are developing different tourism directions including MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions), cruise, bird-watching and wine tourism. Our hard working and successful projects being implemented with the assistance of international experts will result in an increased number of visitors.”
The hotel sector is developing very fast in Adjara, especially in Batumi. Sheraton was the first international hotel brand in the area, having entered Batumi in 2010. Radisson soon followed suit. Some other 5 star hotels are now being built in Batumi.
“The Sheraton Batumi Hotel has been experiencing big increase of its occupancy rate, guest satisfaction rate and financial data since it opened in 2010.” Omer Subasi, General Manager of the Sheraton Batumi Hotel, told The FINANCIAL in an exclusive interview. “Average occupancy was better than we expected. We saw a tremendous increase in both local and foreigner visitors. Visitor numbers from Iran and Armenia experienced the biggest increase. We are an international hotel company and therefore we are oriented at all nationalities. First of all, however, we are oriented on local people, then on regional inhabitants including those from Azerbaijan, Turkey and Armenia, and then international guests from further afield.”
Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia are the top four countries from which the biggest number of tourists visited Georgia in 2011. The visa regime was recently abolished for tourists coming from Russia to Georgia by the initiative of the President of Georgia. This will undoubtedly result in an increased number of Russian visitors.
More charter flies to Batumi will increase the number of tourists in the region as well. Last year charters from Tel-Aviv to Batumi were added and Israel Airways is continuing flights in 2012 as well. Charters from Warsaw to Batumi will soon start. To begin with the flights will be once a week, but they will increase in the event of high demand.
Demand for hotels is gradually increasing in Batumi in spite of the fact that the prices at 5 star hotels are relatively high.
“Prices are determined by demand in any free market society,” Subasi said. “If there is enough demand, prices are high. If there is no demand prices go down. Demand for the Sheraton Batumi is quite high at the moment, for the whole of Batumi actually. Our strategy is to play whatever our market determines.”
“All similar markets including Mediterranean countries, Egypt and Turkey are operating with one rule. The more hotels there are in the market, the more the rates go down. The same will be true in Batumi. I know of ten hotel projects which will be finished in Batumi in the next few years. I personally think that there is enough space for all these hotels nowadays. But I can’t predict what the situation will be like in five years time. It will quite difficult to find room in Batumi at that time I think,” the General Manager added.
The main problem that Adjara faces is gaining popularity and recognition worldwide. This could be achieved with the co-operation of state and private sectors.
“Batumi is a new market. It is not Monaco, Paris, London or Antalya. Our main challenge is to make Batumi known to the entire world. We have to work very hard to enter the international market sphere. But the Sheraton Batumi can’t do this alone. Once we have another ten hotels in Batumi, we will have a stronger sales force, stronger marketing and gaining popularity will be easier. But then we will encounter other challenges. In five years it will be difficult to find a free room in Batumi for example,” Subasi claims.
Development of MICE tourism is a strategy of the Georgian National Tourism Agency including the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara A.R. This is one of the most profitable directions of tourism.
“MICE tourism is fast developing in Adjara as the region’s potential is quite high,” Kikava said. “This is vital for Adjara and the whole country as MICE brings quite high profit. We will participate in local and international MICE tourism exhibitions. First there will be an exhibition in Expo Georgia which will be mainly dedicated to MICE. We are inviting international experts to help us achieve adequate development of the sector. They are studying the market and advising us on where and how to focus. At present we are offering cultural and wine tours to MICE tourists.”
Batumi will host the World Tourism Conference on May 9. This will help Adjara to gain more popularity worldwide as well as develop MICE tourism.
“Our hotels are oriented at every type of customer,” Subasi said. “Currently MICE tourism is very profitable but this stops in the summer when everyone goes on holiday. So in summer we have to concentrate on leisure travel, families. This isn’t as profitable as MICE. But on the other hand large families tend to spend a lot of money. Thus our main focus remains MICE.”
The Sheraton Batumi offers quite good facilities for MICE tourism. The hotel’s ballroom is the largest in Batumi at over 10,000 square feet with a 6 meter ceiling height.
“Our ballroom is ideal for both weddings and corporate events. This room is helping us to develop MICE tourism. We have six private meeting rooms with capacity from 10 to 1,500 persons for any kind of event. The conference rooms are well equipped with the modern audio-visual and teleconference facilities, most of the meeting rooms have natural daylight. These rooms are often occupied,” Subasi stated.
As well as MICE tourism, Adjara is also developing bird-watching. At the moment the tourism department is in the stage of creating adequate infrastructure for bird-watching.
“Georgia is one the best places for bird-watching, as there are up to 800,000 types of migrant birds across the country,” Kikava explained. “We are preparing special brochures and a plan to publish advertisements in foreign publications.”
5 Star hotels are developed in Batumi to a certain extent. The quality of their service is high. The guest satisfaction rate is permanently increasing at Sheraton Batumi. At the moment the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara A.R. is more oriented on the development of 2 and 3 star hotels as well as rural tourism.
“We have some hotels which have the potential to get 2 or 3 stars, but the quality of service isn’t yet high enough,” Kikava said. “We are helping them to increase the quality. Trainings will be held for them in the near future. German experts are helping to implement these. We are currently doing trainings for guides.”
“If we continue down the path of such fast and proper development in Adjara, the region should be one of the most popular tourism destinations in about ten years time,” he claims.