The FINANCIAL — The expectations of key players in the tourism industry of Georgia for 2009 are quite pessimistic. Political and economic turbulence have been named as the main obstacle for tourism development. Cheap tours will remain the most popular products this summer, according to travel professionals.
Travel tours to Turkey dominate among travel packages offered to the Georgian population. Local and international experts analyse why country where Europe Started became forgotten by the world.
Cheap tours will remain the most popular products this summer
“Because of global and local financial problems, the cheapest tours will be the most in demand in 2009. Demand for tour packages is supposed to decrease,” Tina Zaldastanishvili, Managing Director of Levon Travel, one of the leading travel companies in Georgia, told FINANCIAL. The company served up to 800 foreign tourists last year.
Zaldastanishvili says the most popular destination in 2008 were France and Turkey. European countries and Turkey are the most visited by Georgians, she says. Bestseller tours to Paris were sold for EUR 590.
“Demand for tour packages in 2009 will decrease”, Niko Kululashvili, Director of the company Exotour, informed The FINANCIAL.
“The prices of tour packages at our company are not expected to increase, while Turkey will remain the most visited place this summer,” Kululashvili said.
Tsitsi Petriashvili of Georgian Express Travel says countries with which Georgia has no visa regime will be most demanded this summer.
“Egypt and Turkey,” adds Nika Kululashvili, Exotour. The company has dramatically changed its strategy since August’s events. Now Exotour, which used to be oriented on incoming tourism, is working mainly on outgoing tours.
Nata Kvachantiradze, Director of the Board, Georgian Tourism Association (GTA), says that since the August war with Russia people from abroad are scared to travel to Georgia.
In the biggest French newspaper “le Monde” a journalist ended her article about the cruelties committed by Russians in Georgia, with the statement that Russians left plenty of landmines throughout the entire territory of Georgia. This information is a tourist’s nightmare. GTA.
“2009 will almost certainly be a difficult year for the Georgian Tourism business. Of course there will be some arrivals, but the general opinion is not in favour of travelling to Georgia,” Kvachantiradze says.
Tina Zaldastanishvili says that because of the August War many tourist group visits were cancelled. But Marina Metreveli, PhD, Professor Expert on Tourism, Leading Specialist in the Economy Sector and Economic Policy Committee of the Parliament of Georgia says that the tourism industry was facing serious problems before the war.
“Many tourism programmes were closed. Maybe the Government didn’t consider tourism a prioritized direction of the country’s economy,” Metreveli says. “Poorly organized press-tours and participation in international travel exhibitions were the only activities of the Georgian Tourism Department,” she claims.
“2009 should be a year to focus on the fundamentals of the sector,” Nata Kvachantiradze, GTA says. ”If this is not done, tourists from abroad as well as Georgian nationals will prefer to choose the cheaper and better options available abroad.”
Kvachantiradze believes that political and economic stability are crucial for tourism development in Georgia.
“Lack of information about Georgia is also one of the most serious problems of the tourism sector. Other factors, for instance road and sanitary infrastructure, service quality, high prices, omnipresent garbage etc. are more relevant when tourists are already in Georgia,” Kvachantiradze says.
“Political stability is most important for tourism development in the country,” Tina Zaldastanishvili of Levon Travel declares. “We served 800 tourists in the year 2008. Domestic tourism in Georgia is in a very bad state mainly due to the Georgian Russian war.”
“For tourism development, economic and political steadiness are most necessary,” Tsitsi Petriashvili, Tour-Operator of Georgian Express Travel, notes. The company served 250 foreign tourists last year.
“According to statistics of the Department of Tourism and Resources, which I don’t trust, in 2007 the number of tourist was 1,300,000. Before the events in August Georgia had hosted 375,875 tourists. The number of tourists might have increased if there hadn’t been a war in the country,” Metreveli says.
“The exact number of tourists visiting Georgia is confidential, but in accordance with the year 2007, the number of tourists had decreased by 60% in 2008,” Niko Kululashvili told The FINANCIAL.
Since the August war with Russia people from abroad are scared to travel to Georgia
Marina Metreveli thinks that the Department of Tourism was obligated to lead the right policy. She says that Georgian tourism has recently had some serious problems; one of the main problems being that the Tourism Department couldn’t manage fluently their role and responsibility while leading the policy.
“The Department of Tourism and Resorts has been facing some structural and personnel changes. Effectively abandoning the Tourism Department as well as all the problems aforementioned have affected plural activities of the Department,” Metreveli claims.
Niko Kululashvili of Exotour says the Department of Tourism and Resources is working as hard as possible. “Their successful work will reflect on the country’s image and promotion, so they should do their best,” Kululashvili told FINANCIAL.
“For Georgian tourism promotion, the state budget has set out GEL 1,700,000 (about USD 1 million). This money will be put towards promoting Georgian tourism in different ways, including, tourism exhibition markets, international press tours, board magazines, Georgian promoting brochures, souvenirs and also to website of the Tourism Department,” Beka Jakeli, Head of Georgian Tourism and Resorts, told The FINANCIAL.
Unfortunately governmental web sites which were created to promote the country are not working properly. “This web site at tourism.gov.ge has been reported as an attack site and has been blocked based on your security preferences”, such notes are reported when users try to access official website of tourism department of Georgia.
“The Georgian Department of Tourism and Resorts is doing its best to promote Georgian tourism in different countries. At the moment we are holding negotiations with Spain. In the nearest future many foreign countries will be getting more information about Georgia as a tourist destination,” Beka Jakeli, Head of Tourism Department declares.
