The FINANCIAL -- Large numbers of tourists are cancelling pre-booked trips to Georgia due to the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Israel as well as the 3 days of shooting that occurred between Azerbaijan and Armenia. So far about 50 percent of scheduled tours have been cancelled, according to tour operator companies in Georgia. This year less tourists have come to Georgia from Italy, Poland and Israel. Meanwhile, Spanish tourists have been more interested in travelling to Georgia, they say. The economic crisis in Europe, tense situation between Russia and Ukraine, conflict in Israel and shooting between Armenia and Azerbaijan are cited as the main reasons why tourists are avoiding travel to Georgia.
“Last year Italian tourists were very active in this area, but currently, due to the economic crisis in Italy, less Italian tourists are visiting Georgia,” said Albina Iashchenko, MICE and Incoming Department Head at Destination Georgia. “Many tours are being cancelled by Italian tourists. However, Spanish tourists have become more interested in Georgia. The overall number of tourists in Georgia has decreased and this is down to the large number of cancelled tours. At our agency about 50 percent of scheduled tours have been cancelled this year, mostly by Italian tourists. Our partner companies in Italy are trying to create groups of tourists that will visit Georgia as tour packages are cheaper that way. In most cases such groups have not been created as the price of the trips is still considered expensive for tourists. This is why tourists have changed their travel destinations,” she added.
“The season is not over yet so we hope that in September the situation will show improvement,” said Nato Tchiokadze, Reservation Manager at Visit Georgia, one of the leading tour operators in Georgia of the last 9 years. “I would not say that the number of tourists has decreased dramatically, but from July 2014 we have observed that scheduled tours have increasingly been getting cancelled. The social, economic and political situations in the country are always key reasons behind either increased or decreased tourism potential.
The Ukrainian crisis very much affected tourist inflow to Georgia. Many people consider Georgia to be a part of Russia and many do not know that Georgia and Ukraine are not situated side by side. Of course, this is a problem of a lack of awareness about Georgia. That is why tour operator companies always claim that advertising our country in specific countries is vital for the general development of tourism in Georgia,” she added.
“The shooting that went on between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which was considered akin to war by tourists, was another reason for tourists changing their minds about visiting Georgia. In most cases we sell combined tours which we call ‘Caucasus tours’ meaning that tourists visit Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in one trip. Because of the shooting though, such tours were cancelled. And at the same time, since a Malaysia Airlines aeroplane was shot down over Eastern Ukraine all flights over Ukraine have been cancelled. There were many flights that had already been booked that were scheduled to fly over Ukraine which meant that tourists had to change their tickets and flights, which was more expensive for them. This fact also led to cancelled trips to Georgia, because tourists were reluctant to pay more money for a visit to the country. It is true that there is an economic crisis in Europe and Italian tourists in particular have become passive in regard to visiting Georgia. However, more Spanish tourists are coming to our country,” Tchiokadze said.
Travel company Georgian Holidays, which was established in 2006 as an incoming tour operator to Georgia, has recorded a 20 percent increase in its number of tourists this summer. “Our company has its own loyal customers which we call “stable clients”, who are always prepared to visit Georgia time and again,” said Eko Kvatashidze, Sales Manager at Georgian Holidays. “This is the reason why we are not seeing a decreased number of tourists. On the contrary, the number of tourists has actually increased by 20 percent,” she said.
“However, many Jewish tourists have cancelled trips because of the armed conflict happening in Israel. Israeli tourists do not consider Georgia to be a dangerous place to go to, on the contrary - it is their country that they are afraid to leave. Many of them have family members in the conflict area and therefore, naturally do not want to travel elsewhere while the situation at home remains uncertain. Israeli tourists make up one of the largest shares of the number of tourists visiting Georgia. We can imagine how it would affect tourist inflow to Georgia if more Israeli tourists were to come here. This year, we did not have Polish tourists and we also hosted less Russians. However, the numbers of tourists from the Czech Republic, Portugal, China and Holland all increased,” she added.
