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Georgia Grows into Regional Tourism Center

Summer tourism season has come to a close. Both government and field experts expected the sector to bring considerable revenues and this is not surprising if we analyze the statistics of the past years: the sector keeps growing year to year.

To be precise, 5 901 094 visitors arrived in the country in 2015, the figure rose to 6 360 503 visitors in 2016 (8% growth year on year). If we compare the mentioned indicators to the 2017 January-September report, the country hosted 5 822 835 visitors, including the number of tourists, people who have stayed in the country for more than 24 hours, constituted 2 783 594 persons, up 28% year on year. The country’s revenues from the tourism sector exceeded 1bln USD in the second quarter of 2017, however, similar positive statistics are frequently accompanied by criticism too.

For example, the Embassy of Great Britain in Georgia has released a special statement, where urged its citizens to show particular caution when visiting Georgia.

“Crime level is low in Tbilisi, however, time to time burglars prowl at night in the center of the capital city,  especially near bars and clubs and entrances of residential buildings. There were cases, when taxi drivers committed sexual assaults. We recommend you to walk without much money and do not walk at night. Take care when crossing streets. The red lamp and the Zebra crossing  do not mean that drivers will slow down driving. Road accidents happen very frequently, because of improper driving and violation of traffic regulations. The city lacks for public toilettes and you will have to use ones at cafe-bars”, the Embassy recommendations read.

Giorgi Chogovadze, head of National Tourism Administration, responded to these recommendations. This is an ordinary fact caused by excessive caution, Chogovadze said.

“British Embassy publishes similar statements every time, when British citizens pay visits to this or that country. I can recall samples, when similar statements were made, when British citizens were visiting France, Italy or other countries of EU. However, this does not rule out that there are problems in Georgia. Nobody denies this factor. Growing inflow of tourists has just uncovered those critical moments and critical fields, where more attention is required”, Chogovadze said.

It should be also noted that, according to the rating of Crime Index 2017 composed by the Numbeo portal, Georgia has showed the best results in terms of security. Namely, Tbilisi ranked 19th among 378 cities of the world and surpassed other cities in the region in 2017, the NUMBEO research portal reports. Crime index in Tbilisi constituted 19.96 point and security index totaled 80.04 point. For comparison, Yerevan ranks 88th and Baku is 71st. In a number of cities the security index were composed due to several cities. For example, Turkey’s safest city is Bursa (29th place), Izmir ranks 67th, Antalya is 93th, Ankara – 179th, Istanbul – 246th. Russia’s safest city is St.-Petersburg (42.28 point). Moscow ranks 205th, Novosibirsk is 239th and Yekaterinburg is 261st.

Numbeo is the world’s one of the major databases collecting information on consumers in various cities and countries of the world. The tourism department director also talked about the meeting at Ministry of Economy led by Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, where the January-September performance was summarized. The meeting participants identified the existing problems,including in terms of service quality, which remains one of the key challenges today. The meeting participants agreed to provide active job on the issue, Chogovadze said.

“We show a complex approach to this issue, even more so the meeting was led by Prime Minister and we have discussed all directions how to improve service quality, starting from trainings ending with large-scale changes in the education system. We have identified the problems that are frequently mentioned by international tourists and Government of Georgia does not turn a blind eye on these problems. We will continue making advancements stage by stage so as Georgia come up with Europe and world standards in terms of service quality. Government’s comprehensive involvement in resolution of tourism sector’s challenging issues is a clear sample to this”, Chogovadze said.

Tourism sector expert Shalva Alaverdashvili has talked about problems in the service segment. He told the the Banks&Finances that there are certain gaps in service direction and both foreign and domestic tourists frequently complain about these problems, he said.

“I would evaluate the 2017 tourism season by 9 point of 10 ones. I do not agree with the idea that there are serious problems in tourism sector in terms of services. We have overcome bad phases. Naturally, we are far from the good situation, but this is not a catastrophic situation. 90% of discontent tourists are Georgians, not foreign ones. The most negative and worst evaluations come from Georgians, especially ones living abroad. Moreover, over the past period blogs emerge as one of the most critical sources, especially Russian bloggers, who mainly write negatives about our country”, Alaverdashvili said.

Ia Tabagari, head of association of tour operators, says that the active tourism season has outlined all the existing problems that should be resolved immediately.

“Georgia has grown into the regional tourism center and the inflow of tourists has exceeded initial expectations. However, a higher inflow of tourists has also brought more problems. The country turned out unready for many issues, namely, the issue is of such problems as disordered infrastructure, invaluable travel centers, invaluable transport. We know that a major part of tourists arrives in the capital city and then leave for various tourism places from there. Therefore, all these factors require due analysis and support. There are invaluable toilets and relaxation places at highways. On the other hand, we should take into account that low-income tourists arrive in Georgia and this factor cannot make contribution to the segment of domestic residents involved in the tourism-hospitality industry. We have problems in the service field and we have serious problems in terms of ecology. If we do not provide due job, these problems will further deepen in the course of time”, Tabagari said.

Paata Turkia