Interview with Sulkhan Ghlonti, Chairman of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara

Interview with Sulkhan Ghlonti, Chairman of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara

Interview with Sulkhan Ghlonti, Chairman of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara

The FINANCIAL -- Q. According to the statistical data of the current year, what countries do visitors mainly originate from and what are their numbers?

A. Taking into consideration the trends of recent years, the tourist season in Adjara has been extended and now begins in the month of April when the region starts to be visited by guests from different countries. In addition to neighbouring countries (from which the largest number of travellers come), positive trends are being maintained from European countries such as Germany (+21%); Poland (+32%); Estonia (+150%); Latvia (+30%); and Great Britain (+20%). The main goal of our advertising strategy is to attract as many European tourists as possible. The active advertising campaigns that we are promoting since 2017 on the BBC, Euronews, Deutsche Welle, and Germany’s internal rated TV channels RTL, N-TV, are related to that strategy.

Q. What about tourism infrastructure? What types of infrastructural projects are planned for Adjara?

A. Tourist infrastructure is constantly evolving in Adjara. New tourist attractions are added annually to the region and new tourist routes in the mountainous part of Adjara. Batumi Boulevard and the Botanical Garden meet the tourist season with renewed infrastructure, and Mtirala National Park as well, where the new tourist attraction ‘Rope Park’ has just opened. The road to the National Park has been fully rehabilitated. As for the Batumi Boulevard, the adaptation of beach infrastructure is in the process for people with disabilities. In the Botanical Garden this year, a Japanese maple tree part and educational square will be added.

Tourism routes and products are under developement in mountainous Adjara, where tourists are being offered new directions each year. Overall, up to 15 tourist routes in all the municipalities of Adjara were marked with a 124% increase in the number of tourists last year.

Tourist infrastructure is actively developed in the mountain ski resort ‘Goderdzi’ with 19 ongoing investment projects worth GEL 150 million. The resort has a very large prospect for attracting tourists from around the world at any time of the year.

This year, we have the novelty of bird-watching tourism infrastructure. In the village of Sakhalvasho, which hosts ecotourists and birdwatchers rom 25 countries around the world during August-October, an observation platform has been established. Tourism infrastructure is also planned for the Chvana Gorge and the Chirukh-Goderdzi tourist route, where the tourism development concept is on the move.

We have made the largest (half billion) investments in Kobuleti, where it is planned to build a green city over 180 hectares with a golf stadium; soccer stadiums; tennis courts; various-sized swimming pools; recreational zones; bicycle, treadmill, and leisure zones; and playgrounds. Also, there will be a 250-room high class hotel; one of the largest spa centers in Europe; a variety of catering facilities; conference rooms; apartments; and villas. The project also envisages the building of a shopping center, parking area for 500 cars, and a helicopter landing strip.

Construction of Batumi’s football stadium is also in the phase of completion, which will contribute to the development of sports tourism in the region.

Q. Is the entrance of any big brand planned for Batumi?

A. Hotel infrastructure in Adjara is tailored to all tastes and categories of tourists. At this stage 390 sites for the region and 23,143 beds are registered. As you know, we have 6 international brands in the region, one of which is the Best Western Premier, which officially opened this year. As for new brands, the region will soon be reached by the Courtyard by Marriott, Le Meridien, and Ramada Resorts, which will naturally be adding additional beds and prestige to the region.

Q. Different cultural events are planned annually for Batumi’s tourism development. In what way do such activities increase tourist footfall?

A. Such types of events are an aditional motivation and means of having fun for our guests who know in advance that during their stay here, except for traveling they can enjoy interesting entertainment and cultural events to get the best possible positive emotions and impressions. Travellers are always searching for information about what they can do while traveling to a desired destination. Being able to get complex tourist services, marine-mountain tourism products, and cultural-entertainment events, will increase their likelihood of traveling to Adjara.

Q. How is the safety of tourists in Batumi ensured, and what are the measures taken to guarantee security control?

A. Adjara Patrol Police and Emergency Management Divisions work in coordination and will start intensive from 1 June on special mode. More than 200 seasonal rescuers will be responsible for ensuring the safety of tourists on the coastline. Emergency medical service crews will also be mobilized. Several preparatory meetings were held in the Adjara Government with members of the Coordinating Council, the main purpose of which is to protect the safety of tourists and locals in the region and prepare for the summer season. So all guests security will be maximally protected in Adjara.

Q. What are your expectations about the coming summer tourist season?

A. We expect that we will have an active and successful summer tourist season in Adjara. We are looking for tourists from different countries, but especially from our target countries where we are actively running advertising campaign. For the first time this year we will have direct and charter flights from European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Azerbaijan. This year will be distinguished by large-scale concerts in the Black Sea Arena, where mega stars and groups will be performing. The success of the season is indicated by the number of reservations made in high-class hotels, ranging from 80% to 100%. As for the summer season, it started unofficially from April, but will officially take start on 15 June with the ‘Summer Festival’. Last summer alone, 760,000 international travellers visited the region and this year we expect this to increase by a minimum of 3%.

Q. How do you attract tourists to the region when there is such competition on the tourism market? Essentially, why should a tourist visit Adjara?

A. All of this requires a long, promotional advertising strategy that will effectively influence the decision-making process. It is due to the merit of our strategy and complex advertising that recognition of our country and region is increasing in our target countries. Our potential visitors are being informed about our region by TV channels such as the BBC, Euronews, CNN, Deutsche Welle, online advertising on social networks and media platforms. Also, they see the same advertisements when moving in the streets of the city they live in, on municipal transport, or in tourist agencies where they are offered our tourism packages. All of these advertising activities that have been jointly held over the years are affecting people, and they are choosing to travel to our country and region as a result.

As for the competition, we have what many countries can not offer to tourists. We have sea, mountain, hospitality, culture, traditions and delicious cuisine. As our research shows, tourists like a combination of all of this, and that is why they choose to travel with their friends and family to our country.

Q. What are the prospects of the mountains of Adjara? What activities are being undertaken for the development and popularization of Adjara’s mountainous region?

A. All the projects that we are implementing in the mountains of Adjara are very important, and the goal is to turn Adjara into a tourist destination for all four seasons. According to our polls, authentic environment and culture attracts foreign tourists while traveling in the region. Last year, we had a 124% increase in traffic to mountainous Adjara, and in total, 250,000 tourists traveled our tourist routes.

Tourists interested in traveling to mountainous Adjara are offered interesting eco-tourism and adventure tours. Tourist route marks are completed in the Khulo municipality where travellers can cross 3-day circuits without having to travel by main road. These include:
- The Chikhuri-Khikhani-Goderdzi circular route;
- The Khulo-Tago-Skhalta pedestrian route.

Tourists willing to travel to mountainous Adjara will be offered tours by guides trained by the Adjara Tourism Department in the past two years. This is a novelty in terms of improvement of service in the region. It is especially related to the resort Goderdzi, where English language courses have been held for two years already for the owners of guest houses and catering facilities. At this stage the third phase of English language is underway at the resort. At the same time, practical trainings have been conducted for cooks at Khulo and Goderdzi tourist attractions.

In terms of mountainous Adjara, its popularization is in an active stage of the process in our target countries, as well as within the country too. Consequently, the approach is changing gradually. Now guides have the possibility to take guests to the resort Goderdzi, Machakhela Gorge, Merisi Gorge and other new tourist routes. In turn, the Adjara Tourism Department together with the tourism products are working to create new tourism products for each municipality as we try to promote the authentic, unique culture and nature of mountainous Adjara.

By Eva Bolkvadze