25.06.2013. Dimitry Kumsishvili, First Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia shares the new government's vision and plans for development of the country's tourism sector.
Q: Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has said that tourism will be a significant sector but that its place will not be as prominent as it was before. What will that change mean for the tourism policy?
A: Tourism is a priority field for our government. As you know, the development of this field helps increase employment, facilitates the development of small and medium sized businesses, boosts budget revenues, and encourages regional development.
There are fundamental changes underway in this direction: a council of advisors has been set up that unites representatives of businesses- a step which aims to increase their engagement in the decision-making process; work is in progress on the tourism development strategy whereby, taking into account recommendations provided in the framework of EU twinning project - an institutional building tool -, a law on tourism will be drafted and works will be launched to establish regional management organizations. Changes are planned in the marketing area as well.
Q: What is the main challenge to further developing international tourism? What is your perspective on domestic tourism? What can provide a quick incentive for a long-term impact?
A: Direct flights and affordable air tickets are urgent for the development of international tourism. Lately, the entry of low budget air companies has considerably decreased ticket prices, leading to an increase in the number of visitors.
Concerning domestic tourism, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), local tourism is growing at a faster pace than international tourism and in many developed countries domestic tourism has greater importance in terms of economic growth and job creation. Hence, like international tourism, domestic tourism is also a priority for the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA).
Q: From 2000 to 2012 over four million non-residents crossed into Georgia, according to official statistics. The validity of those statistics has often been questioned, however. Do you plan to change how the number of foreign visitors is calculated and, if so, how will it affect the numbers?
A: The Georgian National Tourism Administration has always followed the recommendations of UNWTO, which clearly distinguishes the concepts of international traveler, visitor and tourist. The cause of the criticism was a lack in understanding of the terms...
According to UNWTO, "A traveler is someone who moves between different geographic locations, for any purpose and any duration." A visitor, however, "is a traveler taking a trip to a main destination outside his/her usual environment, for less than a year, for any main purpose (business, leisure or other personal purpose) other than to be employed by a resident entity in the country or place visited. A visitor (domestic, inbound or outbound) is classified as a tourist (or overnight visitor), if his/her trip includes an overnight stay, or as a same-day visitor (or excursionist) otherwise."
The statistics published by the GNTA are provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and take into account the dynamics of international travelers, not visitors/tourists. GNTA is actively focused on improving the methodology for counting.
Q: GNTA's report illustrates that neighboring Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia lead in the number of visitors traveling to Georgia. What does this trend signify for the tourism sector in Georgia? What efforts are being made to increase visitors from other countries?
A: During the past three years, apart from those three countries, we have seen growth in the number of travelers from the Russian Federation as well, which brings the share of all neighboring countries to 90 percent, according to the first three months of 2013. In order to change this trend and diversify the markets, promotion campaigns have been carried out in target markets, for instance in Israel and Poland.
Q: After the new government came to power, some large infrastructure projects were removed from the agenda. In an April 16 interview with Rustavi-2 TV, President Mikheil Saakashvili said that this has a negative impact on tourism development and that, in Svaneti, the tourism season was a failure. Do you agree?
A: The development of Mestia as winter resort is one of our main priorities. Last year, the interest towards Mestia was generated not only thanks to promotional events, but also by the fact that the region offered a new profile to consumers. In order to maintain that interest, it is important to constantly develop the resort's infrastructure and improve the service quality. This year we aim at supporting a balanced development of tourism in the regions.
Sound attention will be given to advertising Georgia on the international markets.
Simultaneously, various events will be organized in Georgia's touristic locations, to boost both international and domestic tourism and ensure the distribution of economic benefits.
Georgia's tourism sector has great potential. Throughout Georgia, there are a lot of infrastructure projects interesting for investors.
The current government's efforts are concentrated on improving the investment environment and increasing investment.
To give you an example, in the framework of the Kakheti Regional Development Project, a $75 million investment has been earmarked for the rehabilitation of infrastructure (arranging public spaces and cultural heritage zones, reconstruction of facilities, road rehabilitation, construction of information booths) and institutional development (promotion of tourist sites, developing tourist routes, creating qualified personnel, and more).