Tourism is an important contributor to the Georgian economy and recently in order to support the sector, government officials and the private sector have announced various projects, including new roads, infrastructure and lodging facilities across the whole country.
The recent opening of a 51-kilometre road connecting the Imereti and Racha regions has given a big boost to tourism in Racha, especially for local family-run hotels. For instance, the new 13-room hotel ‘Rule’ actively hosts tourists, especially during weekends, and plans to expand by arranging several cottages by the spring of next year.
New road construction projects are scheduled in the Svaneti region too, aiming to improve connection between Lentekhi-Mestia-Ushguli towns and to allow transportation especially during heavy snowfall. Moreover, 14 new hotels have recently been funded in Mestia, co-financed by the Ministry of Economy, while other projects regarding modern ski lifts have been implemented too.
Another project concerning the hydroelectric Enguri Dam nearby - the world's second highest concrete arch dam with a height of 271.5m. With the help of the Estonian architectural company the plan is to turn the Enguri Dam into a world-class tourist attraction. One of the most distinctive buildings in the world will offer tourists a 280-metre-high panoramic lift, a ropeway, the longest zipline and a 10-kilometre boat trip, as well as impressive views of the Svaneti and Samegrelo regions.
The Government is announcing new infrastructure projects of international importance in mountainous Adjara too. Small villages in the region will host one of the longest 2-lane zip lines in Europe, visitor centres, bridges and a demonstration village of authentic mills. Furthermore, a rope construction project and tourist shelters are being prepared in towns of Gomarduli and Shuakhevi, giving a new life to the development of the ski resorts.
Meanwhile, new developments are also occuring in the seaside town of Kvariati, where soon Litz Resort, a high-class 101-room hotel will appear. One of the first modern hotels in the resort can accommodate up to 250 guests while offering a cinema, swimming pools, jazz club, restaurants, conference halls, a library, an observatory, and also an 8-kilometre hiking trail on the forest road from the hotel. Importantly, the hotel with a $30 million investment will employ more than 150 people, 90% of whom are locals.
Soon we expect more projects in other parts of Georgia too enabling visitors to better explore the natural and architectural sights of the country, and as a result boosting the economy.
Retail sector recovery is apparent in Georgia. Over time in line with vaccinations and retreating of the pandemic, consumers are drawn to shopping malls again.
More specifically, most of the shopping malls in the country soon after the lockdown reduced the rental rates for the tenants. However, the increase in foot traffic combined with rising sales has allowed the shopping malls to return to the standard tariffs. Moreover, the occupancy rate in one of the shopping malls - Galleria Tbilisi, stands at 95%, which is, in fact, the same as it was before the pandemic, while the sales of the mall are only slightly lagging behind the 2019 figure.
Furthermore, the largest shopping centre in the Caucasus - Tbilisi Sea Plaza of Hualing is rebranding. Recently the mall welcomed Carrefour Hypermarket and Mihaus - the largest hypermarket of construction and repair materials in the Caucasus. The complex plans to create different concept spaces for customers, featuring a variety of furniture stores, equipment companies, and textiles and home accessories. In addition, the complex will offer day-to-day amenities such as pharmacies and banks along with a ‘Made in Georgia’ space where people can acquire local perfumes, gift items, and a variety of other products.
It is also notable that as consumer activity is reversing out of pre-pandemic lows, the economic recovery takes hold. As a result, new shopping centres are appearing in other cities across the country. One such development is ‘West Point’ - the first modern shopping centre in Kutaisi. West Point covers an area of 20,000 sq m, of which half will be devoted to parking. The mall aims to house various brand stores, entertainment centers, food outlets, and pharmacies. Additionally, the project developers plan to introduce West Point shopping centers in other regions of Georgia further in the coming years.
A full-service shopping centre is opening in Zugdidi as well. It will combine fashion retail, hypermarket, F&B units, and other stores under one roof. The total projected investment is USD 6 million, with a developable area exceeding 15,000 sq m.
