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Georgia – Meeting hub of Caucasus Region. Interview with Tornike Zirakishvili

Alongside with the forum preparation process, our partners gladly talk about Meeting industry development, latest trends and prospective.
We are happy to have Mr Tornike Zirakishvili, Head of Convention and Exhibition Bureau of Georgia – GCEB as a respondent this time.
Enjoy the interview and stay tuned for further news!

1. What is the main objective of Georgian Convention and Exhibition Bureau and when did it start?

The GCEB started operating 2 years ago, becoming an important platform for cooperation between private sector and the government, in order to attract more MICE tourism related events to Georgia. It is a truly important sector for the country, and we already have a strong private sector to support initiatives and marketing of Georgia’s potential. Within the last 2 years we already have gained 44 Members within the Bureau, 24 Hotels, and 18 most prominent DMCs and PCOs in Georgia, and two large scale venues. Overall we aim to make Georgia a hub for meetings in the Caucasus region and bring the idea of Meeting in Georgia to the world.

2. Since the GCEB started, what has been the most difficult challenge in country promotion as a MICE Destination?

As a small country, Georgia still has a low awareness in the world, although the country has strong propositions. It overwhelms both leisure and business travelers that visit, as they find new destinations with great scenery, high level of safety, hospitality, etc. For example, Georgia is the 9th in the globally by World Bank’s “Doing business” index, and most people are not aware of this fact. Increasing the awareness of the country has been one of the biggest challenges, but we have made considerable progress, the visitors are fascinated with the amazing nature, people and hospitality that Georgia can offer.

3. What are the difficulties you face from the stakeholders of MICE Industry, what should be improved in your opinion?

I think we are doing a great job to bring new ideas to the development of the MICE segment in the country and the stakeholders from the private sector have been very supportive. One things that is a big change and that each country overcomes, is a holistic approach to development of the MICE segment. To seriously develop the MICE segment, the stakeholders need to see each other as partners rather than competitors, and we have seen this process taking place in Georgia already. Today, our members are more united than ever before, and are supporting the development of the country’s image in becoming a hub for the Meeting industry in the Caucasus region. This is truly a challenge that we have been overcoming successfully.

4. In your opinion, what are the most important values of Georgia to attract people from the MICE industry? Do you see the perspectives in Georgian MICE Industry, do we have the capacity of hosting future big congresses, events or exhibitions in future?

The ease of accessibility makes Georgia an attractive place to consider for future meetings. Visa free regime with 98 nations,  no additional visa requirements for any holder of a valid US, UK , Schengen, Korean or Japanese visas, the online portal for visa application, build up the image of Georgia as one of the most welcoming and comfortable countries to travel to. Besides this fact, Georgia is truly a value for money proposition and is one of the safest countries in Europe. Finally, the modern hotels and infrastructure add to the attractiveness of the destination. We are already capable of hosting the events up to 500-600 people, which is already 85-86% size of the business events market, but the planned infrastructural developments are already showing that we can be hosting up to 1,000 people meetings in Georgia within the very near future.

5. What experience does GCEB have in participating in international workshops and exhibitions? How profitable do you find it? Do you consider the ROI from each of them?

The Convention and Exhibition Bureau of Georgia, on behalf of Georgian National Tourism Administration has been actively participating in the major exhibitions such as IMEX, in Frankfurt and IBTM, in Barcelona, for couple of years already. We have also taken an initiative of promoting Georgian on IBTM Arabia for the last two years. Recently our major marketing strategy has been slightly changing, we have focused more on B2B events, as we find them more prospective for future MICE tourism development. Although, IMEX and IBTM will still remain on our Agenda. As for the Bureau, the driving factor of attending such major events is the feedback that we receive from the private sector stakeholders, and the satisfaction rate is really high in this case.

6. What are the top Markets for Georgian MICE Industry and what are the ones you want to attract the most

Considering that MICE is very geographically limited in many terms, we are focusing on prospective, but relatively close flying distance markets.

Currently we are looking at: Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Germany, Poland, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Kuwait. With additional focus to be placed on: Austria, the Baltic States, Czech Republic, Greece, Qatar, Iran, Bahrain, and India.

7. What has been the brightest occasion in Georgian MEETING Industry in last years and is there anything that is planned ahead in future?

We had some major success stories and the most significant from them was Convention Bureau winning the bid to hold the World Federation of Tourist Guides Association’s 18th Congress in Georgia. This happened within the very first year of the Bureau’s operation, which was a major success. Within the past two years, we have also hosted two major events by the UN Word Tourism Organization (UNWTO).  As for the future, Georgia will be hosting international Mice Geography Show (IMG) in May 2018 and Meeting MICE Professionals Forum (MMP) in October 2018, these events are the bases of Georgia becoming the hub of B2B MICE events in the region.

8. In the Internet Era nowadays, do you see the future and productivity of these kind of b2b meetings and workshops?

I strongly believe that B2B events will always be a part of the meetings industry, as this business is greatly based on personal relations and networking. The face-to-face communication, working discussions and business relations established on B2B events create more trust, and they can hardly ever be replaced by digitalization.

9. What are the Future Plans of GCEB ? are you going to come up to new instruments , ideas or projects for promoting Georgia as a Destination for MICE Industry

We have few things in the pipeline. As mentioned above, we are going to move our marketing activities to B2B events more. The business is moving in this direction and the figures show that they yield much more ROI than any other activities, but once again the major exhibitions will remain on the agenda. We have planned some upcoming projects for supporting private and academic sectors to attract various meetings and events to Georgia. GCEB keeps a strong communication with local associations to advice and consult them on how to attract various meeting, congresses and conferences to the country.

10. And finally as long as MICE is not taught professionally, how do you see the upcoming professionals in this industry? Does government have any plans for supporting it?

We are working with the donor organizations to create the manual for the Industry, which can be a guidebook not only for the existing professionals within the MICE segment, but for the upcoming ones as well. Manual is planned to be launched in a year approximately, and will be systematically updated together with the new approaches and ideas that will be entering the sector.

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