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In the period of 2006-2013, Georgia registered a high growth (in terms of percentage) in the number of international visitors to the country. The number started to fall in 2014. The number of visitors to Georgia has a considerable impact upon its economy because it is directly linked to net revenues from tourism which constitute 7% of the country’s economy.

There were 4,491,039 visitors to Georgia registered in the first nine months of 2015 which is 6.7% higher as compared to the number of visitors registered in the same period of the previous year. Of note is that the number of visitors to Georgia in the first quarter of 2015 was decreasing as compared to the same period of the previous year and, consequently, the number of visitors in the first three months of 2015 (January-March) dropped by 2.3%. The number of visitors grew by 8% in the second quarter and by 11% in the third quarter of 2015.

FactCheck 

took interest in the tourism situation in previous years.

Graph 1: 

Annual Number of International Visitors to Georgia

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As illustrated by the graph, the lowest growth rate in the number of visitors since 2006 was registered in 2014 (2%) and in the first nine months of 2015 (6.7%).

International visitors are divided into three categories: transit passengers, tourists and one-day visitors.

Those visitors who stay in a country for more than 24 hours are considered to be tourists. According to the data of the first nine months of 2015, the growth rate of the number of tourists was 1.6%. In 2014, the number of tourists registered an 8% growth rate whilst in 2013 the growth rate reached 15%.

Table 1: 

International Visitors according to their Categories, 2010-2014 (thousand persons)

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 (9 Months)
Tourist 1,067 1,319 24% 1,790 36% 2,065 15% 2,229 8% 1,801 1.6%
One-Day Visits 696 1,012 45% 1,884 86% 2,138 13% 2,172 1.6% 1,602 -0.1 %
Transit 269 491 83% 755 54% 1,189 58% 1,114 -6% 1,808 31%
Total Number of Visitors 2,032 2,822 39% 4,428 57% 5,392  22% 5,516 2% 4,491 7%

In regard to transit passengers travelling through Georgia, their number increased by 31% according to the data of the first nine months of 2015. The third category of international visitors comprises those who stay in the country for less than 24 hours. Their number dropped by 0.1% this year.

FactCheck

also analysed the statistics of the revenues from tourism.

Graph 2: 

Tourism Revenues in 2006-2015

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The calculation of net tourism revenues is based upon the number of international travellers to a country. According to the data of the first two quarters of 2015, net revenues from tourism increased by 1.7%. We should note that data from only the first six months have been published so far.  However, the growth rate of net tourism revenues mimics the percentage growth of the number of international visitors to the country. Therefore, if the current trend remains unaltered until the end of 2015, net tourism revenues should increase by approximately 5%-7%. According to the data, the growth rate of net tourism revenues was 4% in 2014, 24% in 2013 and 56% in 2012.

The data from the first nine months of 2015 illustrate that the highest growth rate in the number of visitors was registered from the following countries: Kazakhstan – 30,521 (34%), Belarus – 24,315 (54%), the United Arab Emirates – 13,793 (814%), Saudi Arabia – 8,772 (84%) and Moldova 5,890 (33%). The highest influx of visitors usually comes from Georgia’s neighbouring countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. In regard to European Union member states, the number of visitors from these countries has increased by 10%.

Of particular note is that the strict visa regulations imposed in Georgia in September 2014 had a negative impact upon the number of visitors to the country. According to the regulations, Georgia revoked its visa-free regime with 24 countries whilst visa requirements with 99 countries were kept in place. Of these particular 99, Georgia has no diplomatic representation or consular establishments in 92 of them. As a result of the changes to the visa rules, the number of international visitors dropped by 2.3% according to the data of the last four months of 2014.

After five months from the introduction and enactment of the aforementioned changes, Georgia launched an e-visa portal which enables visitors wishing to visit Georgia for the purpose of tourism or business to obtain an electronic visa without having to visit consular establishments. The number of international visitors was decreasing from January until April 2015 whilst growth was registered from the beginning of April. Therefore, we can assume that this positive change was caused by the introduction of the e-visa system.

There was another novelty in this regard in June 2015 which determined the list of those countries whose citizens are allowed to come to Georgia without a visa and stay in the country for a year. Additionally, Decree N256 of the Government of Georgia set the list of those countries whose visas and residence permits enable a foreigner in their possession to visit Georgia without a Georgian visa and stay in the country for 90 days within a total period of 180 days. The last two amendments were adopted to simplify the new visa regulations enacted in 2014 and which contained numerous errors. Both the former (Bidzina Ivanishvili) and incumbent Prime Ministers of Georgia admitted the existence of errors in the visa regulations imposed in 2014.

If we analyse the trends of the last few months of 2015, we can conclude that the negative situation which followed the strict visa regulations imposed in 2014 is gradually improving largely due to the aforementioned two amendments. Even though these amendments have simplified visa procedures, the number of visitors from Iran and Iraq is still on the decline. According to the data of the first nine months of 2015, the total number of visitors from these two countries dropped by 40,000.

The difficult situation in the region throughout 2014 had a negative impact upon the number of visitors to the country. This trend was further abetted by the strict visa regulations adopted by the Government of Georgia which in turn caused a drop in the high growth rate achieved in the previous years.