21.06.2013. The number of foreign visitors in Georgia increased 30% from last year and the expectation is that by the end of 2013, growth will total 37%, this according to Giorgi Sigua, the newly appointed head of the state-run Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA). His prediction is that this year more than five million foreign visitors, including 700, 000 visitors from Russia, will come to Georgia.
The position of the GNTA’s head was vacant for five months after Maia Sidamonidze, the previous head of the GNTA resigned in January of 2013.
On June 18, Dimitry Kumsihvili, the Deputy Economy Minister introduced Sigua to the media and business community representatives, saying that Sigua was an appropriate choice for this position. “He speaks five languages and we hope that he will be able to implement innovative projects together with the experienced group at the GNTA, as well as promote Georgia as a tourism destination worldwide,” Kumsishvili said.
Sigua had been living in the United States and returned to Georgia soon after the October 1 election. He worked in the parliament’s administrative department.
While Sigua made a presentation and shared his vision and goals, he said that tourism will be one of the priorities for the government. “We don’t have oil or other resources to be a rich country, but we have our history and traditions, which is our treasure and we should introduce it to the world,” he noted.
“We have ambitious plans. Today tourism’s share of GDP is around 5% and we plan to double it in the coming years,” Sigua said, adding that the GNTA will create a council of advisors who will help generate ideas and provide advice on how to advance the sector.
Emphasizing the importance of these future plans, he said that one of his priorities will be to work out tourism legislation, create regional organizations and a convention bureau.
“Now we have a very centralized administration, which sometimes creates problems when there are problems in the regions that require immediate solutions. So from 2014 we will set up regional administrations, which will solve problems on the spot,” Sigua said.
“We plan to join the international convention bureau network. This means that if any large companies decide to organize an overseas meeting, the bureau will offer Georgia as an attractive venue starting from 2014,” Sigua explained.
He also provided an overview of the situation in the sector, pointing out that saying that “unfortunately we have poorly developed services, people can’t even smile in restaurants and we also problems with the toilets.” To overcome these problems Sigua offered to create a tourism quality mark, a department which will study the infrastructure throughout the country and provide advice and recommendations.
“We will do our best to help to develop infrastructure and services further,” he promised.
Aiming to help foreign visitors receive information easily, the GNTA will create a hotline which will work round’ the clock. “At the first stage, the hotline will be only provided in three languages: Georgian, English and Russian, and we hope to add other languages soon,” Sigua said.
According to him, his administration will work to diversify all existing tourism products and will add several others. For instance, Sigua believes that to develop adventure tourism, a special emphasis must be placed on horse riding tours and hiking tours, as they are very interesting and will attract more foreign tourists. “Developing agro, farm, wine and inclusive tourism will also be our priorities,” Sigua said.
“Our administration will help local farms to develop bio-centers in which foreign visitors can stay overnight and participate in the production process for instance,” he said. They will also try to provide inclusive services. “There is a hotel in Aspinza (south Georgia) which has all the necessary equipment to host people with disabilities. If we create such infrastructure in other regions, that will be a major step forward,” he said.
In addition, the GNTA plans to open seven information centers throughout Georgia– these include Kazbegi, Poti, Bakuriani and Ananuri.
Sigua also underscored the significance of domestic tourism. “I suppose most of our people have not seen 20% of the country yet, so I think we will offer several events to promote local tourism,” he said. According to him, the GNTA also plans on organizing tours for regional residents to see other regions and important landmarks in Tbilisi.
Speaking on the marketing issue, Sigua said that they will participate in international tourism fairs, as well as organize marketing campaigns in Kazakhstan, Israel, Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states. “We have already participated in 10 international exhibitions and plan to take part in four other international fairs by 2013, including Japan, Great Britain, Spain and Poland,” he said.
According to the new strategy, the GNTA plans to organize information tours for reporters from Russia, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States, Scandinavian countries and the Benelux states. “I think that these media representatives will travel to Georgia and will tell their relatives, friends and family about the country. This way we will attract more visitors instead of simply paying money for televised advertisements, which are very costly,” Sigua said.