Giorgi Sigua, Head of Georgian National Tourism Administration, also participated in the event. He met the secretary general and discussed UNWTO World Tourism Barometer that estimated the rate of growth of tourist arrivals in Georgia as the highest in Europe. Sigua made a speech at the Ministry, where he discussed trends and reforms of Georgian tourism.
He admitted that cooperation with UNWTO is crucial for Georgia, since UNWTO is a good platform for disseminating information on the country’s achievements. Sigua also underlined importance of UNWTO Tourism Highlight that ranked Georgia as one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in East and Central Europe. “This is important, for it catches the world’s attention,” said Sigua. “[UNWTO] publications are very reliable and influential information sources for the tourism industry.”
At this time tourist inflow has increased by 25% compared to the similar period of 2012. The diversity of Georgia is the key attraction, in spite of underdeveloped tourism infrastructure and rather poor services. The former management of Georgian National Tourism Administration believes this is due to the policy of the previous government. The Administration had been working without a head for six months this year, until Sigua was appointed in June.
The previous government of Georgia made tourism a priority, and spent a lot of money and effort on publicity abroad in both publications and on TV channels. Sigua shifted the strategy and said no to expensive advertising campaigns in the west; he focused on closer neighbors, including the post-Soviet space of Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Kazakhstan, as well as Turkey and China.
“I prefer to spend money on targeted markets where we have direct air flights and have visa-free regimes, and have no language barriers. I do not mind advertising Georgia on CNN; however, I believe that with that money [the cost of CNN ads] it is possible to achieve higher results in Ukraine and Poland,” he said.
As a matter of fact, Ukraine and Poland were also key priority markets for the previous government. However, the new administration added Russia to the priority list. Russian tourists flooded Georgia after former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili restored a visa-free regime unilaterally with Russia early in 2012. As a result, Russia is the third most highly rated country from which tourists come to Georgia.
Overall, Georgia hosted over 3 million tourists during the first eight months of this year, and expects 5 million by its end. Turkey is the leader, sending 1,109,920 people this year and growing by 18% compared to 2012. Armenia is the runner up: 820,043 visitors came to Georgia this year; however, the number more than doubled compared to last year. Azerbaijan sent 686,671 tourists, with just 15% growth. Russian and Ukrainian tourists lag behind other neighbors, with 515,989 and 79,542 respectively. However, the tourist inflow from these two countries showed remarkable growth: the number of incoming Russian tourists in Georgia increased by 54%, and the number of Ukrainian tourists by 69%. And the tourist rate also has increased from Poland and Iraq, by 72% and 931% respectively.