Covid-19 has been a major setback for travel across much of the world, but Georgia is optimistic that the unprecedented growth of its tourism industry will soon be back on track, with winter sports a key driver.
As the world edges towards the light provided by vaccination, with my country of Georgia’s programme getting underway this month, the tourism and hospitality sectors are eagerly anticipating a grand reopening.
Amidst the continuing pandemic depression, it is hoped that once international travel fully resumes, there is significant pent-up demand from tourists who have had to put global travel on hold. In Georgia, the first glimmers of hope for these industries are emerging, following an unimaginably difficult year.
Prior to the emergence of Covid 19, Georgia’s tourism industry was on the up and up. In 2019, the country broke all previous records for hosting international travellers, with nearly 10 million foreign visitors to our beautiful country. Income from tourists alone exceeded three billion US dollars in the same year and Georgia rightly has the ambitious goal of seeing 11 million annual international visitors adding 6.6 billion US dollars to the economy by the middle of this decade.
Despite the major setback the pandemic has presented, I remain confident of our ability to not only meet but exceed these targets.
My confidence is based on the remarkable transformations that have taken place within Georgia’s hospitality industry in recent years, of which I am proud Silk Road Group has been at the forefront.
The industry has expanded at a phenomenal rate. It was virtually non-existent in the 1990s, as the country emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union. International visitors were rare and accounted for a fraction of the country’s income. However, the decade up to the emergence of the pandemic has been a story of sustained success. It is the hallmark of a broader narrative around Georgia as a country that is an increasingly attractive place to do business from investors across the globe.
Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, it’s been heartening to see international confidence in Georgia’s long-term tourism potential remain strong. In our own business, our project to develop architectural landmarks, such as Tbilisi’s modernist Telegraph Hotel, currently being developed to a blueprint from by the world famous designers Neri&Hu, has been backed by 15 million US dollars of investment from Denmark’s IFU. This is just one example of how the world recognises Georgia as a major tourism hub in the making.
We have been at the forefront of bringing international brands such as Radisson to the country and delivering hotels across the country built to international design standards by world class designers such as Graft Architects, Michele de Lucci and Ingo Maurer. I am especially proud of our active role in the restoration of historic treasures like the Tsinandali Estate, with its growing international music festival. This part of a wider trend across the country in response to huge tourism growth, with the number of international travellers increasing nearly fivefold in the last 10 years, while the number of people employed by the industry grew to 158,000.
2023 Ski World Cup
Recent developments also offer optimism. Flights between Tbilisi and Dubai, a major source of international visitors, have now resumed. More recently, the Georgian government announced the opening of its borders to vaccinated Israeli and European Union visitors, of whom there are more each and every day. Furthermore, airlines are offering PCR testing at reasonable rates, as are we in all Silk Hospitality hotels which return results the same day.
Further to this, we have recently seen the return of competitive international sport to Georgia with the first stage of World Cup Ski Cross being held at the resort of Bakuriani, despite the ongoing pandemic. This has helped provide some much welcome profile raising for the relatively new Georgia ski industry, which is well placed to take advantage of skiers increasing desire for alternative, relatively untouched winter sports destinations.
I have been involved with the Georgian Ski Federation and National Alpine Team of Georgia for decades now, acting as the main sponsor for over 20 years. To see our efforts to build a winter sports industry in the country culminate in such a high-profile event is immensely rewarding. The efforts taken to develop and improve the Georgian ski industry are a key reason for why the FIS have entrusted us to host the 2023 Ski World Cup, a huge milestone for the country’s winter sports sector.
It is also demonstrative of a smart, cautious but proactive approach that favourably positions Georgia in the global tourism race that will inevitably ensue as global vaccination efforts continue. Despite the light offered by vaccination, the priority remains to ensure visitors’ feel safe and in as Covid-secure an environment as possible. By taking sensible precautions and proactively communicating Georgia’s increasing openness, I am confident that the country’s tourism industry has cause for optimism for the year ahead.