Georgia is a country with a high culture in hospitality. However, not only do Georgians love and know how to receive visitors from abroad, but also they are not averse to spending their holidays abroad. In increasing frequency, residents of Georgia prefer to spend their holidays in other countries. Europe and Southeast Asia are favourite destinations. Exotic tours are gaining more and more popularity. Moreover, celebrating New Year’s Eve abroad has become a tradition for many Georgians. Ketevan Gogitidze, an expert in the field of tourism and the head of ‘Green Travel’ company talks about the way the ‘outbound tourism’ works, the problems that tour operators encounter and much more in an exclusive interview with newcaucasus.com.
— How come you have decided to start tourism business? What was the reason that made you choose tourism?
— Three years ago, I suddenly realized that I was afraid of routine. At that time, I was working in a bank on a quite good position. However, I was sitting inside four walls and I realized that that was not what I had always wanted to do. I decided to take a chance and, apparently, I was right. Nowadays, I am doing interesting work that, without any exaggeration, fills me with delight. I like to bring people joy of new discoveries, adventures and journeys. I am keen on making them a little happier. Remember, Ivan Bunin said: ‘there are three things that make a person happy: love, an interesting job and an opportunity to travel.’ I completely agree with him. In the beginning, we mainly specialized in inbound tours around Georgia, that is, we were receiving guests: we offer tours in the country and we can arrange an interesting trip to any corner of Georgia.
— Which countries do tourists come from?
— Mainly these are tourists from CIS and Baltic countries. Georgia is not something unfamiliar or undiscovered for inhabitants of the Post Soviet countries. However, each trip here is full of new discoveries and surprises. Besides, spending holidays in Georgia is relatively cheap. All of this draws visitors to Georgia. Moreover, residents of Europe are getting more and more interested in Georgia. In addition, a lot of tourists from the USA come here as well. The Americans have been always interested in the country, but nowadays, it is getting massive. We know very well what our guests expect and offer them appropriate services and satisfy all their needs so that they receive only positive emotions from their holidays.
— What tours in Georgia are most popular?
— We offer all thematic areas. Wine torus are very popular. In particular, visitors love taking part in Rtveli (a process of collecting grapes and the first stage of the winemaking – editor’s comment). As a rule, tourists go to Kakheti, which is a center of the Georgian viticulture and winemaking. Holidays in the mountains (in summer and in winter) are also very popular, as well as holidays at the sea. We also offer gastronomic, recreational and health-improving tours. We do our best to fulfill thematic tours to full capacity. We include traditional wine tasting, master classes in Georgian cuisine and Georgian dances, that is, we offer everything so that tourists could experience real Georgian culture.
— How long does it take a tourist to experience Georgia and its culture well?
— It depends on a person (laughs). In fact, one week is enough to see mountains, get acquainted with the main landmarks and take part in a wine tour. Georgia is a compact country with a large choice of tourist destinations. Tourists love it because they can go to the rugged mountains and luxuriate under the hot sun on the sea beach within few hours.
— How do Georgians prefer to relax? What destinations do you offer to Georgian tourists?
— Outbound tourism is our main sphere of activities. ‘Green Travel’ is glad to offer tours to all corners of the Earth literally. First of all, it is the whole Europe. In addition, it is Asia, Africa (except Central and Southern parts) and America. Recently we have started arranging tours to the countries of Latin America and Caribbean. I would like to mention that this appeared to be a quite successful direction, which is in demand with our compatriots. Nevertheless, Europe remains the most popular destination – it is not far, it is relatively cheap and safe. Georgians are also keen on Asia – Goa, Bali, Maldives, Sri-Lanka, Vietnam, etc. Nowadays, these destinations are very popular. At that, our clients are interested in both beach holidays and cultural tours. They often ask for something more ‘exotic’. That is to say, South-East Asia for Georgian tourists does not mean only white beaches and azure sea. Oceania is another area that increases in popularity. Georgians are often interested in spending vacation on the island somewhere on ‘the edge of the world’.
— What do Georgian tourists prefer more: quiet vacation or extreme?
