Saturday, January 5, 2013

Maia Sidamonidze: Talk about "the serving nation" is a mental weakness

05.01.2013 (HTN - Hvino Tour News). On January 1 2013 Maia Sidamonidze resigned from her position of National Tourism Agency's head. She has been working for three years at the agency, and decided to switch to private sector. Translation of interview with former chairwoman of country's tourism department to Georgian radio Kommersant follows below:

Why did you decide to resign  from the agency? Today you will go back to the private sector, why? 

My decision to come to Georgia was correct as I worked at a very good moment in terms of tourism development in Georgia. This was one of the fastest growing sectors over the years and, of course, for me it was a great honor to be one of the partners in this process. On the other hand, I think that the private sector already offers many opportunities for self-realization in the same profession. I remain in this sector, in the tourism industry. Not necessarily people in this profession need to work only in state structures.

Is tourism still a priority of the country? 

To date, according to the new government, tourism development will be the same priority for them. However, my personal opinion is that this should be stated not only by the economy minister and his first deputy, but also by higher officials.

The political statement that tourism is a priority for the country it is very important for people working in the private sector - for business people, investors, and people who are willing to learn and master this profession.

Will these prospects remain 2013? 

In general, I also participated in the formation of the action plan for the coming year. I must say that most of the projects will continue in  all the directions. When it comes to the new government, it has a new vision in relation to certain matters. For example, take the marketing activities and advertising. Direct marketing campaigns have been removed, but more emphasis will be placed on the internet marketing and social media, which is also an effective tool in modern marketing. The major projects in the coming year will certainly be continued.

On the other hand, in what we've been doing for the past years there were no short-term projects. Projects were designed for a long term, and in the future, if the country does not create tension in economic or social and political situation, if all goes well, then my prediction, the trend of growth in the coming years has to go on.

When you were the head of the agency, was all done so that the average person could feel that  tourism is the driving force of the economy? 

Of course, Georgia has a great potential in the context of tourism, given its natural and other resources. In Georgia, there are very diversified tourism products, which not many countries have. On the other hand, during these last years what developed tourist infrastructure, which is one of the most important preconditions. There were also certain benefits in connection with the visa regime, which is also a significant prerequisite to facilitate the process to enter the country.

There was the policy of "open skies", launched in 2010, and there were more opportunities to attract  international airlines to open  new destinations and  flights to allow  more people to visit the country. In addition, the creation of new tourism products, such as business and adventure tourism, wine and culinary tourism, and so on. As well as ongoing marketing and advertising campaigns, we over the years have started important projects. This twinning project with the European Union, which considers both the legislative initiatives in the tourism sector, and the creation of regional management organizations, in a way which is decentralized to the regional level.

It all comes down to results, and the result is that today the number of visitors has increased by 20 and 30%. This is 53% when compared with 2011. In 2011, there were approximately 50%, in 2010 38%, and so on. From year to year  the number of international visitors to Georgia increases dramatically, and today we all know that this is not due to transit, or business travel. This is indeed reflected in the development of tourism. This is evident in the research. On the other hand, there are tourists' expenditures which are revenues for the  country.

In 2011, the revenue from tourism industry came up to a billion dollars, it is a huge income for the country. Tourism directly creates quite a lot of jobs, attracts investment, and on the other hand, is an ideal area for the development of medium and small business. If you watch the trends, including statistical and economic performance in general, we see that during these two years very much has been done. New businesses and hotels were launched. It means that investors were interested to invest in this area. And it was because the demand soared. Today, very high prices are because demand is higher than the offer and it is necessary to open more hotels and entertainment facilities. This should create a healthy competition in the market and allow to adjust prices.

Regarding "the serving nation", it is a mental weakness. Any person, if he looks at his work as a profession, can start with a certain level, and subsequently start a business in that area. Not only to open a hotel, you can work for the airlines, travel agencies, and so on. In short, tourism actually covers many interesting areas. It is today a very successful area. If you ask the private sector, and look at the research, they are very happy because the hotels increased load factor, as well as travel agencies have significantly increased the number of organized tours.

With this in mind, don't you regret to step away? 

Of course it's a pity, assuming that I and our team has invested a lot of energy into this. I would be happy if the new leadership will achieve greater success. On the other hand I think that if people now want to do something in a certain direction, not necessarily one needs to work in the state structure. The private sector, too, can make a big enough contribution. Now in the context of the development of this industry we have some  weak points, such as education or improving the service sector. I think that today I have the opportunity to make a contribution from the private sector.

© HTN (Hvino Tour News)

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