Finally, new shopping malls will appear in Batumi too. Batumi Grand mall is currently under construction, while the other two are parts of announced mixed-use developments in the city.
In short, it can be suggested that as the COVID-19 situation eases in the country, the retail sector is expanding in Georgia.
In summer 2021 Georgia received 403% more international tourists compared to 2020. Visitors mainly entered the country by air due to the activated air traffic in Georgian airports, while most tourists came from Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Also, during the summer, the dynamics of passenger flow restoration has been remarkable at Batumi International Airport, which returned 75% of passengers compared to 2019. Increased international as well as domestic tourists to the seaside resorts generate demand for lodging facilities.
In response we witness development of a small Black Sea resort Gonio near Batumi, where several new hotels are emerging. For instance, a new family-type hotel has been built on the beach with 50 rooms, offering two swimming pools and a restaurant. Another planned development in the town is a 16-storey hotel with 205 high-class rooms, which will also offer recreation area, swimming pools, aquapark, fitness and spa centre, restaurants and conference hall. However, despite the growth of the resort, it is notable that these are non-branded hotels and a development of a branded hotel in Gonio has yet to be considered.
Meanwhile, Batumi will also host a new casino-hotel in the historic pharmacy building with a status of a cultural heritage monument. The building will retain its full appearance and offer a symbolic pharmacy shop too. The project with $5 million investment will employ 50-70 people in total.
In line with the growing tourism market, we expect to see expanded accommodation options in Georgian resorts.
08 SeptemberThe climate and soil have made agriculture one of the driving forces for the Georgian economy. The role of villages is vital in maximising the agriculture potential and agri-business development, as well as ensuring the country’s sustainable economic growth.
Recently, a development of a modern Farm Village Ikalto in Kakheti region has been announced. The project has an innovative concept where residents will live in a harmonious and ecologically clean environment only 100 metres away from the forest zone - a particular advantage for those who want to stay away from the fast and stressful environment of the city. Specifically, the project encloses 5 ha land, which will include one-storey individual houses with their own vegetable farms and yards. The residents will enjoy impressive landscapes and the views of the Caucasus and Alazani Valley.
Another town of Kakheti has seen a new cattle farm construction with GEL 2.5 million investment. The farm is equipped with modern standards, able to produce 4 tons of raw milk daily. The farm employs 10 locals and sells its products in the local market.
Agricultural developments gain more importance in other regions too. i.e. Dmanisi, hosting a new Swiss Agrarian School "Kavkasia" alongside a livestock farm and a modern Swiss cheese factory. The prospective students will receive practical training on site and sell the products in a school-owned shop.
As agriculture is identified to be a priority for development in Georgia, we anticipate more modern rural settlements and farms, and innovative projects contributing to the sector’s growth.
Recently Georgia has seen accelerated economic activities. According to government officials, the country shows a high indicator of economic growth between 20-45% in April-June. Specifically, regarding the retail sector, as curfew has been removed, retailers were able to extend working hours until the late evening, when the shops receive the highest volume of traffic. This resulted in higher profitability for the sector and occupied commercial spaces with the ability to follow long-term lease commitments.
Consequently, shopping malls attracted new tenants. For instance, Saburtalo City mall welcomed a new branch of Body Shop, while KIKO cosmetics brand appeared in both Saburtalo City mall and East Point shopping centre. Several malls further report occupancy levels at around 98%, while the average rents have been slightly reduced in some cases to retain retailers. It is also noteworthy that footfall in these malls has increased to almost the pre-pandemic point.
The vacancy level is also shrinking in certain locations of Tbilisi. The Georgian sports shoe brand Crosty chose a customer-oriented strategy and opened its first physical shop in Tbilisi with a €70,000 investment, creating an additional nine jobs. Furthermore, Georgian menswear brand Palekart created during the pandemic is entering the retail market with a shop and small sewing space on the spot to be presented to the customer as an atelier-showroom.
Besides Tbilisi, repair and construction hypermarket chain Gorgia opened a new branch in the city of Zugdidi with GEL 5 million investment employing 100 locals.
