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The former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, posted a video of himself on Facebook addressing the people of Kakheti. In his video address, Mr Saakashvili emphasised that under his presidency Kakheti became a centre of tourism whilst now the number of tourists to Sighnaghi has decreased.

Mikheil Saakashvili stated: "In light of the rising number of tourists to Georgia, Sighnaghi is visited by fewer tourists. This is wrong, right? This means that there was not sufficient care and something was done incorrectly."

FactCheck

tried to verify the accuracy of the statement.

Rehabilitation of Sighnaghi started in 2007 on the initiative of Mikheil Saakashvili. During the first year of the work, Sighnaghi’s old central districts were restored which was followed by the total renovation of the rest of the town. On 27 July 2009, Mr Saakashvili attended the opening presentation of the first stage of Sighnaghi’s renovation and stated:  “Soon, Sighnaghi will become a leading centre for Georgia’s tourism industry.”In the period between 2007 and 2010, GEL 22 million was spent on the town’s rehabilitation. As a result of the renovation work and an advertising campaign, Sighnaghi has indeed become one of the most important tourist spots in the country.

According to the Sighnaghi Tourism Information Centre, 4,761 visitors came to the Centre for assistance in the period of January to 22 August 2016 which is almost 50% more as compared to the same period of the previous year.

As stated by Sighnaghi Tourism Information Centre Specialist, Zurab Siprashvili, 2,358 foreign visitors frequented the Centre for the special tourist route in 2011. There were 4,560 visitors to the Centre in 2012, 5,809 in 2013, 4,170 in 2014 and 6,549 in 2015 (the Centre does not have statistics earlier than 2011).

Zurab Siprashvili also stated that the number of tourists coming to Sighnaghi far exceeded the aforementioned figures with all of the family guesthouses (more than 50) in Sighnaghi almost fully booked owing to the high number of tourists.

FactCheck

also contacted hotel owners in Sighnaghi in order to get information about the number of tourists. Two of their comments are as follows:

In her interview with FactCheck,

Nana Kokiashvili stated: "The number of hotels in the town increased because almost everyone opened a family guesthouse with tourists staying at these places. This is perhaps the reason why someone thinks that the number of visitors has dropped. I have been running my family guesthouse since the beginning of Sighnaghi’s rehabilitation and I daresay that the number of tourists is rising annually."

"I used to have seven rooms in my family guesthouse. Due to the rising number of tourists, we had to add three more rooms," Ana Elizbarashvili said in her conversation with FactCheck.

According to research on domestic tourism carried out by the National Statistics Office of Georgia, there were 60,700 visitors (aged 15 years and older) in total in Kakheti in 2014 (the research was launched that year). In 2015, the region was visited by 70,100 visitors whilst there were 62,400 visitors to Kakheti in the first quarter of 2016.

Table 1:

 Number of Visitors to Kakheti in 2014-2016

2014  2015  2016 (I Quarter)
60,700 visitors 70,100 visitors 62,400 visitors

At the present moment, the National Statistics Office of Georgia does not have any other data in regard to the number of visitors on a regional basis. According to the statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, the number of visitors, including tourists (visitors who are staying in the country for more than 24 hours), is rising annually.

Conclusion The statement of Mikheil Saakashvili that the number of tourists visiting Sighnaghi has dropped is not confirmed by the information obtained from the Sighnaghi Tourism Information Centre. According to those data, the number of tourists who consulted the Centre for tourist information is rising annually. There were 2,358 tourists to the Centre in 2011 whilst this number almost doubled to 4,761 in the period of January to 22 August 2016. In their conversations with FactCheck,

hotel owners in Sighnaghi have also denied any decrease in the number of tourists. There are no other statistics in regard to the number of tourists visiting Sighnaghi and, therefore, it is not clear where Mikheil Saakashvili obtained the information he used to make his statement about the decrease in the number of tourists. At the same time, the former President was right to highlight the rising number of tourists coming to Georgia overall.

FactCheck concludes that Mikheil Saakashvili’s statement is FALSE.

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