The FINANCIAL -- The history of travel company Caucasus Travel started with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Georgia in 1991. During the most difficult period of economic and social hardship, three people decided to establish a travel company to try to attract foreigners to Georgia. It sounded ridiculous to many people at the time, however, from today’s perspective it proves that having a goal and having patience are the main contributors to the success of any business. Caucasus Travel has turned into a brand name and a symbol of Georgian tourism. With its network of partners in over 100 countries, the company serves over 8,000 foreign tourists annually. This year the company expects a 20% growth in customer numbers.
“Caucasus Travel was founded in 1991. It was the first travel company established in independent Georgia. As is well known, there were terrible social and economic conditions in the country at the time. Georgia as a country did not even exist on the world map,” said Maia Kiknadze, Director General at Caucasus Travel.
As Kiknadze said, the tourism infrastructure was in complete ruins at the time. “We started building tourism in the country, literally from scratch. We were offering guests types of tours which did not require special infrastructure. We ourselves were travelling to the regions and training the owners of various guest houses in order to be able to provide an appropriate level of service to tourists.”
“Awareness of the country was a serious problem. Accordingly, we had to spend a lot of energy and resources on the country’s promotion,” said Kiknadze.
Caucasus Travel was the first Georgian travel company to have presented Georgia at an International Tourism Fair. In the initial stage Caucasus Travel employed only three workers. Currently, it is the largest and most successful company in the whole sphere.
“Since its foundation, the number of travellers at our company has been increasing year-by-year. The company has been growing in accordance. The only year when the flow of tourists was reduced was in 2008-2009. The August 2008 war with Russia was the reason for that. From 2010 till the present day, the company has been seeing 20-30% annual growth,” said Kiknadze.
Caucasus Travel hosts on average 8,000 tourists annually from various countries. As she said, the Caucasus region is becoming more and more popular in the world tourism market. However, the majority of the company’s customers are from the U.S., UK, Germany, Japan and Russia.
In 2014 the company hosted over 7,500 travellers. The figure was almost equal in the previous year.
Q. The number of international travellers has decreased in 2015. Has this been reflected in your company’s figures?
A. The peak tourist season in Georgia starts from May. However, from the current outlook we can say that the season has started quite well. We are observing dynamic growth in comparison with the same period of the previous year. We are optimistic that the trend will be maintained till the end of the year.
Q. Visa restrictions initiated by Georgian officials in 2014 caused problems for the entrance of some foreigners. Can it be said that the slump in tourist inflow in the first quarter of 2015 was down to this initiative?
A. Caucasus Travel is mostly working with countries whose representatives do not face difficulties in getting a Georgian visa. Accordingly, the company did not encounter any problems in this regard.
Hong Kong was the only location whose citizens the visa restriction had a big impact on, as they were required to get a visa. However, they were handling it with simple procedures at the border. So, there were some complications in this regard. However, since the introduction of the electronic visa, although it still needs to be improved, such difficulties have been removed from the picture.
Q. From which countries do you expect to host the largest share of tourists?
A. The list of the leading countries in 2015 will incorporate the U.S., UK, Germany and Japan. We also expect an increase in tourist inflow from both existing as well as new markets.
Q. Why do foreigners choose our region?
A. Over 70-80% of our customers are interested in cultural tours. They visit Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to study the historical heritage, local traditions and ways of life of these people.
Besides cultural trips, Caucasus Travel also offers corporate tours, wine, gastronomic, adventurous, archaeology and other specific types of trips.
Q. The level of competition on the Georgian travel agency market is quite high. What are the main competitive advantages of Caucasus Travel?
A. Caucasus Travel was the first private travel company to be founded in Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over the years the company has accumulated a huge amount of experience, and has created a network of partners in over 100 countries.
In 2016, the company will celebrate its 25th anniversary. The high quality of service, professionalism, and love of the job we do - have remained the preference of our company over this time.
Q. What are the main complaints of tourists and what needs to be improved in the Georgian tourism sector?
A. In general the main complaints are related to tourism infrastructure: road construction; the absence of sanitary arrangements on the highways; low level of service quality in accommodation and food outlets, especially in the regions.
Q. How active is Caucasus Travel in promoting Georgia abroad?
A. The company participates annually in over 25 international exhibitions and fairs, forums and conferences arranged in target markets.
We arrange introductory tours for professionals of this sector. We host the representatives of travel agencies and tour-operators from different countries.
Caucasus Travel regularly publishes and distributes promotional materials of the country and the company.
Q. What are the main challenges facing the Georgian tourism sector?
A. Despite the fact that over the years Georgia has been actively presented at international tourism fairs and runs advertising campaigns in different countries, its popularity as a tourist destination country is still low. The country’s tourism infrastructure and quality of service still remain a problem.
The absence of festivals and events in the country is also a significant issue.
Q. What are your expectations - by what percentage will the number of your customers increase in 2015?
A. As I mentioned, the season has started quite successfully. We are witnessing a rate of growth in comparison with the prior-year period. According to our preliminary forecast, the growth will be 20% this year, in comparison with 2014.
Q. Which innovations will you be offering your customers this year?
A. Caucasus Travel has implemented an innovative product - guaranteed trips for its customers. In 2015, during the tourist reason we will be starting scheduled trips to Georgia every Saturday. The trips will last for a week. This will allow individual travellers to travel to Georgia on guaranteed dates at affordable prices.
As for Georgian consumers, we promise that Caucasus Travel will continue to remain a symbol of Georgian tourism.