We expect an amplified retail landscape in Georgia in the coming months.
Demand for cost and time efficient surroundings, as well as the lack of resources and space forces developers to adapt to the environment, leading to more cases of mixed-use complexes in Georgia.
Several significant examples of mixed-use buildings blending residential, commercial and entertainment uses into one space are mostly found in Tbilisi. These are Axis Towers, Alliance Highline, Park Home, CH64, Tbilisi Hills, Panorama Tbilisi and Vake Hills. For instance, Vake Hills is a multifunctional building of about 9,000 m2 with offices, restaurants and spacious car parking. As high-class offices are highly demanded in Tbilisi, the company offers a comfortable and energy-efficient environment for work.
Noteworthily, we meet multifunctional building trends in other cities of Georgia too, i.e. in Batumi featuring Riviera by Silk Road Group, and Alliance Centropolis. Alliance Centropolis, standing out for its exclusive architecture, will be a hub for MICE tourism. It will offer the first WTC Exhibition Centre in the region, also Upscale apartments, 5-star international hotel brand and casino, ‘A’ class business centre and ‘A’ class shopping centre.
Furthermore, a relatively small town Rustavi is also expecting a $15 million-worth mixed-use development. The complex with 21,820 m2 space will feature Rustavi Shopping Mall, apartments, cinema, and children’s playground. Its construction will be completed in 2-3 years, and it is supposed to become a landmark of the town.
Over time we expect more mixed-use developments in Georgia offering a unified flexible space where people can be without boundaries between work, shopping, leisure and home.
Nowadays wellness and health tourism have become highly demanded all over the world. Hotels and service providers in Georgia have also observed the trend and started to offer a wider range of well-being options to their guests.
With this regard, Mziuri Gardens is a new seaside balneological destination in the resort Makhinjauri, where special thermal waters and a unique microclimate are ideal for quality living and relaxing. The multifunctional project includes two 15-storey and one 17-storey buildings, featuring premium level apartments, and one of them housing the 5-star hotel Crowne Plaza. 15,000 m2 of land will be cultivated around the complex dedicated directly to recreation.
Such trends can be observed in the town of Tskaltubo, a spa resort in the Imereti region. A recent initiative, the Tskaltubo Revival Project aims to make the town a hotspot of tourism. Renovation endeavours in the town and the reconstruction of its glorious Sanatoria are believed to result in a development of a high-end spa resort attracting international visitors.
Similar tendencies are noticeable in Abastumani, a resort town in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, the history of which is also related to thermal spring waters. Following a conceptual master plan for the resort Autograph hotel, Radisson, Crown Plaza, a 400-unit apartment building and other midsize lodging facilities will emerge in the town, while parks and roads will be fully rehabilitated.
Development works of these balneological resorts are supposed to be completed in the following years, augmenting the medical tourism market in Georgia and attracting both domestic and international tourists.
The past few months have seen a relative recovery of economic markets and increased travel in Georgia.
As more tourists enter the country we are seeing new development pop up in different locations around Georgia.
Recently, the Dreamland Oasis Hotel in the Black Sea resort of Chakvi announced expansion plans.
A new building of 100 more rooms and two new open swimming pools have been built within the hotel grounds for this summer season.
They have also added a new ball room to Dream Palace with a 600-person capacity.
In addition, the hotel offers a new cinema, games room, tennis and basketball courts, children's attractions, private beach and protected area for relaxation.
After the 2021 summer season they plan to build a new SPA centre which will be unique to the whole region.
Importantly, the hotel employs more than 500 people in the summer and maintains staff of around 200 in the winter season.
Another new spot emerged in Batumi occupying two floors of Alliance Palace.
This is a new restaurant opened by Alliance Group with an investment of 1 million EUR. Notably, a famous Georgian chef will greet the customers.
Fortunately, the new developments are not concentrated in one region, but rather distributed through the country.
A family-run wine hotel Babaneuri Cellar in Akhmeta, Kakheti expects fruitful 2021 summer season, and is already hosting tourists from Dubai, Russia, Israel and European countries.
