The FINANCIAL -- The number of international travellers in Georgia will exceed 6 million in 2014. This year Georgia has had 26% growth of tourism and was named the star performer by the World Tourism Administration. GEL 15 million is the minimum budget of the GNTA for 2014. The booming prosperity of the sector is delivering a good message to investors; however Georgia is facing a lack of hotels.
“In March 2014 the hotel Rooms will open in Tbilisi. The hotel will have the same concept as it has in Kazbegi. Radisson Park Inn, Intercontinental, Rixos and Hilton are all upcoming projects. Hotel Ambassador is building another hotel in its neighbouring territory. Together with boutique and middle class hotels, more than 100 new hotels will be opened in Georgia in the next two years,” Giorgi Sigua, Head of the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA), told The FINANCIAL.
“We already have a shortage of facilities right now. We would not manage to supply all 5 million international visitors if they wanted spend a night here. These numbers are a very good message delivered to investors. They are starting to consider it a wonderful area for investment. Georgia offers perfect conditions to investors in regard to land allocation in different regions; in terms of tax policy, free tourist zones, government programmes, as well as various funds for co-investment. There is huge support for investors in Georgia,” said Sigua.
According to Sigua, Georgia already has a shortage of 10,000 beds. “There are over 36,000 hotels in Georgia. The figures guarantee that opening new hotels will be beneficial.”
“Tbilisi, Adjara and the mountainous regions are the areas that are most lacking in terms of amount of accommodation,” Sigua added.
Q. How would you estimate the year 2013 for the tourism sector?
A. Georgia has been evaluated as a star performer in the annual report of the World Tourism Organization. With 25-26% growth we have had the greatest increase in the tourism sector across Europe. Our achievement applies to not only an increased number of travellers from abroad. It refers to increased income for the country’s economy, jobs, hotel occupancy rate and all the parameters which assess the tourism sector.
Georgia has hosted 5 million international travellers. An additional 300,000 are expected by the end of 2013. 5 million international travellers is equivalent to GEL 3.2 billion in the country’s economy. The average expenditure of a traveller during a trip in Georgia is GEL 641. The additional 300,000 travellers will boost the figure to GEL 3.5 billion. Over 23-24% of this sum is transferred to the budget. Tourism makes up over 7.5% of the country’s GDP. Last year the figure was 6.37%. Out of all the international travellers 57% are tourists, people who spend at least one night in the country.
Q. Which projects would you highlight as reasons for the success of your work?
A. GNTA launched a free multilingual informational hotline. There was a lack of information centres where tourists could receive useful information, or get maps or brochures. A few days ago, we placed a tourist information centre in Pushkin Square. In the summer we hired mobile guides. Young people in uniforms were delivering useful information to tourists and even guided them around. Rest-stops on highways of different cities are currently under construction. Numerous toilets, wifi areas, fast food and souvenir shops will be located there in the future.
We have launched a web portal. Currently tourists can get all the useful information they might need regarding monuments, hotels, entertainment locations, attractions, ticket bookings and other things on our portal. Tourists have the opportunity to organize an independent tour for themselves. The tour appears in the online market and travel companies send individual offers.
We carried out direct campaigns in Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Azerbaijan and an indirect campaign in Ukraine. We arranged a press tour for Russian journalists. With the increased budget we will have more opportunities. We will carry out campaigns on our target markets, which are mostly our neighbour countries and also Israel, the Czech Republic, Poland, Arab countries - the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Q. How much will the administration’s budget amount to in 2014?
A. In 2014 the GNTA will receive a record amount of financing from the budget. After a second reading GEL 15 million was approved for our budget, but it might increase still. This is logical for a sector that brings in from 3 to 3.5 billion of income. GEL 6.5 million was the budget of 2013. Infrastructural arrangement, increasing the level of service and creating all kinds of comfort for people who are coming and spending money here will be our main priority for the upcoming year.
Q. What will be your exact priorities for the upcoming year?
A. Solving the infrastructural problems and increasing service level will be the main priorities. Promoting campaigns on the target markets and stimulating domestic tourism will also be our dominant priorities. We have started a new project: English language teaching lessons for taxi drivers. Those who pass the exam will receive a certificate with the inscription: English Speaking Taxi Driver. It will be an additional stimulus for them and will distinguish them from the competition.
From next year we will implement a project with one of the TV companies that will promote the profession of waiters. Famous people will serve customers at restaurants. I am prepared to be the first to serve customers at restaurants. There is still a mentality that the profession of waiter is something embarrassing. Working with this cliché means that service personnel often do not carry out their work properly.
However I personally have worked as a waiter, barman, dishwasher and cook. At 18 I worked at McDonald’s. A smile is a must for service sector personnel.
Q. By how many percentages has the number of Russian tourists increased in Georgia this year?
A. Russian tourists will amount to over 800,000 this year. Last year’s figure was over 0.5 million, so we have had 65% growth this year. The Russian tourist market, in general, is considered to be one of the best in the world, since Russians are the best spenders. Russians on average spend over GEL 1,260 while GEL 450 is spent by Azerbaijanis. Although the prices of flights are too high from Russia and we only have charter flights, the number of travellers is increasing. If regular flights will be restored between the two countries, then we will see a boom of Russian tourists in Georgia.
Q. Will the street rallies in Kiev have any impact on the number of Ukrainian tourists?
A. I returned from Ukraine just one week ago. We held presentations in three cities there: Lvov, Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk. Internal flights are running normally. There is a rally in one point of the city but it will come to an end some day. In 2012 we hosted 70,000 tourists from Ukraine and almost doubled last year’s results this year. The number will be over 120 to 130,000 this year.
Q. How can Georgia get closer to international standards regarding service and infrastructure quality?
A. Georgia will get closer to international standards when people realize that tourists are not dependent on them but that it is the other way round. When I started working at McDonald’s in Tbilisi, our foreign trainer told us to remember that we are dependent on our clients rather than the customers on us. Georgians will soon find that out, and then the service will be enhanced and more smiling personnel will serve us.
If we want to build a tourism sector of a high level we should learn to serve them as we do guests at home. Moreover, tourists are people who bring in money. Income from tourism is distributed more or less in every segment. The professions of taxi driver, shop assistant, bartender, waiter, hotel server, tour guide and many others receive direct benefits from tourism.