Government Unveils Anti-Crisis Plan for Tourism Revival
Georgia should be among the first countries to restore the tourism sector in the nearest future, while being the first country in the region to do so, naturally, in accordance with the safety standards recommended by the World Tourism Organization, which we will receive in the coming days. Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia made this statement today during the session of the Economic Group operating within the framework of the Interagency Coordination Council.
As the head of the government noted, tourism was the first in line in terms of opening during the post-crisis period and receiving support, while support for villages and farmers will be presented next. The third sectorial topic will concern the presentation of support for construction and development, while the fourth will deal with anti-crisis activities in the field of education.
According to the prime minister, the government will present this plan within ten days.
"The first step of our anti-crisis actions concerns tourism. Tourism is the field that was hit first and hit the hardest as a consequence of the crisis. We helped the sector as much as possible when it was necessary to put out the fires. The next, essential step was to carry out an in-depth study of the situation, and the subsequent anti-crisis plan concerned supporting businesses and the private sector, as well as providing every citizen with social support. Now, we are moving on to the third stage, when we talk about the post-crisis management of individual sectors of the economy and the plan of their gradual and effective revival. We have already identified such sectors and in terms of emergency assistance, tourism was the first one from the perspective of post-crisis opening and support. Next, it will be necessary to support villages, our farmers, and the following presentation will concern the provision of support to villages and farmers. The third sectorial topic will concern the presentation of support for construction and development, which is also one of the most important constituent parts of our economic development and rapid growth. Anti-crisis activities in [the field of] education will be fourth in line; this has significant support from every one of our pupils and students and they should also be fully aware of the state's plans in terms of the anti-crisis management of education. We will follow this plan during the upcoming ten days. I would like to stress that we are talking about the post-crisis plan of opening and reviving the economy, rather than the plan that deals with the crisis itself, regarding which we have already held a meeting and presented the plan of social support for each of our citizens and private companies," Giorgi Gakharia stated.
According to the prime minister, global competition has begun between countries in terms of attracting tourists and further economic development, and Georgia should be among the first countries to restore the tourism sector in the nearest future, while being the first country in the region to do so.
"Today, we have gathered, as per tradition, within the framework of the Economic Council and we have a very interesting and important agenda. First of all, we will discuss the opening of the economy; additionally, we will discuss restoring intercity travel, and the main reason for our meeting is the discussion of the plan for the anti-crisis support of tourism, as one of the most important areas of the economy.
These are critically important issues for us as we have been fighting on two fronts at the same time for three-four months. The first front is the health and the lives of our citizens, while saving the economy, attaining progress, and opening the economy in an effective manner is the second. Every one of us is aware that global competition between countries in terms of attracting tourists, as well as ensuring further economic development has already begun and Georgia should unequivocally be among the first countries to restore the tourism sector in the nearest future, while being the first country in the region to do so. Of course, [this must take place] in accordance with the safety standards recommended by the World Tourism Organization, which we will possess in the coming days," Giorgi Gakharia stated.
The head of the government stated that the authorities have presented a six-stage plan on easing restrictions and reviving the economy, adding that the current epidemiological situation makes it possible to take certain steps relatively quickly.
According to the prime minister's assessment, this only increases the responsibility that falls on the authorities, all of our citizens, business operators, and, primarily, representatives of the healthcare sector.
"High-quality work carried out by the healthcare sector at a time when we begin easing restrictions and gradually opening the economy attains even greater significance. Even though we are fighting on two fronts - those of health and life, as well as the economy - today, it is the economy that is the top priority. This is the income received by the families of every one of our citizens and we are all obligated to be even more efficient. In this regard, I would like to call on every citizen to follow the basic rules that the virus and the pandemic have introduced in our lives -social distancing, face masks, rules of basic hygiene. Strict adherence to these rules will allow us to open the economy more quickly and effectively, as well as to be more competitive under conditions of global competition, in the fight that will begin in the near future in the field of tourism, as well as in every sector and area of economic development," Giorgi Gakharia stated.
The prime minister called on companies to consider that the subsequent stages of opening the economy unequivocally imply even greater responsibility on their part with regard to the rules of operation. "On our instruction, the Revenue Service has sent corresponding messages to every business operator regarding where they can obtain information on the regulations that apply to each sector (such as trade, production, and various services) so that they can be aware of these regulations. These regulations already exist in the Ministry of Healthcare - all kinds of protocols have already been drawn up and the opening of all economic activities implies full compliance with the new regulations that have been established by the government and the Ministry of Healthcare," the prime minister noted.
According to the head of government, traffic will be fully restored in Tbilisi on the 11th of May as a result of the good work carried out by doctors and the relatively normal figures from an epidemiological perspective; this does not mean that the curfew will be lifted, however. Traffic will be fully restored in Rustavi and Gardabani on the 14th of May and Marneuli will be fully open on the 18th.
"Given the epidemiological situation in Marneuli, it is necessary to conduct a certain number of tests and this is precisely why we need the extra time. Social distancing and face masks, especially in public places, as well as simply in the street, are a part of our life. This is the responsibility and the obligation that will provide us with the opportunity to open the economy quickly and effectively, without dealing with high risks. This is of great importance and given how responsible our citizens have been thus far, I would like to ask them and urge them to carry on with the same degree of responsibility. The fight against the pandemic is not over yet and we need a working economy, rather than just a good epidemiological situation, in order to attain a complete victory - this is our ultimate goal," Giorgi Gakharia stated.
