Resume: The worldwide pandemic declared as a result of the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) caused a significant drop in the number of tourists in the Ajara Autonomous Republic.
The Department of Tourism and Resorts of the Ajara Autonomous Republic could not fully implement the projects envisioned in the 2020 budget. In April 2020, the autonomous republic’s government enacted changes in the budget of Ajara and adopted an “emergency budget.” According to the legislative changes, funding decreased for Ajara’s Ministry of Finance and Economy. As a result of cutting expenses for different programmes and sub-programmes, appropriations for the Ministry’s Department of Tourism and Resorts have increased. Additional appropriations in the amount of GEL 7,300,000 were allocated for measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Since February 2020 when Georgia reported the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, the tourism sector switched to a new mode of operation. The country started to implement step-by-step restrictions at the borders for foreign nationals. Simultaneously, measures were taken to protect the health and safety of foreign nationals in Georgia.
After lifting the state of emergency in Georgia, the Department of Tourism and Resorts unveiled the following priorities: the development of services and elaboration/implementation of new tourism service standards amid the pandemic, the development of tourism products and the establishing of small infrastructure along touristic routes as well as marketing the region and working to promote it on international and target markets.
The common standards currently in place to ensure both the tourism launch and the safe hosting of visitors were designed by the Ministry of Health’s Labour Conditions Inspection Group with the involvement of the Department of Tourism and Resorts. Over 180 accommodations in Ajara region have been verified and they are fully in line with the standards.
The Department of Tourism and Resorts is currently working on a project to stimulate domestic tourism. The project envisions the creation of tourist attractions in Ajara’s various municipalities as well as activities observing the social distancing rule aimed at Georgian citizens coming to Ajara for vacation.
The Head of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of the Ajara Autonomous Republic, Tinatin Zoidze, stated: “We continue to host our guests in Ajara in a non-standard way. We have facilities which are in line with the safety standards required for a vacation in Ajara. We continue the development of new touristic products and offers for domestic tourists.”
In April 2020, amendments were enacted in the budget of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Ajara. FactCheck has already written about the changes. The priorities set for the Department of Tourism and Resorts are as follows:
Selection, establishment and management of quarantine spaces in Ajara region – To ensure the safety of citizens and prevent the mass spread of the novel coronavirus, the Department of Tourism and Resorts, together with Ajara’s Ministry of Health and other government bodies, selected 45 quarantine spaces. The process of retraining hotel personnel as well as the adaptation of the hotels and services pursuant to the recommendations issued by the Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Disease Control has also started.
Service development as well as the elaboration and implementation of tourism service standards amid the novel coronavirus – This means producing and implementing recommendations needed in the service sector for safe tourism. The planned training format was changed and a special training programme, taking into account the coronavirus circumstances, has been adopted. This training programme is intended for guides, guesthouses, dining establishments, hotels and other organisations providing tourism services. In addition, with the aim of safe hosting amid the coronavirus pandemic, respective standards and information trainings have also been introduced. A special web-platform, which would enable tourism sector personnel to obtain electronic training materials and electronically fill-out training registration forms, is being developed. Furthermore, to advance the professional expertise of tour guides, work is underway to produce a bilingual and practical textbook on Kobuleti and Batumi thematic tours.
The Ministry of Health’s Labour Conditions Inspection Group with the involvement of the Department of Tourism and Resorts designed standards for the launch of tourism and safe hosting. Currently, over 180 accommodations in Ajara region have been verified. According to the Department of Tourism and Resorts they are fully in line with the standards.
Work is also in progress in regard to the development of touristic products and the establishment of small infrastructure along touristic routes. There are ongoing and planned media campaigns to stimulate domestic tourism. The Chirukhi touristic infrastructure project, which envisions the development of distinguished, characteristic, unique and different touristic products and infrastructure projects, is currently under preparation. A survey on the tourism potential of Kobuleti villages has been completed and a marking project for two new touristic routes was scheduled. Another survey on the tourism potential of villages adjacent to Khulo has also been completed and a marking project for four new touristic routes is next in line. There was another survey to study the tourism potential of the waterfalls near Uchkho (Khulo municipality) and there are plans to establish canyoning and waterfall landing activities this year. There is an ongoing tourism potential survey in villages of the Keda and Khelvachauri municipalities as well as a project planning to mark trails connecting municipalities.
A project to make a trail to climb to the Khikhani Fortress is also under preparation. In order to simplify hiking along the tourist trail, the Tourism Products Development Agency plans to expand the uphill path as well as install railings and ladders. In addition, there are also plans to establish attractive and motivating signposts for tourists as well as activities and small infrastructure items to mark the touristic trail. The marking process for the Chirukhi Mountain – Khikhani Fortress – Goderdzi Pass alpine trail has also been completed.
The Tourism Product Development Agency of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Ajara is preparing a project to create a touristic product on a Laz theme in the area of Gonio-Kvariati-Sarpi. There is ongoing work for a laboratory study of the buried forests and the nearby mud baths close to Khulo municipality’s Goderdzi Pass and the territories adjacent to the village of Beshumi. Infrastructure project work envisioned by the Chvani Gorge’s tourist development plan is in progress. Ajara’s Ministry of Finance and Economy is carrying out work to build a visitor centre as a part of the Machakhela Gorge’s (Khelvachauri municipality) ethno-village project and establish infrastructure envisioned by the Zemo Chkhutuneti project. The Batumi discount card – Batumi Card – which offers discounts from 15-50% for over 60 touristic facilities has also been updated.
The Marketing and International Relations services of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Ajara continue to work with partners from target countries. The popular European travel platform European Best Destinations named Batumi in the Top-10 of Europe’s safest tourist destinations. Tbilisi, Corfu, Zagreb, Warsaw, Vienna, Vilnius, Gdansk, Riga and others are also named among the Top-20 safest travel destinations together with Batumi.
The Department of Tourism of Resorts of the Ajara Autonomous Republic is currently carrying out 15 projects with a total value of GEL 8,613,000.