Monday, November 26, 2012

Reverse side of Georgian tourism

Photo: Georgia Times
by Vladimir Tshvediani

26.11.2012. The current economic crisis in Europe has once again proved that tourism is not a universal recipe for economic prosperity. Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus are the countries with a first-class tourist infrastructure. They are now visited by many guests. But it does not save them from the mass unemployment and crisis worsening by leaps and bounds. And the weightier is the tourist component of the economy, the more problems the country has.

This situation is not accidental. Hypertrophic tourism development suppresses many other areas of the economy. In places "tourist boom" the land and real estate prices instantly increase. Their prices can be quite acceptable to foreign investors, but they are too high for the locals.

The high cost of land in the resort area makes the business activities not related to the tourism and hospitality industry unprofitable. The land or premises for any production, even necessary for the country, are too expensive. "Monoculture of tourism" establishes in resort areas. All of the local population has either to earn money from the tourists or lose their jobs.

While in Georgia, there is an influx of visitors. This may be a good thing. But do not forget that tourist flows differ seasonality and instability. The decrease in tourists leads to massive devastation of entrepreneurs and crisis.

Thus, it is a short-sighted policy to rely only on tourism and not developing other sectors of the economy. The more so because it is desirable to provide its citizens and tourists the goods produced in own country. If Georgia somehow miraculously manages to create a flow of tourists from Turkey, but feeds and waters the tourists with Turkish products and souvenirs also made in Turkey, the Georgian tourism cluster simply remains an appendage of the Turkish tourism industry, nothing more.

Georgia is a country with a poor population. We should keep in mind that the massive development of tourism while stagnation in other sectors is accompanied by rising cost of living. Goods and services, which cost a penny for rich tourists, are incredibly expensive to the local population, especially the unemployed. The seasonality of tourism also affects the situation: the main flow of income from foreign visitors usually falls on 5-6 months a year (at best), and the locals live here the year round.

Former Georgian authorities alienated land, regardless of the local population, in the interests of the major tourist projects. They used the fact that the legal status of many land was not fully adjusted. Local people cannot stop land alienation: they either have not privatized land, or some controversies appeared in the process of privatization. Often such land was sold to foreign investors.

Of course, no one forbids local residents appeal to the court, hire a lawyer and try to prove their case. But investors have more money, and the Georgian government in recent years stood ont their side. Not having patrons the local businessman take a risk suing with foreign investors: "attention" from the government regulatory and inspection bodies was guaranteed.

Developing tourism you also need to understand what consumer is the target audience. Saakashvili primarily relied on Western tourists. But it's hard to attract Western visitors, spoiled by warm seas, European cultural monuments and Eastern exoticism, to Georgia. Turkey, where the tourist industry began to develop earlier, the sea is warmer, the infrastructure has long established and cheap flights to Antalya and other Turkish resort towns, is much more attractive. For Georgia, where only in late September 2012 the first flight from Kiev to Kutaisi was launched, it;s hard to compete with Turkey.

Saakashvili's policy alienated most promising for Georgia tourists - Russians. Recall, during the selecting of activities and trips, especially long-terms, historical memory and cultural identity plays a huge role. Italy has been tourist center in Europe due to this factor. Europeans were brought up on Italian music, admired the Italian culture, and for many of them Rome was the spiritual capital.

Georgia can also be a kind of "Italy for the Eastern Slavs". And it is just silly to rewrite centuries of history to become "friends" for the West, which considers Georgia "another exotic native country between Tanzania and Cambodia".

Georgia and Russia have 200 years of common history. In Russia, Ukraine and Belarus historical memory about Georgia is strong. People still love the Georgian films and songs. And most importantly - the believers of these countries consider Georgian sacred places their own, just like for the Georgians the Kiev Pechersk Lavra and the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. To promote the trip to Georgia for Russian, they do not even need a special advertising and service. The main thing is to remove negativity from the media. And this is a task of the new Georgian government.


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