They plan to make their hotel pet-friendly due to a shortage of such accommodation in Georgia.
Nowadays, along with prevalent environmental issues and the year of the pandemic that has further sharpened attention on healthier living, the citizens of Georgia demand green buildings promoting health, energy efficiency and resource conservation.
The demand is relatively high for isolated, suburban housing with green spaces and yards nearby.
As a result, companies have begun to respond to the rising demand by offering more green projects.
We are seeing an increasing number of green settlements and primary homes emerging in areas outside Tbilisi and other nearby towns offering greener options to the residents.
The new Lisi Topograph project, located at the shores of Lisi Lake on 41.8 hectares, is announced to be an eco-friendly and protected settlement of private houses meeting all requirements of the modern urbanisation low-density development.
The project also envisages parks, sports grounds, children's entertainment areas, and various consumer facilities tailored to the needs of the residents.
This unique location and landscape provide ecologically clean, healthy and a quiet environment for families.
Another example of a recent green building in Georgia is the Head Office of ProCredit Bank in Tbilisi, which is the first building in the country to receive an EDGE certificate as a resource efficient structure for using solar power plants for electricity generation as well as for charging its electric vehicles, while contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions.
Evidently, sustainability practices steadily gain more importance in Georgia and over time the real estate space continues to incorporate more green and eco-friendly elements.
Retail businesses which have heavily relied on direct sales to customers saw significant shrink in revenues due to the closure of business activities during the lockdown period.
Additionally, due to safety concerns customer flow to retailers was remarkably low even after lockdown.
Lower revenues meant inability to follow long-term lease commitments leading to tenants vacating occupied commercial spaces.
It is also noteworthy that local consumer spending has increasingly shifted towards basic needs, such as food and medicine, while luxury products received the least demand from consumers.
The shift in demand and their relative operational success in 2020 has resulted in pharmacies filling in many a vacated spot on the main streets.
Over the last year two years new pharmacy chains were introduced on the Georgian market and in the past nine months, proliferation of their units across the Capital has been apparent.
Hypermarkets like Carrefour have been publicising their expansion policies as well: the latter announced the intention to invest an additional $120 million in the Georgian market in the next 2-3 years, employing 1,200 more workers.
Presently we are seeing a stalling of closures in other retail sub-sectors.
Mid-segment and economy brands which suffered most during the lockdowns are reporting increases in turnover.
Financial stimuli have been sparse but helpful where available: one of the largest local outlet retailers, Navne, which offers clothes, shoes, accessories and cosmetics through its 23 units, was hit hard by the pandemic and incurred a huge loss. After receiving EU Finance for Innovators however the company has been able to reopen all its closed shops and add three new ones.
As economic activity continues to recover, we expect to see a boost in demand on retail goods, rehabilitation of disrupted supply chains and consequent revival of retail activity across all sub-sectors.
The Hospitality industry, one of the hardest hit sectors throughout the pandemic, is slowly awakening in Georgia as summer is approaching.
Tbilisi, as well as the Black Sea resorts, such as Batumi, are seeing an increase in tourist numbers. Notably, during Q1 of 2021 the native visitors significantly outweighed foreign tourists, since the start of May Batumi has seen distribution between tourists shift remarkably in favour of international guests, as visitors from Israel and other neighbouring countries are arriving in greater numbers.
It is noteworthy that Batumi airport added a second terminal, doubling its capacity; thus the new facility will be able to accommodate 1.2 million passengers annually. Moreover, several airlines resumed flights from Batumi, such as Flydubai and Air Astana, while new Kazakh and Ukrainian low-cost airlines are entering the market with regular flights. German low-budget air carrier Eurowings is expected to start operating in Georgia too. An increasing number of tourists is attributable to higher rates of vaccination. This is also why the Georgian Government officials believe that the tourism sector has better prospects for a speedy recovery than projected earlier.