Civil Georgia USAID financed newsmagazine reported two years ago that the Georgian government promised to spend USD100,000 on advertisements to be aired on CNN in order to promote tourism to the country. A further USD 60,000 will be spent on advertising on Euronews, according to the reports.
Georgian Tour operators say that they haven’t seen any promo clip of Georgia yet.
Armenia had started international promo campaign last year.
“I haven’t seen any trailers about Georgian tourism on any of the TV channels,” Niko Kululashvili says.
Managers of Levon Travel and Georgian Express Travel said that they have not seen any promo clip about Georgia.
“The last advertisement about Georgia that was seen abroad was a full page in Le Monde: “Lenin. Stalin. Putin. Give in? Support Georgia”. Unfortunately, this is not very attractive from a tourism point of view,” said Kvachantiradze, GTA.
Many tourism professionals don’t know the new country’s slogan: “Europe Started Here”, developed by the Department.
The Association has no information on governmental expenses in tourism promotion.
The Georgian Tourism Association has developed flyers to promote the various regions of Georgia and their incredible diversity. Member companies and partner organizations are distributing these flyers at tourism trade fairs abroad. GTA has put out videos on the internet, postcards to promote information about the country.
“However this is a drop in the ocean, much more needs to be done”, Kvachantiradze says.
“At present, Georgia is an interesting destination for active, culture oriented tourists. Nature Tourism, Bird watching, Geological and Botanical Tours, Adventure Travels, Religious/Pilgrim Tours, Wine Tourism and a few other specialized niche market segments are on offer, where Georgia can develop unique selling propositions and a diversification of products, Kvachantiradze says.
Apart from the optimistic predictions of the Department of Tourism, Nata Kvachantiradze notes that the season of tourism in 2008 was completely ruined. “Realistically it will be a slow season in 2009 as well. Ultimately, if Georgia develops stability and a qualitative tourism offer together with protection of its precious natural resources then its attractiveness will bring tourism back to Georgia. Probably a starting point will be with Eastern European and post-soviet countries”.
Why Turkey and not Georgia?
The tourism industry has changed much since the Soviet period. And the choice among destinations has multiplied manifold with the possibility to travel outside of soviet space, say experts. This is one of the reasons why Georgia became a forgotten country.
“People from Ukraine are still among those who keep coming to Georgia, for example to the ski resorts Gudauri and Bakuriani. Post-soviet countries have the advantage of knowing Georgia, which is not the case for Western European countries for example,” said Steffen Schuelein, Consultant on Tourism Development for GTA.
“Turkey and Egypt have a very developed tourism infrastructure, cheap prices, excellent service and a good image. Probably the reasons for Ukrainians are very similar to those of Georgians, who would prefer to spend their summer holidays in Turkey or Egypt rather than in Batumi or Kobuleti.
“The creation of competitive offers in terms of activities and infrastructure will need some time and effort in Georgia”, Steffen Schuelein says.
“We believe that further investment in the tourism industry is necessary. All tourism destinations work with financial support. Infrastructure development, like roads, sanitation, garbage collection and disposal – just to name a few of the most negatively perceived issues by tourists – cannot be developed by private sector companies alone. However companies should be involved in the process. And, the invested money should be spent adequately to benefit the population to the maximum and should not destroy the country’s natural resources”, Nata Kvachantiradze believes.
“Attracting tourists from Turkey will be very difficult from our point of view. What would be the products that are especially attractive for Turkish citizens? Additionally, Turkish citizens often do not feel very welcome in Georgia. A specific tourism product for visitors from Turkey should be developed.
“For international tourists on a visit to Turkey, luring them over to visit Georgia will also be difficult, because the product profiles are not similar at least for the great majority of tourists in Turkey. For the Sea-Sun-Sand Segment, Turkey is far more competitive than Georgia.
By the way: Turkey is trying to diversify its profile to a more active tourism target group who would be interested in visiting the back-country not only the sea-resorts.
It would be much more promising for Georgia to attract visitors from Europe, Asia, the post Soviet-space and America to visit the South Caucasus Region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia) and develop a specific regional profile. Probably, people who have experienced the three countries would afterwards come back to Georgia for a more intensive visit the second time”, Steffen Schuelein said.
War Works for Israel but Not for Georgia
“This is a difficult question why Israel as a tourism destination is still popular despite the continuing war in the region… Most likely tourism in Israel also suffers when a war breaks out in the region, one should look at the statistical data very carefully. TV reports mentioned that tourism in Israel has experienced a sharp decline for the Christmas 2008/09 season compared to the 2007/08 season.
Israel, as one of the most important destinations for religious tourism has strong incentives to visit, Jerusalem is known by the whole world, there is no doubt about service and infrastructure.
And the Israeli Government does everything to assure visitors that people will be safe when they visit Israel. Still, tourism in Israel is a very complicated phenomenon – not comparable with Georgia,” Steffen Schuelein, GTA, notes.
“Development of the tourism industry in Israel is conditioned by state policy, professionalism, the desire of each citizen and their share in development of this field. The Minister of Tourism of Israel stated during a TV interview of his recently that he would definitely be spending holidays in Israel to support his country and tourism industry by leaving his expenses in the country. With this action, he wanted to give the example that local tourism can survive by the investments made by each citizen and members of the country’s Government,” Marina Metreveli says.
“The example of Israel should be a good lesson for Georgia and Georgian people,” Metreveli notes.
Israel is popular because of its religious means, experts believe. Even the war in Israel was used by some local companies as a tool for attracting tourists from different countries.
As some of the experts say war works for Israel but not for Georgia.
Written By Tako Khelaia