Prior to the pandemic, Georgia’s income from international travel was increasing annually. In 2019, Georgia’s tourism revenues reached USD 3.2 billion. According to the statistics of the Georgian National Tourism Administration, tourism accounted for 8.4% of the country’s entire GDP in 2019. Tourism revenues are of particular importance for countries with developing economies, similar to Georgia, which need large amounts of capital for development. At the same time, foreign currency received from the tourism industry is an important source for decreasing the current account deficit. The pandemic-related stringent restrictions in 2020 led to a near collapse of international tourism and a sharp drop in domestic tourism.
The Georgian National Tourism Administration publishes statistics about international travellers. An international traveller is a non-resident individual of any age who travels between different geographic areas for any duration and purpose. The term encompasses tourists, people who used Georgia as a transit country and migrants (who stay in a country for more than six months for study, work, family reunion, etc.). International visitors are non-resident travellers of 15 years of age and older who accomplished visits from their usual places of residence to Georgian territory whilst a tourist is a visitor who spent a night on Georgian territory.
In 2020, the number of international travellers dropped by 81.3% from 9.3 million travellers to 1.7 million as compared to 2019. The number of visits accomplished by international visitors decreased by 80.4% from 7.7 million international visitors to 1.5 million international visitors. The total number of tourists in 2020 was one million whilst there were five million tourists in Georgia in 2019.
Table 1: International Travel Statistics in 2014-2020
Source: Georgian National Tourism Administration
The number of visits accomplished by international travellers in the first half of 2021 was one million which is 31.7% and 83.3% less as compared to 2020 and 2019, respectively. In the same period, the number of international visitors was 961,000 which is 27.1% and 81.5% less as compared to 2020 and 2019, respectively. In the first eight months of 2021, the top four countries in terms of international visitors were Turkey (193,000), Russia (108,800), Ukraine (91,600) and Armenia (89,300).
At first glance, the situation has deteriorated as compared to the previous year according to the data of the first eight months of 2021. However, an analysis in terms of different quarters is important. In particular, the absolute majority of the visitors who entered Georgia in 2020 came during March-January when the pandemic-related stringent restrictions had not yet been imposed; however, the travel sector shrank drastically in the following period. Of note is that the travel sector has a growth dynamic in 2021 in parallel with the lifting of the restrictions. Of particular importance is the situation in the summer months which make up the active tourist season. In summer 2021, the number of international travellers was 725,000 and the number of international visitors was 655,000. As compared to summer 2020, this constitutes a nearly 400% growth. However, on the other hand, the decrease as compared to summer 2019 is substantial and constitutes nearly 76%.
Graph 1: Number of International Travellers in 2019-2020, Thousand Persons, January-August
Source: National Tourism Administration of Georgia
Only the first quarter figures of 2021 are currently available in terms of economic data. In this period, income from international travel amounted to USD 54 million which is 87% less as compared to the same period of the previous year because the pandemic crisis had not yet been unleased in the first quarter of 2020. However, on the other hand, revenues in summer 2021 exceeded the revenues of the other quarters of 2020 which is indicative of good dynamics because the first quarter usually lags behind other quarters in terms of tourism revenues. However, the recovery pace is naturally not satisfactory since the current economic crisis cannot be overcome rapidly and effectively without the tourism industry. Tourism recovery is inseparable from the pandemic context and, therefore, depends on a number of factors such as the moderate relaxation of the restrictions and sound deregulation, the meticulous observation of COVID-19 safety rules, the acceleration of the vaccination process, etc.
Table 2: Incomes from International Travel (USD Million).
Source: National Bank of Georgia