However, there are still some coronavirus restrictions subject to revision; numerous tourists, inconvenienced by the nationwide 9pm COVID curfew cancelled their hotel reservations, leading to reduced occupancies in Georgian hotels. As a result, the curfew has been moved to 11pm. Gradual ease of domestic restrictions is expected over the coming weeks.
December has ushered yet another lockdown in Georgia. In the last week of November, the Government announced the closure of public gathering spaces as well as the temporary grounding of public transport. Shopping centres will remain closed until mid-December, when they will get a short reprieve. The lockdown goes on through January and may be amended providing the epidemiological situation improves by then.
The announcement has hit retailers the hardest. December is the month when the bulk of annual revenue gets generated due to Christmas shopping. Closure at a peak sales period when the bottom line has been hovering near the negative for an entire year is causing many to doubt whether they will recover in 2021 at all. Three international brands have already left the market and many operators are considering reducing their number of retail units around the country.
The attitude of retailers reflects the general pessimistic aura that has permeated varying business sectors in Georgia. As the daily number of cases continue to spike, everyone’s attention is on the speedy distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The worsening COVID situation in the country has dampened hopes for a speedy recovery in the commercial real estate sectors. Retail and hospitality markets struggle to remain afloat as people confine to homes and international visitor numbers are dwindling with no recovery in sight.
Some of the most well-trodden shopping centres in Tbilisi have reported nearly a 60% reduction in footfall. Hotels in the city are operating at below 10% occupancy with majority of the non-brand boutique facilities temporarily closed. Office buildings are experiencing a flashback to springtime, as most tenants have opted to shift back to working from home.
In contrast to these, the residential sector, which was at a standstill during the Spring lockdown, is growing. Despite the marginal month-on-month reduction (-1%) in residential transactions in Tbilisi, it is apparent that there is both the willingness and the ability in the populace to make residential investments. The sector owes much to the subsidy program, implemented by the Government in June, to facilitate recovery of the market. The highest volume of sales is reported in the economy and mid-segments which are covered by the program. We expect a stable albeit slower upturn here in the coming months.
Markets are recovering somewhat unevenly given the COVID-19 situation.
Residential real estate has all but recovered in Tbilisi. September brought a 9% growth in the number of transactions compared to the same month last year. October transactions are also expected to exceed October ’19 numbers.
Conversely, Batumi - the second largest city in the country - has been experiencing a major drop in transactions ever since the Q1 lockdown. This is because the primary source market for Tbilisi residential real estate is Georgian nationals; the Batumi residential market on the other hand derives the largest share of its revenue from international visitors, whose entry to the country has been restricted since March.
Commercial markets are slowly adjusting. A few brands have left the retail market and the rest are putting expansion plans on hold, and only considering cases where the implementation timeline of a shopping centre exceeds two years. The office market is in stalemate - landlords are not lowering prices just yet but the reduction in demand is becoming apparent because more of the smaller companies have chosen to shift to coworking spaces.
With a second wave of COVID-19 rising, the entire sector may once again have to face an uncertain future.
August is off to a slow start as lockdown has been extended until 1 September. This does not bode well for the service sectors at large. Urban hotels report occupancies in single digits as well as increased operating expenses due to novel cleanliness guidelines and requirements imposed by both the Georgian Government and - in case of international franchises - by the brand HQs. Non-brand hotels in Tbilisi are remaining closed so as not to incur unnecessary expenses, until the flights resume. All the infrastructure supporting the travel and tourism sector is similarly in a stall.
Lack of international visitors is detrimental to the residential market as well. Tbilisi residential clientele is predominantly a domestic group. The same is not true for Batumi - the second largest residential market in the country. Batumi residential clientele is dominated by foreign nationals from Post-Soviet countries, the Americas and Asia. Various developers based in Batumi project anywhere between 30%-80% year-on-year drop in sales due to a lack of international demand. Nonetheless, residential prices in Batumi remain at pre-COVID levels.
In the short run we expect these prices to remain frozen. Reopening of the state borders will likely break the stall across all real estate sectors.
