It is well-known that the tourism industry is an important priority for Georgia. In the pre-pandemic period, the number of international visitors and the income from international travel have been growing annually. The recovery of the tourism field is an important pre-condition for overcoming the pandemic crisis.
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 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 led to a near collapse of international tourism and a sharp drop in domestic tourism.
The Georgian National Tourism Administration has published statistics for international travel for 2021. An international traveler 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 2021, nearly 1.88 million international travellers came to Georgia which constitutes a 7.7% growth as compared to 2020. Among other things, the number of visits of international visitors reached nearly 1.7 million which was 13.7% higher as compared to 2020 whilst the number of tourist visits was approximately 1.5 million which was 45% more as compared to 2020. However, the number of visits of international travellers dropped by 79.9%, the number of visits of international visitors decreased by 77.7% and the number of tourists by fell 69% as compared to 2019 (a pre-pandemic year). Of interest is that the number of tourist visits increased as compared to 2020 whilst the number of single-day visits and non-tourist visits dropped substantially which is supposedly attributable to traveller caution vis-à-vis the ongoing pandemic.
Table 1: International Travel Statistics in 2014-2021, Thousand
Source: Georgian National Tourism Administration
On the other hand, the absolute majority of visitors who came to Georgia in 2020 did so in the course of the first quarter (mostly January-February) when unprecedentedly stringent pandemic-related restrictions had not yet been introduced in Georgia. The dynamics of international visitors, divided by months, is shown at Graph 1. There were 1.12 million international visits made to Georgia in the first quarter of 2020 which is 2.8 times higher as compared to the number of all other visits (392,928) during the rest of the year. Therefore, for a better understanding of the pandemic picture it would be more relevant to take a look at other quarters. According to the data of the second, third and fourth quarters of 2021, the number of international visitors increased 4 times as compared to the same period of 2020 which is attributable to lifting the restrictions and the reduction of virus-related uncertainty.
Graph 1: Quarterly Dynamics of International Visitors in 2019-2021, Thousand
Source: Georgian National Tourism Administration
According to the data of the National Bank of Georgia, Georgia’s revenues from international travel were nearly USD 1.2 billion in 2021 which is 130% higher as compared to 2020 although 62% less as compared to 2019.
Generally, revenues from international travel tends to be less in the first quarter of a year as compared to the whole year whilst it was followed by lifting restrictions in the subsequent quarters of 2021. Therefore, statistics in the second, third and fourth quarters were more substantial.
Naturally, the aforementioned effect in terms of visitors, where the unrestricted first quarter of 2020 was considered, is also relevant vis-à-vis revenues. In particular, revenues increased nearly 2.2 times in 2021 as compared to 2020 whilst revenues increased 10.4 times according to the data of the second, third and fourth quarters alone which is an impressive figure considering the base effect. However, the situation obviously remains unsatisfactory as compared to the pre-pandemic period and revenues from travel are equal to the average travel revenues in 2011-2012.
Graph 2: International Travel Revenues, USD Million
Source: National Bank of Georgia