Discussion: “Development Trends of Tourism Industry in the South Caucasus”
In the international tourism market, Armenia and Georgia should be introduced by joint tour packages. Iran can also be included in that package because tourists may not be interested in visiting only one state. But simultaneously the infrastructures should be developed, beneficial and interesting packages should be introduced, the condition of roads and transport should be improved. The representatives of the tourism industry in Armenia and Georgia stated about this.

For tourism development in Armenia, it is necessary to increase the number of tourist visits to the countries of the region. If visits from Iran to Armenia increase every year, the picture is different in the case of Georgia. The number of visits from Armenia to Georgia is far greater than visits from Georgia to Armenia. In 2016, over 6.5 million visits were made to Georgia (the real number of tourists is about 2.5 million people), out of which 1.5 million were citizens of Armenia. Tornike Zirakishvili, Head of the International Relations Department of the Georgian National Tourism Department, said about this.

Generally, during the year of 2016, certain progress was recorded in Armenia and Georgia in the sphere of tourism. A record growth of tourists was registered in Georgia in 2016 where Armenia is among the top three by the number of visits. The number of winter visits to Georgia from Armenia also increased. Thus, the number of visitors to Georgia in December was 165000, which was more than in December 2015 by about 15 thousand.

According to the data of the National Statistical Service, 1,259,657 tourists visited Armenia in January-December, 2016. The index increased by 5.7% over the same period in 2015. 1,262,687 people left Armenia in January-December, 2016 for the purpose of tourism. The index increased by 6.3% in the corresponding period in 2015. In January-September 2016, the most of the foreign visitors to Georgia were from the neighboring countries. The list is headed by Azerbaijan by 1.17 million visitors. Armenian citizens are in the second place by more than 1 million visitors, followed by Turkey - 977,075 visitors.

Over the past year, tourism increased by about 3% in Georgia and the simplified visa regimes with EU, the US and other countries significantly contributed to the development of the field, Tornike Zirakishvili said at the same time mentioning that the main tourist visits are made by countries in the region - Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Tornike Zirakishvili (via video call from Tbilisi), Karine Davoyan, Director of the Association of Tour Operators of Armenia and Larisa Mkoyan, Member of the same association, participated in the discussion entitled “Development Trends of Tourism Industry in the South Caucasus” organized by the Armenian Office of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting(IWPR) jointly with the Public Journalism Club at Media Center on January 31. A representative from the State Committee for Tourism of the Ministry of Economic Development and Investment was also invited to the discussion but they could not attend the discussion because of the structural changes of the agency.

It is proposed in Armenia to develop the tourism industry jointly in the South Caucasus, including Iran in Armenia-Georgia joint tour packages. "We do not compete with Georgia, we should work with joint packages as a separate country is likely not be interesting for tourists," Karine Davoyan said, adding that Armenia has great potential in the tourism field, and can offer a culinary, climbing, agro and eco-tourism packages in addition to historical cultural tourism. “There are many ethnic Armenians in Georgia who have never visited Armenia, so this segment should be worked on and ethnic tours should be organized,” he added.

“Armenia and Georgia have many similarities. Both countries can be proud of their cultural heritage. We are not competitors, and must work together to achieve results," she said. Karine Davoyan said that the number of tourists coming to Armenia is increasing along with the development of infrastructures, highlighting the role of Tatev ropeway in this context.

It is necessary to use the opportunities of Iran, and offer Iran-Armenia-Georgia packages, Larisa Mkoyan, the representative of the same association, said. According to her, in addition to high prices and infrastructure, lack of funds for advertising also hinder the tourism development in Armenia.

 “Armenia should be better advertised in the international market, and the state support is necessary in order private companies can participate in international exhibitions. “I participated in an exhibition in Russia, and even older people who seem to know Armenia from the Soviet times, said that our country is not visible in the market," she said, adding that it is also necessary to increase and facilitate access to the aircraft.  

 “Georgian experience can be applied, for example, the launch of Georgia's Kutaisi Airport had a major role in tourism development. We proposed to conduct Gyumri-Isfahan flights. Gyumri Airport should not be limited only to "Pobeda" Airline entrance. It is necessary to develop this direction,” Mkoyan said.

If Armenia spends several hundred thousand dollars from the budget for developing tourism sector, this number is about 10 million dollars in Georgia, which then comes back in the form of visits of tourists and their spending. "More than 10 million dollars from the state budget is invested in the development of tourism in Georgia. The amount of money is spent on advertising, marketing, exhibitions and so on. The sum is returned in greater extent as about $ 2 billion annually enters Georgia from tourism,” she said.

Arshaluys Mghdesyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”

To contact the author please send an email to arshaluismghdesyan@pjc.am.

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