Kazakhstan is becoming a top target country for the Georgian National Tourism Association, due to its high GDP. The list includes Russia and Oman.
Kazakhstan is one of the largest investors in Georgia. In 2008 Georgia attracted the largest FDI from Kazakhstan, despite the recent war with Russia. Kazakhstan financed several Tbilisi hotels, including the Radisson, built and upgraded energy export facilities (e.g. the oil terminal in Batumi), grain terminals, and other infrastructure. Other investments include tourism development in Georgia’s Adjara region and energy systems in Tbilisi.
There are currently seven large Kazakh companies operating in Georgia: Kaztransgaz, Kaztransoil which owns Batumi Port, Kazmunaigas service, Rompetrol, BTA and Halyk Bank, and the airline Air Astana.
“Kazakh travel companies have big interest in Georgia. However, Georgian travel agencies in Kazakhstan are too weak compared to their Turkish competitors, who are regularly visiting Kazakhstan and meeting local travel agencies there, arranging info tours,” said Magiya Temirova, GM at Kazakh travel company Magic Travel.
“If tour operators are interested in attracting Kazakh tourists, they should be more active,” she suggested.
“I think that Georgian travel agencies can independently manage to attract foreign tourists without any government support,” said Temirova. “Contact between tour agencies is a key factor. My friends visited Georgia three years ago and they were so satisfied with their trip. However, three years have passed and we still discuss Georgia but are not progressing in concrete steps. Contrary to Georgians, Turks are doing all the work and we have the results accordingly. Turkey and Georgia are located in the same category; you have the same resources and can attract many tourists. Maybe some Georgian companies are working in this direction but I have not heard or seen anything in this regard,” said Temirova.
On their side, representatives of Georgian travel companies stated that attracting foreign tourists is the government’s obligation. Giorgi Sigua, the newly appointed Head of the GNTA, said that they are ready to support local travel agencies. In his words, tourism has big potential and they should use this opportunity.
“I do carry the responsibility and fulfill my obligation of promoting Georgia abroad. In terms of press tours we regularly invite journalists from different countries. We will be arranging a presentation of our country in Kiev. We will be accompanied by the representatives of local travel agencies. Georgian tourism has big potential and travel agencies should use this opportunity. We are ready to support them,” Sigua said.
Arranging info trips is viewed as an important step by another Kazakh travel agency, Astana Best Travel. ”When people see it with their own eyes they can better describe it to others. Two years ago Finland arranged many info trips for travel agencies due to which the number of Kazakh tourists significantly increased in this country,” said Bagdat Duskinova, Director at Astana Best Travel.
“Georgia should use its resources. With the hectic lifestyles nowadays there is great demand for relaxation. Demand for religious trips started increasing recently too. So, you can arrange religious trips. Georgia has a wide range of options for travellers so you can arrange different packages of trips: religious, health, mountain, historical and others. Arrange various trips and we will offer them to our customers. We are lucky to have good bilateral relations between our countries and it would be good to widen them further,” said Duskinova.
“We frequently have tourists that are bored with the standard Turkey holiday, they do not want to fly far and go through a difficult visa process, so in this case Georgia is the best option. Sometimes trips to Georgia are cheaper than a package inside the country. Next week some of our consumers will be flying to Sairme, Georgia. Their total expenditure including ticket price will be USD 3,000. Our clients would be charged the same amount for various domestic resorts. We have very similar traditions and this aspect also attracts Kazakhs,” she said.
Astana Best Travel hosted an Indian delegation recently. When Duskinova asked what they liked in Kazakhstan they responded the Georgian cuisine which they tasted in Almaty.
“During the Soviet Union there was a big demand for Georgia as a travel destination. After the collapse of the Union the demand dropped and Turkey started booming. Presently we are observing that people who have visited Turkey many times have got bored with it. They now want something different, more than just beaches and high class restaurants. So, based on this I would say that during the past two-three years the demand for Georgia has started increasing,” Duskinova said.
“The Troy valley is at present an empty place full of grass, but it still attracts many visitors. Georgia is an ancient country. You might have legends but you need to advertise them,” said Duskinova.
“Georgia should pay more attention to its advertising via different sources,” Duskinova believes.
Top destinations for Kazakh travelers include: Turkey, Europe, Greece, the UAE, Malaysia, Thailand, Montenegro, Croatia, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka.
Temirova, Magic Travel, highlighted the expensive air ticket prices to Georgia as a big problem. “Another issue,” she added, “is that we do not have the charter flights that were promised to be scheduled”.
Magic Travel was founded in 2009. The company is mostly serving representatives of the Government. Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic is a very popular destination for Kazakh officials.
“Wizzair, which started with just one trip per week and now has 14 trips, is a good example of how low cost airlines are in demand in Georgia,” Sigua, GNTA, told The FINANCIAL. The annual budget of the GNTA for 2013 is GEL 6,400,000. Georgia expects to host 5,500,000 international travellers this year, out of which only 57% will be tourists.