March 20, 2020 / 1:04 PM / in 9 days

Coronavirus hits Georgia's booming tourism industry

TBILISI (Reuters) - Tourism in Georgia was booming but the coronavirus has turned that on its head, with closed borders and a ban on foreign visitors dealing a savage blow to an industry that attracted millions every year.

A view shows an empty cafe, which is located in a district popular with tourists, following coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tbilisi, Georgia March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars in the capital Tbilisi and other cities have been shut down. Ski resorts have closed.

The country of 3.7 million reported 43 cases of coronavirus as of Friday with one patient recovered and no fatalities.

“We have already suffered great losses in February-March and ... have been forced to closed down,” Tamara Sikharulidze, manager of the Gallery Palace hotel in Tbilisi, told Reuters.

All staff at the hotel, which has 70 rooms and is situated in the heart of the city, have been sent home without compensation.

“This period will be very difficult for the entire tourism sector,” she said.

Adjara Group, a leading Georgian hospitality company, has closed all its restaurants, bars, lounges and cafes and asked most staff to work from home, chief executive Valeri Chekheria said.

Georgia has closed its winter resorts in the middle of skiing season and halted all air traffic with other countries.

Individual entrepreneurs are also suffering.

“Due to the coronavirus, I receive notifications about the cancellation of reservations almost daily,” said Koka Nikoleishvili, who had been renting out his apartment through Airbnb or Booking.com sites.

“I had reservations almost until September, and now 80-90% of these reservations have been cancelled.”

Five million tourists visited Georgia in 2019, 7% up from the previous year. International travel income was $3.1 billion in January-November 2019.

Authorities say the coronavirus is likely to threaten Georgia’s economic growth forecast of 4.5% this year and tourism will suffer most.

“Further spread of coronavirus may impact visitors’ inflow and, therefore, the whole economy,” Koba Gvenetadze, the central bank head, told Reuters earlier this week, adding that a reduction in consumption and a slowdown in the global economy would also curb growth in Georgia.

Editing by Giles Elgood

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