Additionally, all kinds of production [will be resumed and] all types of retail and wholesale shops that have an entrance from the street and do not sell clothes or shoes will open from the 11th of May. The lifting of restrictions will not apply to shopping malls at this stage.
"It is the result of the responsible actions and hard work of our citizens and our doctors that we can accelerate the opening of certain sectors, while also accelerating the opening of the construction [sector] and all construction-related enterprises. This allows us to reduce the intervals between the stages and to open certain sectors ahead of time. There are certain concessions with regard to the financial sector, however you will be able to find this information, along with all the protocols and new stages of opening the economy, on the relevant governmental sources of information in the near future," Giorgi Gakharia noted.
According to the prime minister, tourism - in addition to being one of the most important driving forces of the country's economy - is a sector that constitutes a competitive advantage that can contribute to Georgia's economic development once the pandemic is over, in the post-crisis economy.
According to the assessment of the head of the government, the decision made by the Government of Georgia at an early stage to convert hotels into quarantine zones has provided the country with a great deal of experience in providing services to high-risk people.
"Today, when the World Tourism Organization is still establishing standards - standards under which tourism can be revived in European countries, for example - at a time when these standards have not been fully established, the decision that we made at a very early stage to convert hotels into quarantine zones provided us with a great deal of experience that is utilized today even by the World Tourism Organization. During the post-crisis stage, once the world has more or less overcome the risks associated with COVID-19 and people start crossing borders once again, Georgia will already possess experience on how to provide services to high-risk persons. This is no simple topic because given the risk of infection, the management of hotels requires various kinds of experience, knowledge, and expertise that many of our hotels have accumulated. As a result of this decision, 19,000 citizens have gone through quarantine zones in Georgia, which is quite a large number. These are the people who were repatriated by the government in an organized manner, or our citizens who entered Georgia via land borders. This was the conventional hotel service with its food blocks, transportation, and all the services that hotels normally provide. This is the experience and competitive advantage that we will definitely utilize and that is already being utilized by the World Tourism Organization," the prime minister stated.
Furthermore, the Government of Georgia is considering designating Tskaltubo, Gudauri, Sairme, Abastumani, Borjomi, and other resorts that have been positioned in the past as areas suitable for the rehabilitation of respiratory organs as tourist zones that are safe from COVID-19.
"We are considering this as well, as several critically important points of control are necessary for the revival of tourism. Primarily, this is the border - meaning both land and aerial borders - and the Ministry of Healthcare has already received instructions to bolster the control of every person crossing the border; and whereas quarantine procedures lasting 14 days or 24 hours were required until now, this procedure must be completed in one hour. The means and technologies required to achieve this already exist and the Ministry of Healthcare will resolve this issue in the nearest future. The next issue pertains to the management of hotels and the consideration of all the standards that are linked with the prevention of COVID-19; exactly the same applies to transportation. These are the main points where we need to manage risks under conditions of the revival of tourism," the prime minister noted.
In accordance with the plan of the Government of Georgia, the provision of domestic tourism services will begin on the 15th of June in Georgia. The country will be ready to receive foreign tourists from the 1st of June.
According to the head of the government, this will be achieved by creating safe corridors on land borders with neighboring countries, as well as by negotiating the possibility of creating safe corridors with the countries that are of interest to Georgia in terms of tourism.
"We will do this by creating safe corridors on land borders with our neighboring countries, as well as by conducting bilateral negotiations regarding the possibility of creating safe corridors with countries that are of interest to us in terms of tourism. These negotiations have already begun. We will achieve this goal and Georgia will be one of the first countries that will open its borders and infrastructure to receive guests from abroad," the prime minister noted.
According to the head of the government, certain measures are required to ensure that the tourism industry is revived in an effective manner, and the government will carry them out within the next month. Giorgi Gakharia stressed that the sector needs concrete assistance, including financial assistance, for it to be in normal shape and be able to receive guests from the 15th of June and the 1st of July.
The prime minister spoke about the measures that were developed through the joint efforts of the governmental team, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Economy, which aim at supporting the tourism sector at the stage of post-crisis economic revival.
"The tourism sector will be fully exempt from property taxes for 2020. This is a very important step for the sector. Furthermore, income tax payments will be deferred until the end of the year for companies operating in the tourism sector. We cannot promise full income tax write-offs but it will be possible to discuss deferment and future gradual repayment schemes. During the crisis management stage, we promised hotels with less than 50 rooms to subsidize their loan interest payments, which we did, and several thousand business operators and companies took advantage of this offer. Today, we are establishing a new norm - we will subsidize 80% of bank loan interest payments for the first 5 million GEL of loans for every hotel with an annual turnover of up to 20 million GEL, which will also constitute significant support for the development of the sector," Giorgi Gakharia noted.
The government will present a sectorial post-crisis economic plan in the nearest future, which is being developed with the support of international donors, as well as world-renowned economists.
"We are moving on to the stage of post-crisis economic management. Today, we are paying special attention to the sectorial direction. In terms of sectors, tourism will come first, followed by agriculture and support for farmers, followed by support for development, construction, and construction companies, and finally, followed by education. We will complete this plan by the end of next week. Of course, we will return to the finished Post-Crisis Economic Plan once again, which we are developing together with our international donors and with the support of international organizations and world-renowned economists. We will present this plan in the nearest future," the prime minister noted.
The prime minister thanked the people and agencies that were actively involved in the development of the anti-crisis plan on tourism revival, including the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development and Minster Natia Turnava, the National Tourism Administration, the Ministry of Healthcare, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the Parliament, Parliament members, and Tbilisi City Hall.