Despite the fact that tour operators in Georgia claim that the decreasing number of tourists visiting Georgia started in July 2014, statistics provided by the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA) show the opposite. A total of 670,256 tourists visited Georgia in July 2014, which is 9.2 percent more than in the same month of 2013, according to the statistics. During the first seven months of 2014 the number of tourists increased by 4 percent compared to last year. The statistics also show that the number of Italian tourists visiting Georgia increased by 13 percent. The number of tourists from Lithuania increased by 88 percent, from Poland - by 47 percent, from Austria - by 17 percent, from Latvia - by 17 percent, and from Belarus - by 57 percent.
As for the income from tourism, it increased by 4 percent in the first quarter of 2014 compared to 2013. Last year the amount of money attracted by tourism amounted to USD 302,817.7 thousand while this year it amounted to USD 315,317.5 thousand, according to GNTA.
The number of visitors in August, 2014, amounted to 772,216 less (0.5 percent) than the index of the same period in 2013, according to the statistical data on visitors crossing the border of Georgia in August, 2014, provided by Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia.
As for the January-August period, the number of visits to the country amounted to 3,685,834 - 3 percent more than the index of the same period in 2013.
According to the new method of a conditional division, the correlation of specific weight is the following:
Tourist - 1,566,646 visits (42.5 percent of the general number; an increase of 12 percent in comparison with the same index of the last year);
Transit - 698,284 visits (19 percent of the general number; a decrease of -10 percent in comparison with the same index of the last year);
Other - 1,420,904 visits (38.5 percent of the general number; an increase of -0.7 percent in comparison with the same index of the last year).
Most of the visits in April, 2014, were again paid for by people from Turkey (-5.5 percent), Azerbaijan (+29 percent), Armenia (-12.2 percent), Russia (-7 percent) and Ukraine (+22.9 percent). Also, the positive positions held by EU countries was retained by them. In respect to the increase of the number of arrivals to Georgia in January-July the following countries traditionally take the leading positions: Lithuania, Poland, Spain, Latvia and Holland (91 percent, 40 percent, 17 percent, 17 percent, and 14 percent respectively), Central Asian countries - Kazakhstan (39 percent), and among the countries of Eastern Europe - the citizens of Belarus with an increase of 50 percent.
Ia Tabagari, Head of the Tour Operators Association in Georgia, also claims that tour operator companies have been losing tourists this summer. “Tours have been getting cancelled. If this trend continues through September and October, which are considered some of the most active months for tourism, it will create big problems for the companies involved in this business. Unfortunately, Georgia is currently thought of as a dangerous place to go to. We must explain to European tourists that it is safe to come here and that the crisis in Ukraine does not affect our country. The fact that the statistics show an increased number of tourists in July may be explained by the fact that less tourists are coming here via Georgian tour operator companies but are instead arranging their own travel themselves,” she added.
“At the moment, especially in the emerging markets, the top considerations are the safety and security of guests - and food safety as well. These are things that travellers consider very important,” said Prof. Michel Phan from EMLYON business school. “In the leisure or resort sector, emerging markets have benefitted directly from the trend for adventure tourism and customized tourism. As the luxury market has expanded, those looking for a true luxury experience are looking for unique places to stay - such as the emerging markets. It is no longer enough for the wealthy to stay in a 5 star hotel in the South of France - the location and accommodation has to be more interesting than that to qualify as true luxury. In Georgia specifically - you might look to the increase in wine tourism where more wine aficionados are visiting Georgia instead of heading to Bordeaux or the Napa Valley.”
“I admit that the hotels are very expensive in Georgia. It would be preferable if the prices were lower. What’s more, it is impossible to talk about the development of tourism and attracting more tourists from Europe if Georgia is not promoted better in Europe. When I meet the tourists which visit Georgia via our company, all of them say that Tbilisi resembles a ‘little Paris’ but they had no idea about it before. Georgia is one of the least popular countries in the region. As Georgia is not well advertised we ask our tourists to pass on their impressions about our country to their friends and acquaintances. This idea works very well. We have already started working on selling New Year tours. Those people who visited Georgia this summer are now interested in coming back during the winter. Tourists are interested in our New Year and Christmas traditions - in how Georgians celebrate the festive period,” Iashchenko said.