Autonomous Republic of Ajara expects tourists inflow to grow in 2017. The figure will reach about 1 million visitors by the end of 2016. Mamuka Berdzenishvili, head of Ajara Tourism Department, noted that amid changes in national currency exchange rate, no essential revision is recorded in terms of prices in the tourism sector.
In the future we expect the private sector to take rational decisions in terms of regulation of prices, he added.
Ajara Tourism Department has already started diversification of markets for attracting more tourists and added United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Latvia, Estonia, Germany and Iran to the list of target countries in 2017.
– How would you appraise the year of 2016? How successful was it for the region’s tourism sector development?
– The year of 2016 was successful for the region and the growing statistics of tourists inflow proves this assertion. According to the January to October indicators, inflow of visitors has increased by 4.7%.
This year was a special one in terms of unprecedented number of flights. Only in July, more than 300 flights were performed to Batumi from 22 directions. Flights were performed mainly from Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Poland, Israel, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, Iran and Russian Federation.
I would like to note that along with the operating airlines, in 2016 flights were performed by 7 new airlines, including Scat Airlines, Skybus, El Al Israel Airlines, Israir Airlines, Air Arabia, Bravo Airlines, Taban Air from Tel Aviv, Sharjah, Tebriz, Tehran, Mashada, Kuwait, six towns of Kazakhstan and Kyiv.
The year of 2016 was also a special period in terms of hotel infrastructure. High-level hotels opened in the region such as Castello Mare and Euphoria. Low-cost hotels were also unveiled. As a result, total of 1526 new beds were added to the Region’s tourism sector.
– According to our information, Ajara Tourism Department collects statistics itself, I mean the coefficient of hotels workload. How would you appraise the current situation in this respect, compared to the 2015 indicators? Have the coefficients increased?
– As I noted above, according to January-October indicators, tourist inflows to Ajara Region increased by 4.7% and totaled 435 585 visitors, including ratio of foreign tourists rose by 19.5% and totaled 295 269 ones. Our indicators are based on information supplied from accommodation facilities registered in the Region.
However, this year we started exploration of non-registered sector too, because a considerable part of our tourists stay at guesthouses and houses. According to the 6-month indicators, 264 511 tourists have stayed at non-registered hotels and guesthouses in Ajara. We expect this figure to considerably increase after we have calculated the 12-month indicators. At the end of the first quarter of 2017, we will have maximally realistic picture on how many tourists have visited Ajara in 2016. We expect this figure will exceed 1 million persons.
– Do you have information about prices? Amid GEL depreciation has the private sector increased prices and what are your expectations for 2017 in this respect?
– At this stage, we do not see essential change in prices. However, we would like that in the future private sector regulate prices based on changes in national currency to avoid dissonance between prices and quality of services.
– Correct marketing campaign is required to draw tourists. What results have you received in 2016 in this respect and what are your plans for 2017? Will you make focus on the same markets or you plan to penetarte new markets too?
-Increased inflow of tourists is a direct result of PR and marketing camapiagns that we and private sector have carried out in target countries. In 2016 we carried out active advertising activities in 11 target countries (Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Kazakhstan, Israel, Turkey). We prepared special programs for the region’s tourism potential, organized press and info tours, held Ajara Days and participated in international tourism exhibitions, conducted flashmobs, contests, press lunches, news conferences, promo campaigns, gastro tours and culinary masterclasses, arranged online and outdoor advertising campaigns.
We plan to implement these activities in 17 target countries. We have started market diversification process and added United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Latvia, Estonia, Germany and Iran into the list of target countries. We will finance PR and AD activities by 5 425 000 GEL from the budget.
– The department is implementing several important projects, but I would emphasize Secret Guest project. What results has the program brought in 2016? Has the service level improved compared to the 2015 statistics?
– We have examined 150 tourism facilities in Ajara thanks to Secret Guest program. The service has definitely brought positive tendencies.
Compared to results of the previous year, quantity of hotels with the best services increased by 10%, while quantity of hotels with good services grew by 11%. As to number of hotels with low-quality services, the figure has declined by 14% compared to the previous year. In general, quality of services has improved by 7% at hotels, marketing quality has grown by 13%, while management of conflict situations has improved by 14%.
Positive tendencies are recorded at food outlets too. Quantity of food outlets with best services has increased by 5%, while number of food outlets with good services has increased by 17%. As to food outlets with low-quality services, their number has decreased by 2% compared to the previous year. In general, conflict situations management at restaurants and cafes has improved by 13%.
– Nautical tourism is the most in-demand direction in Ajara Region. Has the appearance of a new resort increased an inflow of tourists to the Region?
– Goderdzi ski resort is very popular among tourists and I believe the tourist inflow will further increase. As I noted above, starting 2017 we will start diversifying markets and this signifies that we will advertise Goderdzi resort, as well as other tourism products in 17 target countries. Our research shows that a major part of the Region’s visitors is interested in highland zones and we expect them to give preference to Goderdzi ski resort.
In the future our PR strategy will be focused on making Ajara Region a yearlong tourism destination for all 4 seasons. Naturally, Goderdzi ski resort will play a special role in this respect.
– From which countries does Ajara Region host the most number of tourists? Is their interest related to gambling games tourism rather than other tourism directions?
– A major part of tourists come from Turkey, our neighboring country. Many factors precondition this reality and naturally, gambling business plays a special role. However, research of foreign visitors shows that (in April-June 2016) many Turkish tourists also give preference to visits in nature, culinary tourism and culture tourism. This signifies that Turkish visitors are also interested in intangible culture heritage, as well as other tourism directions.