Our guest is a character of great importance in tourism worldwide, especially in times where we are working for the recovery of the industry under a new route and priorities. Born in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a thriving country in Europe, Zurab Pololikashvili is currently the General Secretary of the World Tourism Organization, a professional with a clear vision of tourism, applied innovative strategies as Minister of Economic Development of Georgia, leading his country to increase the numbers of International visitors: from 1.5 million (in 2009) to over 2.8 million in 2011.
However, thanks to the work that the country has been doing in terms of sustainable tourism and the excellent relationship with Panama Minister of Tourism, Ivan Eskildsen, Zurab attended the opening of the National Tourism Convention held recently in Panama City.
Before leaving to visit for the first time the Panama Canal and take his flight to the United Nations in New York, Zurab Pololikashvili gave The Visitor the opportunity to do an exclusive interview with him. This multi-faceted professional of the highest level who was also Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia, as well as General Director of FC Dinamo Tbilisi, a professional football team in Georgia, spoke with us about the opportunities of our country in terms of tourism, what we still need to work on and where the industry is headed globally in the future.
Panama is full of great opportunities to exploit at a historical level, traditions and nature. How can our country do in general terms to be able to live up to other countries in the region that have already been developing these strengths for years?
“From the point of view of the World Tourism Organization, we give great value to what the country has. First place is the infrastructure, then history, culture and people well prepared. I believe that where there is more work to do is in the promotion outside the country abroad, that is where Panama must put more strength, more promotion, more international events that will give the country the possibility of bringing more tourists from other countries. I repeat, the country has it all and a greater number of international tourists could easily arrive. It must be understood that the pandemic stopped this process and it is in a recovery process and I have no doubt that the National Tourism Convention that has been organized will give a boost to motivate the country and attract more tourists. The other thing I want to mention is that Panama has a very diversified tourism products, there is nature tourism, adventure tourism, business tourism, along with infrastructure such as hotels, convention venues, airport, tourist routes, nature, people, traditions, gastronomy and “shopping”. The country has everything the tourist is looking for.”
The Panama Canal is the one unique resource of our country. What is your feeling about this tourist attraction of international importance?
“After I finish my participation in the National Tourism Convention I am going to visit the Panama Canal, it is the first time I am going to go, I have seen it on television and in reports and it seems to me that it is a unique attraction, it is not just a channel where ships come in and out, it is an attraction that all people must see. The Panama Canal is the tourist visit of the country, it is not the visit to check the number of ships that pass, it is a tourist attraction to see and experience it. It is the number one tourist product in the country.
How do you feel tourism will develop in the future, what will change and evolve?
“The war, the pandemic, and all kinds of crises have shown us that it is very difficult to make plans and make them happen, but at the same time we have seen that sustainability is very important for any country, as well as regional development and the generation of new destinations. tourism as well as expanding the current ones, which is something that Panama is doing quite well, giving the motivation to continue through this forum such as CONATUR.
We must support the indigenous community and families that live in the different regions of the country, and that is where we see the future. I cannot say what tourism will be like in the future, but it is very clear that with the steps we are taking: investing in education, innovation, sustainability, as well as in the preservation of culture and nature, will help us all to maintain a balance with the arrival of millions of tourists. It is not easy and there is sustainability, and I see that Panama has potential there, a country that has many opportunities to develop authentic tourism, we have seen and people with whom we have spoken these days who are unique in the world, that is what the tourist wants. The tourist is already used to seeing large hotels, similar restaurants that are replicated everywhere, although that is fine too, but what the new tourist is looking for, which is quite fashionable, is domestic tourism, regional tourism and rural tourism. That is why we have announced the “Best Tourism Villages” project, a star project for the World Tourism Organization, and we are very happy that we already have three towns from Panama that have entered this program, and I think that tourism goes and there are thousands of places worldwide where there are opportunities to develop new destinations. The tourist today seeks an authentic and local tourism, where Visitors meet more local people, their gastronomy and learn more about the country, there I see the future of tourism.”