KUALA LUMPUR: Georgia is keen to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Malaysia aimed at boosting bilateral tourism between the two countries, says its Ambassador to Malaysia Nikoloz Apkhazava.
He said the MoU in the field of tourism will be crucial to expanding bilateral collaboration in the related sectors, including exchanging information, encouraging cooperation between tourism stakeholders including hotels and tour operators, investment in the tourism and hospitality sectors, as well as promoting safe and sustainable tourism.
"It (MoU) is a good ground to start the relationship and cooperation, particularly in the tourism sector. Hopefully, it will be signed by the end of this year between Georgia's Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development and Malaysia's Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry," Apkhazava told Bernama in an interview here recently.
The envoy said disseminating information on Georgia's tourism and hospitality was a major focus for his embassy and hoped that the MoU will form a government-to-government framework to strengthen and speed up the progress of collaboration in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
Apkhazava said Georgia, a country of four seasons, welcomed 7.9 million tourists last year, up 17.6% from 6.7 million tourists recorded in 2016. In recent years, the sector witnessed significant growth and has become an important economic driver, creating many jobs, he said.
Out of the total tourist arrivals, he said 24,737 visitors were from Southeast Asia including the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia. However, the number of arrivals from Malaysia is still low, he said, with only 1,209 tourists in 2017, a light increase from 836 the previous year.
Apkhazava said the MoU is expected to further increase tourist arrivals amidst good connectivity and easy access as Malaysians visitors can enjoy visa-free visit for a year. Furthermore, Georgia offers a wide diversification of tourism products such as summer sea resorts, year-round mountain resorts including skiing, spa-wellness and cultural experiences, he said.
He said a lack of information was among the factors deterring tourists from Southeast Asia from visiting Georgia, despite easy accessibility from many countries including the Middle East, Europe or Eastern Europe, where flight time took only three hours.
Among its attractions are its Alpine zones and snowy peaks, all within hundred kilometres of each other. "We also have over 12,000 historical and cultural monuments, of which four are included in Unesco World Heritage Sites," he said.
The booming tourism industry also poses opportunities for Malaysian businessmen to invest in Georgia's Free Tourism Zones namely Anaklia and Kobuleti. Anaklia is a new resort on the Black Sea coast, while Kobuleti is an already established, traditional seaside destination for international visitors, Apkhazava said.
Among the incentives offered for investors is a free piece of land (the land plot is granted to an investor for a symbolic price one Georgian Lari) and hotel activities are exempted from profit and property taxes until 2026, as well as free casino license for hotels with over 80 rooms.