The Georgian tourism industry welcomes the impending reforms in the field, expressing optimism that these changes will lead to safer and more organized operations.
"Recent challenges, including those precipitated by the pandemic, have underscored the crucial need for systematic and structural cooperation with the public sector and donor organizations," stated Natalia Bakhtadze, Chairwoman of the Georgian Ecotourism Association, during her appearance on the "Business Partner" program.
Bakhtadze also evaluated the ongoing reform in the tourism sector, backed by the USAID Economic Governance Program and the Reformer. She opined that the dated approach to tourism, established in the country back in 1997, no longer holds up to scrutiny and falls short in addressing the hurdles faced by today's dynamic tourism industry.
"In the quest to establish tourism as a leading economic sector since 2003, we removed virtually all barriers. This strategy significantly boosted tourist inflow, but it also brought with it the chaotic emergence of different types of service providers in the market," Bakhtadze explained.
The advent of unregulated service providers, including non-residents operating within Georgia's capital sector, amplified risks, particularly in the realm of adventure tourism, which fundamentally requires knowledge of local terrain to ensure safety.
Bakhtadze anticipates that the new legislation will bring about a significant transformation, insisting on professional knowledge as a prerequisite for service providers, and thus directly addressing the sector's risk factor. "The greatest issue we've been grappling with in recent years is that the absence of barriers and pervasive ignorance have exacerbated risks," she added.
She also highlighted that the reform aims to eliminate unqualified operators in high-risk tourism.
"The private sector is on board with the tourism reform because, despite its immense potential, the sector has been plagued by an excess of undeveloped tourist sites and an unregulated situation in high-risk tourism," Bakhtadze elaborated. She emphasized the need for a minimal form of legislation with a regulatory function to ensure consumer protection and safe travel environments, in line with the European directive.
Bakhtadze concluded, "Given how quickly the situation in the tourism sector is changing and how responsive this sector is, drawing from the experiences of foreign countries, entering this sector with knowledge and instituting regulation based on informed understanding is the safest approach."