Mariam Kvrivishvili: 70% of Tourists Visit Georgia Repeatedly
Dynamics and challenges in the tourism sector. What problems does the field of tourism face? What is the government’s strategy for tourism development, and what novelties does the National Tourism Administration offer to tourism for the coming season? Mariam Kvrivishvili, head of National Tourism Administration, answers these and other important questions:
-According to recent statistics, in January-April 2019, more than 2 million tourists visited the country. Prior to talking about a growing tourist inflow and the sector’s challenges, I would like to ask you: You have recently returned from Dubai, where you took part in an international tourism exhibition, and met an influential figures in the United Arab Emirates. What was the result othis, and how important is it for the country to participate in similar forums?
-The tourism exhibition in the UAE was very successful. We were happy to see that our private sector showed a lot of interest in this. About 40 Georgia-based travel companies have taken part in the forum, including hotels. Consequently, this was a very good platform to establish new business relations.
-You have met the most influential figure in the UAE’s tourism sector. What benefits should we expect from this meeting?
-This person is genuinely the most influential figure in the Emirates, and he supervises such areas as aviation, airports, airlines. He manages two of the world’s two important airlines – Emirates Airline and Fly Dubai, which have frequent flights to Georgia (two flights a day). We had a very important meeting with him and discussed two directions, including the invitation of a new airline to Georgia. We also discussed some very important steps to be taken in the fields of aviation and tourism. These steps are to take the country to an absolutely new level, and different conditions.
-You have clear points of view about the development of our tourism sector. Can you tell us what kind of tourists arrive in Georgia, and what kind of tourists we will host by 2025?
-It’s been three months since my appointment at the National Tourism Administration. After this appointment, I’ve been trying to talk about our strategy everywhere. We follow one simple principle; our mission is to help our population properly perceive and understand the nature of the tourism business, because this sector becomes important when it makes essential contribution to the economy. The number of tourists matters, as long as tourism business expenses grow. We give preference to the quality of inflows, compared to the quantity of inflows.
-How much does one tourist spend in the country, and what are our future expectations?
-We expect that 11 million international visitors will visit the country by 2025. Our goal is that estimates should be based on how much visitors spend. We expect that 11 million tourists will spend about 6.7 billion USD by 2025. This is around 100% growth.
-Statistics show that revenues depend on seasonal factors. According to this strategy, what should we do to even out revenues for all four seasons?
-We have to develop in several directions; first of all, infrastructure. The Ministry of Infrastructure shows special attention to this sector. At the beginning of 2019, the Minister announced a 138 million USD project for towards the development of tourism infrastructure, including the development of major infrastructure projects, municipal roads, the rehabilitation of culture monuments. As a result, we will attract tourists to those regions, as tourists don’t go there today.
-Tourists frequently arrive in Georgia, but they do not spend much money. What are your plans to reverse this direction?
-The resorts that we have today must become all-season resorts. To this end, we should develop more infrastructure, develop the business of tourism. We just need more accommodation facilities, infrastructure, restaurants, and entertainment facilities. Naturally, these challenges were identified. I am happy we have efficient cooperation with Enterprise Georgia, with the aim of identifying new investment opportunities, and formulate new tourism products. Our objective is to focus on not only our capital city, but we strive to expand tourist inflows to the regions, with all their potential.
-In Spain, for instance, the emphasis was moved away from Barcelona. As a result, new directions in tourism arose in Sevilla, the Basque Country, which were previously only culinary destinations.
-We do our best to organize a lot of interesting activities with the Basques, including in the realm of cuisine. We want to adapt the culinary academy to the Georgian reality, because our cuisines resemble each other very much.
-You talk about high-income tourism, and you place emphasis on attracting as many affluent tourists as possible. However, it should be noted that there are a lot of challenges, including in terms of WCs. How do you plan to resolve these challenges?
- This is one of our most acute challenges, and this was one of the projects that we undertook in the first 2 months – the identification of problems with WCs. Now, we can openly say that the first part, that is the analytical work, has been completed. We have identified 70 priority locations around the most touristic regions. Now, we are calculating what time and what financial resources are required for the efficient implementation of this project.
Under the aegis of the National Tourism Administration, with the support of a lot of structures, sanitary safety norms are standardized. This challenge cannot be resolved in one day. But the simplest part of the job is done. At this stage, we are developing plans and we believe that all aspects of this will be resolved soon.
-The inflow of affluent tourists to the country is growing. The figure doubled in 2018 to 14%. But this isn’t sufficient. Do you expect the country to reach your 30% goal, as determined by your strategy?
-We should be ambitious today, and determine those challenges that we will resolve tomorrow. This is a necessary precondition for achieving ambitious objectives. We have the potential. There are two key paths to achieve this goal. The first component calls for involving other offices in this process, including investment. Affluent tourists pay attention to the quality of accommodations and their services, the quality of shopping, and entertainment opportunities.
This is the direction where our investment should be directed, for both international and domestic platforms. At the same time, the number of flights should also increase. We are glad that flights will start from 3 UAE cities. This is unprecedented. We will also add new flights from Europe and Asia. It should be noted that tourists from Europe spend a lot of money in this country. Direct flights are one component for attracting affluent tourists.
-What do you plan to develop to take advantage of progress in the region?
-We should determine where we have advantages. Naturally, Turkey has made huge progress in terms of the service sector, and they have great experience over several decades. However, we have diversified our products. As a result, according to statistics, 70% of tourists visit Georgia repeatedly. This is reflects very well on our country.
-How will you cooperate with existing and potential businesses?
-In every way. Access to information, strategic direction, joint cooperation, consulting services. All of us come from business, and we know how important is it to back them.