Despite closed borders and suspended flights, a number of hotels in Georgia are almost at full capacity – but not with travelers.
Stepping up to the plate to contribute to efforts to handle the coronavirus outbreak in Georgia, several AmCham member hotels have offered up their premises to be used as quarantine spaces to temporarily isolate Georgian citizens returning home from abroad via government-orchestrated evacuations and others who have come into contact with infected individuals.
Some of these hotels include: the Adjara Group’s Holiday Inn in Tbilisi, the Grand Gloria Hotel Ba-tumi, the Moxy in Tbilisi, the Radisson Park Hotel in Tsinandali, Ibis Hotel and the Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace.
AmCham Tourism Committee Head Cameron McNeillie says offering to help in this time of crisis was a natural step for hotels to take.
“This is a matter of giving back to the people of Georgia to the best of our ability right now. In fact, we look at it as a civil duty”, McNeillie says.
A number of hotels in Georgia have extended that responsibility to their employees as well, and remain committed to the well-being of their employees in facing the uncertainty of these next few months.
Different approaches have been employed in making sure that member hotels’ staff remain provided for, including: continuing to pay full salaries up through a certain month and then shifting to a modified salary throughout the year, decreasing salaries by 20–50%, retaining health benefits for staff and asking staff to take non-paid holiday.
However, despite pay cut measures, AmCham member hotels note they will face difficulty if they continue to pay salaries for more than three months in a row.
Hotels that have not shuttered for the duration of the coronavirus epidemic are now playing host to individuals in quarantine and have had to adapt quickly. AmCham Tourism Committee Head McNeillie says that efficient planning has made this possible: “Serving three meals a day and en-suring the comfort of guests in this environment is of course a challenge, but logistically the change in operations has been smooth.”
Government support has been around 50 GEL per quarantinee per day, which is meant to cover three meals a day as well. Hotels note that this sum largely falls short of operation costs, howev-er, and that in most cases they subsidize the stay of their guests, but McNeillie says this “does not affect our commitment to doing what we can in this time of crisis.”
Another issue faced by hotels is that support in terms of the provision of appropriate safety equipment and apparel for staff such as masks, sanitizer and gloves, has been slow in the coming, and that at times hotel staff personnel have to interact with patients instead of doctors.
Looking ahead, AmCham member hotels note that 2020 will continue to be difficult year, even after the spread of the coronavirus peaks in the country, as there will be lingering uncertainty as to the epidemiological situation on the ground in foreign countries.
In Georgia’s case, this will be especially pertinent when it comes to Russia and the idea of re-welcoming Russian tourists, where transparency in the issue seems to be lacking. Russian tourists accounted for 20% of Georgia’s inbound tourists in 2018 before the introduction of the flight ban in July 2019.
Hotels that cater to domestic tourism, largely those in the countryside, feel that demand will remain low likely for the rest of the year, as lost jobs and layoffs will act as a further disincentive to travel once movement bans are eased, public transport resumes and the public feels confident enough to venture outdoors again.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel, McNeillie notes:
“There are varying rates of success in dealing with the coronavirus across the world, and tourism might re-cover sooner in Georgia than elsewhere given the country has, overall, done an excellent job in containing the outbreak. If this trend continues, this could have an impact on people’s decision on where to travel 12-24 months down the line, as tourism trends may be redirected towards regions and countries that have dealt effectively with the pandemic”, McNeillie says.
Until then, riding out the crisis’ unforeseeable duration is the priority. AmCham member hotels have proposed four ways in which the Georgian government can act to help soften the blow of the crisis by: waiving property and other taxes for several months; covering the payment of staff salaries; postponing utility payment, and; providing appropriate medical equipment for hotels which have been converted into quarantine spaces.