Friday, November 8, 2013

Travel and tourism to Georgia: making sense of definitions and numbers

By Giorgi Bregadze and Revaz Geradze

08.11.2013.Travel and tourism is one of the largest and fastest-growing service industries globally. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the industry’s direct contribution to World GDP in 2012 was US$ 2.1 trillion (2012 prices) and it supported 101 million jobs. Taking account of its combined direct and indirect impacts, WTTC assesses Travel & Tourism’s total economic contribution at 9% of World GDP in 2012, 1 in 11 jobs, 5% of total economy investment and 5% of world exports (Economic Impact of Travel and Tourism 2013, Annual Update, WTTC)

The tourism industry is of particular importance for Georgia, which, like many other developing countries, is short on physical capital and technical skills but is very well endowed with historical sites, original traditions, pristine landscapes and a culture of hospitality. While unlikely to serve as an engine of long term growth, the tourism industry’s added advantage for a country like Georgia is that it can absorb some of the surplus labor currently under-employed in the low skill and low productivity agricultural sector.

In recent years, the Georgian government has been making conscientious efforts to promote Georgia as a tourist destination. What we would like to do in this short article is to make sense of the various definitions and numbers that are floating around. Who are “tourists” as opposed to “travelers” and “visitors”? Are border crossings statistics a reliable indicator of tourism dynamics? What other data are available to us and what can we tell based on these data?


According to the methodological guidelines issued by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), “travel” refers to the act of moving between different geographic locations for any purpose and any duration. A”visitor” is a traveler taking a trip to a main destination outside his/her usual environment (defined as the geographical area within which an individual conducts his/her regular life routines) for less than a year, for any main purpose (business, leisure or other personal purpose) other than to be employed. UNWTO defines visitor as a “tourist” (or overnight visitor) if his/her trip includes an overnight stay, or as a same-day visitor (or excursionist) otherwise. In other words, visitors are a subset of travelers, and tourists are a subset of visitors. These distinctions are very important for the compilation of tourism statistics.


Two methods of gathering tourist statistics are used by the Georgian authorities. The first method is employed by the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs and is based on border crossings data. Accordingly, a tourist is a traveler crossing the Georgian border and staying in the country for more than 24 hours.

As is obvious from these data, in 2011 and 2012 Georgia experienced a very rapid increase in the number of international travelers. The number of tourists has been growing in a somewhat slower fashion, leading to a reduction in the tourists’ share in the total number of international travelers from 53% in 2010 to 40% in 2012.

The second method, based on UNWTO recommendations, is employed by the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA). The number of tourists in this case is calculated on the basis of the international tourism survey designed by the GNTA and administered by ACT for a sample of international visitors aged 15 years and above who are leaving Georgia. Interviews take place at all types of border crossings (land, airport, railway and port).

The survey includes several filters and identifying questions which allow separating “visitors” from “travelers” and “tourists” from “visitors”. The following key identifying question is asked: concerning the current trip, did you spend a night in Georgia? Those international visitors who provide a positive answer to this question are counted as tourists. Accordingly, in the first nine months of this year (January-September 2013) the share of tourists in international visitors stood at 62.5% (2 536 853)

Is the number of tourists increasing?

What is clear from the available data is that the number of international travelers is certainly on the rise. In the first ten months of 2013, the number of international travelers increased by24% over the same period of last year, in line with the positive trend of recent years. The number of tourists has also increased, at least according to the border crossings data compiled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Unfortunately, the same cannot be concluded from the GNTA data, due to the fact that no comparable data are available for 2012.

The role of a common border

The table below provides data for January-September 2013 on the share of tourists in international travelers from major source countries – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Poland, and Russia – based on the GNTA survey results. (Data for other countries is not sufficiently reliable due to limited sample size). As we can see, the share of tourists is higher for countries that don’t have a common border with Georgia - Poland (99.3%) and Ukraine (88.9%). For countries that do have a common border with Georgia, the share of tourists is considerably lower, ranging from 53.4% for Turkey to 64.1% for Russia.

The simple truth behind these data is that Georgia’s roads, railways, and sea ports perform a crucial transport corridor function for its landlocked and politically and economically isolated neighbors.


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