Interview with Itsik Moshe President of the Israel-Georgia Chamber of Business.
The inflow of Israeli tourists to Georgia is growing. What factors have driven this tendency and what would you your forecasts? What format do you work in and what are the most important issues today?
The Israel-Georgia Chamber of Business started establishing contacts, when none of the parties believed in this potential. Israel considers Georgia an attractive country in terms of investments and tourism potential. The Israel-Georgia Chamber of Business tightly cooperates with the national tourism administration of Georgia and the Tourism Ministry of Israel for the purpose of boosting tourist turnover between Israel and Georgia. We have sponsored two publications by Israeli student Koral Kratensten that describe Georgia’s tourism potential: “21 Days in Georgia” and “Georgia: On High Heels, Jeans or Ties”.
The objective of the author is to show that, besides beautiful cuisine and picturesque landscapes, Georgia is a country of rich culture, legendary history and traditions of many centuries. All these factors grow the interest in this country and positively affect tourist inflows to Georgia.
Both publications were warmly accepted in Israel. Moreover, by support of House of Israel, Koral Kratensten has been meeting with various social groups in Israel to tell them about Georgia.
Recently I met with the Minister of Tourism of Israel in Jerusalem and discussed perspectives for cooperation with Georgia. We plan to apply to the Israeli Tourism Ministry for developing the mechanism that will assist Georgian tour operators in working in this sector of Israel and at the same time, create guarantees to prevent tourists from staying in Israel on illegal basis.
You have submitted a specific plan to the Israeli Tourism Minister for developing tourism between the two countries. What does this plan imply and do you have any specific concepts?
The Israel-Georgian Chamber of Business is ready to provide free of charge consultations to travel companies on the issues related to Georgian tourists’ entrance to Israel under the visa-free regime. As I have noted, we plan to apply to the Israeli Tourism Ministry to issue special licenses to Georgian tour operators, which operate on the Israeli direction. These licenses will enable Georgian tour operators to easier convey tourists to Israel (as known, frequently, many tourists are not let enter Israel at airports because of security issues). At the same time, travel companies will have to submit financial guarantees for obtaining licenses.
Positive attitudes to the tourism sector are evident, but what kind of moods are discerned among investors towards other directions of Georgia? How attractive is the Georgian market for them? Do they believe in stable development of Georgia or there are certain fears and unclear expectations in the pre-election period?
Some things may be seen from one side, not from another side. As a rule, accents are different from the outside. There are different proportions. In general, everything is comparative in this world and currently, the global economy remains stagnant, in practice. In this situation, Israeli investors have stopped putting money in Eastern Europe, while in Georgia Israeli investment projects are continued, despite their tiny scales. The time and experience have proved that contacts between friendly countries do not depend on political regimes. Despite certain problems and information deficiency on each others’ business culture and potential, the Israeli society is quite confident in Georgia’s stable development, business friendly environment. The Israeli society appreciates absence of bureaucratic barriers and always shows positive attitudes towards Georgia. Nevertheless, huge job should be still performed, active efforts and involvement of state officers are required to eradicate these problems.
What are target directions for making investments in and is there potential to boost investment-making process?
Tourism, real estate and hotel business remain basic directions. This year we have started promoting Hi-Tech Startups and introducing the Israeli model to Georgia. Georgia possesses much potential in this field and joint efforts will enable us to fully employ this potential and express it in specific figures.
I appreciate the recent initiative by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development. This initiative calls for active involvement of embassies in the process of attracting investors. Currently, there is no investor seeking any country for making investments in, in any field. Representatives of small countries should show more initiative and make a maximal use of the global crisis and Georgia’s regional advantage, in general.
As noted, today one of the main problems is related to the fact that many Georgian tourists visit Israel and then stay there. As a result, the issue of increasing job quots has become relevant. How serious is this problem today and is this issue resolvable?
Today, many mediator companies offer employment opportunities in Israel to Georgian citizens (on illegal basis) and they frequently request 10-15 thousand USD in exchange. This is a regretful reality, but poor families are ready to somehow pay even this sum. At this stage, we are conducting negotiations with the government of Israel to allocate due job quotas for Georgian building specialists. At the first stage, 500 workers may be employed in Israel and this signifies 500 Georgian families will receive legal revenues without commission fees and deportation fears. As a result, 500 professional and experienced builders will return to Georgia.
Several months ago you mentioned bureaucratic barriers in the country. There were certain problems in relation to the company of Israeli investor Meir Shavit. In that period you applied to the Prime Minister by a special letter, where you were describing the existing bureaucratic barriers. According to our information, the problems before Meir Shavit have been resolved. But what about the general picture? Has something changed? Do the bureaucratic problems exist anyway?
I would not call them bureaucratic barriers and I would not act as a judge either. It was and remains important for me, the president of the Israel-Georgia Chamber of Business, that similar issues be resolved as soon as possible under the governing legislation.
The problem did not consist in bureaucracy. In that period we were asking the Government to allocate a specific contact body for Israeli investors, because this decision could provide the environment of confidence and safety and would enable investors to apply to the mentioned body in case of problematic issues.
The government has satisfied our initiative, allocated a contact body and the issue was resolved. The core of the issue does not consist in whether problems exist or not. The main thing is how tightly we can cooperative to jointly resolve problems as soon as possible.
What problems and advantages would you outline in Georgia as compared to other countries?
The main problem is that Georgia has a small market. The advantage is that the country shows readiness to promote Israeli investors.
What specific projects will be implemented in Georgia and what a volume of investments will be made in Georgia as part of these Projects?
At this stage, four new hotels are being constructed (two ones will open in the near future), a washing house. The direction of startups has been also activated, as well as agro tourism.
I believe the new tourism directions such as Wellness Tourism and Weekend Tourism are very interesting for the Georgian tourism sector. Both directions rely on VIP tourists and businessmen, who cannot travel because of hectic schedule. Therefore, we will develop special tours for them to ensure their spiritual and physical healthiness, full relaxation and create best impressions on Georgia. Each tourist should become Georgia’s friend and envoy in their own countries.
Caucasus Business Week