— In general, our citizens are interested in a relaxing holiday; extreme vacation is not so popular though it depends on what extreme means. Many Georgians love active vacation – diving, alpinism, rafting. However, they would not go to the mountains with only one box of matches in order to ‘survive’. Our people do not like ‘wild’ holidays, they love good hotels, nice beaches and well-arranged tour-programmes. At the same time, they love having fun while on holiday. Often friends go on a journey by large companies. For instance, we can offer extreme tours, but, to be honest, such tour packages are not in demand. In fact, our company ‘Green Travel’ can offer more interesting tours than our clients request. We also work with corporate clientele. As a rule, these are large Georgian companies. We offer them interesting prices and actions.
— Do you please your clients with any exclusive offers?
— Certainly! People who have chosen us and who trust us are valuable for us. We quite often arrange special offers for our clients. We make interesting suggestions and prices. We do have particular actions for our loyal clients. In addition, we arrange thematic evenings and invite everyone who is interested. These are the so-called ‘Days of Open Doors’, in order to raise awareness among our customers. We provide them with opportunities to find out interesting for them information concerning tourism. There are a lot of themes. For instance, we tell them what documents they need to go to this or that country and how to prepare them properly. We arrange thematic weeks according to particular countries and destinations. That is, we not only sell tour packages, but we are also engaged in the process of raising awareness of our citizens. We inform our customers about the best season for each place, activities they can do there, landmarks to see and how to plan the tour appropriately. We do this all on our own and free of charge. Besides, ‘Green Travel’ arranges trainings according to certified programmes for those who wish to deepen their knowledge in the sphere of tourism.
— How often do you arrange such evenings? Where and how can a client find out about the event? Do you trail it?
— In fact, we do conduct such evenings quite often, for example, sometimes twice a week. Any person can come and talk to us and other guests in a casual atmosphere. We will inform them about the latest tours, about the plans for the nearest future and provide them with some news in tourism sphere. Certainly, we trail in advance concerning the conduct of such evenings on our webpage in Facebook.
— Who is more difficult to please – Georgian or foreign tourists?
— In fact, it is more difficult to please foreigners because when you are a part of this country, you want to show it in the best possible light; you want to do it in a way, so that those people would fall in love with your country. In this respect, you are more worried. This is such a weakness. Although, in principle, if you are experienced in this business, it is not that complicated.
— What is the most difficult thing in this business?
— It is the influence of external factors. These could be both economic and geopolitical factors, which are almost impossible to predict. Despite the fact that all customers are different, they often act as a single body: at first, one destination enjoys massive popularity, then the mood of the masses changes dramatically and you should respond promptly to these moments. The volatility of the currency, tensions between the countries, which reflect on people’s moods and other factors, complicate the business as well.
— Is the competition high in the tourism industry?
— Yes, indeed! The market is full of companies and organizations that offer these or those tourist services. However, it is worth noting that there are no mechanisms to regulate the quality of work in this sphere. Unfortunately, some ‘unscrupulous agencies’ misuse this situation and due to their actions Georgian tourists are losing their trust in all travel agencies.
— What do you mean under the actions of ‘unscrupulous’ companies?
— There are frequent cases when a travel agency takes money in advance from a client for a particular tour package and then abolishes it. After that, a person has to deal with this problem, trying to get his money back. There were cases when travel agencies sent their client on holidays, and then it turned out that the hotel never received money and reservations from the travel agency. People had to stay in the streets and had to look for the hotels themselves. Often people could not get to their flights due to the same reason, though they had paid for the tickets… In such cases, travel agencies do not hurry to return money since they claim that they had fulfilled their part of the agreement. While buying a tour, tourists have to choose travel agencies carefully. They should examine the activities of the company and find out what other customers say about the agency.
— Tell us about your team.
— The team of the travel agency «Green Travel» consists of energetic, young professionals who approach creatively to their business. As soon as we are completely certain in the quality of a particular service, we offer it to our customers. Our employees represent the formula of our success. A professional team with huge experience will help you to make a proper choice and will ensure the reliability throughout the entire tour.
Tamar Kavtaradze, exclusively for newcaucasus.com