On 17 February 2015, on air on Rustavi 2 TV, the former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, discussed the decrease in tourism in Georgia. Mr Saakashvili named the irresolute effort of the government, its inconsistent policy and the new visa regulations as contributing factors behind the decline. During the interview he stated: "We had a 57% growth rate in tourism in 2012 whilst this year it registered a 7% decline."

FactCheck

took interest in the accuracy of the statement.

First of all, we will clarify that a ‘visitor’ is an individual who travels from his permanent place of residence to a specific destination, stays there for less than a year and is not employed. Those ‘visitors’ who spend at least one night at a specific location are qualified as ‘tourists.’

According to the information obtained from the Georgian National Tourism Administration, there were 4.4 million visitors to Georgia in 2012 which represents an increase of 57% as compared to 2011. There was a 2% growth in the number of tourists registered in 2014. However, in January 2015 the number of tourists dropped by 3% as compared to the same period of the previous year. In February 2015, the number of tourists dropped by 1% as compared to the same period of 2014.

Table 1:

 Number of Visitors to Georgia

Year

February

Difference

 January

Difference

2012

185,113

226,964

29%

2013

291,659

5%

280,023

23%

2014

294,043

0.8%

319,499

14%

2015

290,929

-1%

309,467

-3%

There was a 36% increase in the number of tourists to Georgia in 2012. In 2014, the increase constituted 7%. Mikheil Saakashvili made his statement on 17 February 2015. According to the official information of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, the number of tourists shrank by 7.5% in January to February 2015 as compared to the same period of 2014.

Table 2:

 Number of Tourists to Georgia, 2010-2014

Year

Number of Tourists

Change in Terms of Percentage

2010

1,067,338

2011

1,318,968

23%

2012

1,789,592

36%

2013

2,065,296

15%

2014

2,218,050

7%

After the introduction of the new visa regulations beginning from September 2014, Georgia slashed the number of countries whose citizens were entitled to a visa-free entry from 118 to 94. At the present moment, citizens of 99 countries are required to obtain visas to enter Georgia. Of this number, Georgia has no diplomatic representation or consular services in 92 countries. In order to analyse how the visa regulations affected the decline in the number of visitors, we selected the top five countries whose citizens have been visiting Georgia in the greatest numbers.

Table 3: 

Increase in the Number of Tourists in September-December, 2012-2014

 Year

Iran

Iraq

Egypt

China

India

2012

25,011

4,487

1,437

3,792

3,193

2013

25,244

0.9%

15,850

25%

2,708

88%

3,129

17%

2,386

33%

2014

3,799

-84%

437

-97%

430

-84%

1,811

-42%

1,728

-27%

As illustrated by Table 3, the number of visitors from the aforementioned countries decreased significantly after the new visa regulations were imposed. There was a 25% increase in the number of visitors from Iraq in 2013 whilst that number dropped by 97% in 2014.

FactCheck

took interest in the extent to which the new regulations have affected the year 2014 overall. We analysed the data of the top 30 countries which constituted approximately 98% of all visitors to Georgia in 2014. There were 5,307,882 visitors in total from the top 30 countries whereas the number of visitors from the countries having had their visa-free regime terminated equalled 150,965. In 2014, there were 5,404,702 visitors in totalwith78,729 visitors from Iran, Iraq, China, Egypt and India. In the last four months of 2014, there was a four-fold drop registered in the number of visitors from the aforementioned  five countries.

  Table 4: 

Change in Terms of Percentage in the Number of Visitors from the Top 30 Countries, 2012-2014

Country

2013

2014

Country

2013

2014

Turkey

3%

-10%

Kazakhstan

40%

34%

Armenia

40%

2%

UK

13%

11%

Azerbaijan

15%

19%

France

19%

-2%

Russia

49%

6%

Belarus

62%

48%

Ukraine

65%

13%

Bulgaria

1%

-1%

Iran

-4%

-51%

Italy

14%

7%

Iraq

493%

-47%

Egypt

251%

-78%

Israel

29%

6%

China

-11%

-3%

Poland

80%

25%

Netherlands

10%

8%

Germany

16%

8%

Philippines

14%

-22%

USA

-6%

5%

Czech Republic

32%

-5%

Greece

11%

-3%

Latvia

11%

23%

India

-9%

25%

Lithuania

6%

92%

Austria

21%

6%

Moldova

36%

14%

Uzbekistan

-1%

-37%

Spain

25%

14%

It must be noted that the number of visitors from visa-free countries has also decreased. For instance, there were 322 less visitors from the Czech Republic, 616 less visitors from Greece, 161,600 less visitors from Turkey and 1,596 less visitors from the Philippines. In total, 78,000 less visitors came to Georgia owing to the recently imposed visa regulations as compared to 2013. Additionally, the number of visitors from those countries whose citizens can come to Georgia without visas dropped by 166,245.

Tensions in the region are also partially to blame for the dwindling number of tourists to Georgia. Notwithstanding the fact that the number of tourists from Ukraine and Russia was higher in 2014 than in 2013, the growth rate in terms of percentage has been significantly lowered. The number of tourists from Russia rose by 6% in 2014 whilst the increase was 49% in 2013. This number was 85% in 2012. The same is true in regard to Ukraine. The number of Ukrainian visitors rose by 65% in 2013 whilst this number was only 14% in 2014.

Conclusion

The number of tourists who came to Georgia rose by 36% in 2012. According to data for January to February 2015, the number of tourists dropped by 7.5%. Therefore, Mikheil Saakashvili is right to assert that there was a 7% decline in the number of tourists at the beginning of 2015. In regard to the same data for 2012, there was a 57% rise in the number of visitors which includes the number of tourists as well.

After the new visa regulations came into force, the number of visitors from countries now required to obtain visas to visit Georgia decreased. In total, the regulations resulted in a 1.6% decline in the number of visitors. Additionally, the number of visitors whose countries are still entitled to a visa-free regime to come to Georgia dropped by 3%. As illustrated by the data given above, the new visa regulations are one of the contributing factors in reducing the number of tourists to Georgia.

FactCheck concludes that Mikheil Saakashvili’s statement is MOSTLY TRUE.

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