Post-COVID recovery is proving to be quite a slow process for most of the real estate sectors. Urban hotels are waiting for 1 August and the reopening of borders to receive international visitors; in the meantime, the majority of them have stayed closed. The retail sector is similarly reporting a slowdown in sales. Pent up demand has now subsided, and sales volume has dropped below the pre-COVID levels. Residential real estate transactions have started to recover slowly but have yet to reach the 2019 levels. In the meantime, in the office sector, increasing vacancy rates are boosting the tenants’ bargaining power.
The Government’s recovery plans include stimulus packages that are supposed to target loss of income due to unemployment. In the long run, ensuring stability of the population’s purchasing power is the most salient solution to the problem facing both residential and retail markets. Reopening of the borders is the remedy to the urban hospitality sector, however, the typical volume of peak season inflow is hardly expected. Finally, that which troubles the office sector, is benefiting the co-working spaces, as the latter are reporting increasing corporate demand. In the long term, the Tbilisi office market will be reshaped most significantly due to COVID-19.
Service sectors are gradually restarting operation in the wake of the Government’s COVID recovery efforts. A major beneficiary of the pent-up demand is the hospitality subsector consisting of rural and seaside resorts of Georgia.
Seasonal as well as pent-up demand has resulted in rural resorts in Kakheti (the wine district) the mountains and the coastal towns booking up incredibly fast. For their part, resorts are advertising discounted rates (20-35%) to entice guests. As the majority of the population is still working from home, hospitality demand that used to be concentrated on the weekends is now distributed to the whole week. A number of resorts have already reported full bookings for the entirety of July and August.
However, while rural/coastal hotels are thriving, urban hotels continue to struggle. Some hotels in Tbilisi have now permanently shut down; others have implemented marketing campaigns that invite domestic guests to substitute working from a hotel to working from home. But the panacea for urban hotels is international tourism. EU has opened borders to Georgia, but the Georgian Government has pushed the deadline for border opening from 1 July to August. This may instigate more rural hotels to shut down temporarily or even permanently.
The first wave of COVID-19 has now ended in Georgia and while few new cases still get discovered daily, the country is nonetheless going through a period of respite. Regulations that were imposed in Spring have now been lifted and society is adjusting to the life post-COVID-19. Face masks, social distancing and fever screening are being normalised at all places of social gatherings- restaurants, offices, retail stores, etc.
Because the Georgian economy relies heavily on service sectors, and since many of these sectors have not yet gone back to the pre-pandemic levels of operation, economic recovery still seems to be a long-term endeavor. Oxford Economics has forecast a negative 1.29% real growth in GDP in 2020. IMF has a bleaker projection of -4.0% - a position shared by the National Bank of Georgia (NBG). Recovery forecasts range between 3-6% in 2021.
One of the primary concerns of the Georgian developers, devaluation of GEL, has been curbed somewhat by the efforts of the NBG. Residential real estate is starting to look up, but expectations are low for the entirety of 2020. In spite of the uptick in transactions between May and April year-on-year comparison suggests greater than 60% drop in demand.
COVID-19 has severely affected the Georgian economy and its ramifications will likely worsen the longer the country stays in lockdown and under a State of Emergency. The country’s economy is heavily reliant on service sectors which have been hardest hit. Tourism, hospitality and retail are paralysed, while the office sector is plunged into a state of turmoil as tenants attempt to renegotiate lease terms.
Capital markets has experienced an expected slowdown. The number of transactions for both commercial and private properties took a dive in March and April is shaping up to be similar. The pricing impact has been immediate, with Developers projecting a 40-50% drop in annual revenue.
Some recovery measures have been implemented by the Government of Georgia as well as the private sector. The largest commercial banks have instituted a grace period on hospitality related loans and the Government is subsidising income and postponing VAT payments. Grants have been issued to help those made unemployed. Additionally, a plan for the reopening of public and semi-public spaces has been announced and will take effect on 27 April. If the epidemiological situation remains stable, the initial steps may be made on the path to socio-economic recovery.