Mariam Kvrivishvili: “Tourist visits have recovered by 95% as compared to the pre-pandemic period.”
Verdict: FactCheck concludes that Mariam Kvrivishvili’s statement is TRUE.
In the first quarter of 2022, 1.208 million international travellers visited Georgia. Of this amount, 1.066 million were international visitors, including 845,000 tourists. The recovery figure reached 74.7% in regard to international travellers, 79.9% in regard to visitors and 95.8% in regard to tourists as compared to the same period of 2019.
Tourism revenues in the first quarter amounted to USD 795 million which in turn is 37.5% more as compared to 2019’s figure. Given the changes in the currency exchange rate and inflation, the revenue growth rate is naturally less, although still comparable with the pre-pandemic period. Taking into account the number of tourists and the dynamic of the growth of tourism revenues, FactCheck concludes that Mariam Kvrivishvili’s statement is TRUE.
The Deputy Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Mariam Kvrivishvili, stated the following when speaking about tourism: “We see that our country’s tourism industry, with a very good dynamic, has almost fully restored its pre-pandemic figures. According to the data of the first quarter, our country hosted over 1,200,000 international travellers which means that as of the first quarter, tourist visits recovered by 95% if compared to the same period of 2019.”
Prior to the pandemic, the number of tourists as well as the nominal amount of tourism revenues have been growing annually. In 2019, the number of visits of international visitors reached 9.358 million and of this amount, tourist visits were 5.080 million, one-day visits were 2.645 million and other entries of a non-tourism purpose were 1.632 million.
In 2020 the government expected more than 10 million international travellers and over USD 3.5 billion in tourism revenues. However, the pandemic and the closure of the borders changed everything, leading to an 80% contraction in the number of tourists. In fact, the borders were only crossed by truck drivers from the second half of March 2020.
Pandemic and COVID-regulations also persisted in 2021 where tourism recovery figures were 32% in terms of the number and 38% in terms of the revenues. The real recovery in the tourism industry started in 2022 when 3.653 million people visited Georgia for tourism purposes which meant a 72% recovery. The growth in terms of revenues was much higher. In 2022, tourism revenues reached USD 3.517 billion which is 7.6% higher as compared to 2019.
In the first quarter of 2023, some 845,000 visitors came to Georgia for tourism purposes. This is a 95.8% recovery figure as compared to the pre-pandemic period. The growth in terms of revenues is even higher. In January-March 2023, tourism revenues amounted USD 795 million which is 37.5% higher as compared to the same period of 2019.
Table 1: Tourism Statistics
Source: Ministry of Internal Affairs
If we convert revenues in GEL and consider inflation, the revenue growth rate will certainly decrease. In the first quarter of 2019, the GEL to USD average exchange rate was 2.68 whilst it was 2.61 in the first quarter of 2023. This means that Georgia earned nearly GEL 1.550 billion in tourism revenues in the first quarter of 2019 if calculated in the national currency. This figure is 34% higher at GEL 2.076 billion in the first quarter of 2023. Under rough estimations, GEL-denominated tourism revenues have almost not increased given the change in the exchange rate and inflation, although they increased enough to be comparable with the pre-pandemic figure. If we take the USD inflation rate into account, we will see that USD lost 18% of its value in the last four years which means that the growth rate is also positive in this case.
Apart from total sums, the countries of origin of tourists and the amount of money they spend in Georgia is also interesting.
In the first quarter of 2019, Azerbaijan was ranked first with 293,000 visitors and its share in the total number of visitors amounted to 22%. Russia was second with 254,000 visitors and a 19% share whilst Turkey and Armenia were ranked third and fourth, respectively.
As of May 2023, Azerbaijan has still not opened its land borders which were closed down during the pandemic. This fact is one of the important reasons that the number of visitors from Azerbaijan remains 86% less whilst their share dropped to 3.6% in total number of visitors despite the general recovery in tourism.
In the first quarter of 2022, Turkey was ranked first in terms of the number of visitors coming to Georgia. However, Russia outperformed Turkey in the remaining three quarters and became the top country of origin for tourists coming to Georgia in 2022. This trend continued in January-March 2023 with Russia’s share increasing to 24.1% with 257,000 visitors. Turkey is in the second position and Armenia is third. Azerbaijan was replaced by Israel in the top four.
Azerbaijan is virtually the only country from where the number of tourists has not yet come closer to the pre-pandemic figure. Apart from the top countries of origin, the number of visitors has increased by 2.5% (to 55,000) from the EU and by 13.9% (to 6,800) from the United States as compared to 2019.
Similar to the number of visitors, Russia is ranked first in terms of tourism revenues as well and accounts for an even larger 33.5% share. According to the clarification of the National Bank, 35.5% of Russian nationals residing in Georgia as of 31 March 2023 are assessed as individuals who have spent over one year in the country or who plan to stay for more than a year. These people are considered as residents and, therefore, their expenses were not included in the tourism revenue statistics. A similar approach was applied vis-à-vis 44.1% of Belarusian nationals and 23.7% of Ukrainian nationals who are currently in Georgia.
Graph 1: Tourism Revenues
Source: National Bank of Georgia
The facts in Mariam Kvrivishvili’s statement that 1.2 million international travellers visited Georgia in the first three months of 2023 as well as tourism visits having recovered by 95% as compared to the pre-pandemic period are both accurate. Although without Russia, tourism recovery would have been slower. Azerbaijan’s closed land borders also need to be taken into account as something for which Tbilisi cannot be blamed. Except for Azerbaijan, the number of visitors from most of the countries either reached or already exceeded the pre-pandemic figures.
The Deputy Minister of Economy did not mention the revenues which increased by 37.5% in nominal value. Given the USD inflation rate, this growth is almost halved and becomes zero considering local inflation, although it is closer to the pre-pandemic level. Given the accuracy of the figures and the positive dynamic, FactCheck concludes that Mariam Kvrivishvili’s statement is TRUE.