Georgian Economy and Sustainable Development Minister Vera Kobalia, who arrived in Israel this past Sunday for a three-day visit to promote Georgian tourism and investment, found herself in the eye of a media storm over the arrest of two Israeli businessmen in her country last week.
Despite the controversy, she was able to meet with Israeli officials and discuss cooperation between the two nations.
It was Kobalia's first visit to Israel, and despite the unpleasantness surrounding the arrests of Ron Fuchs and Zeev Frenkiel, both arrested on October 14 for allegedly bribing Georgian Deputy Finance Minister Avtandil Kharadze, she said that she regrets not being able to stay longer, and described Israel as having magnetism. She expressed hope that she can make another, possibly personal, visit to Israel soon.
Kobalia. Plans to visit Israel again soon (Photos: Ziv Reinstein)
Kobalia reported a 6.5% growth in Georgia's gross national product over the past year, a result of the war with Russia in 2008 and the worldwide financial crisis in 2009, which caused the UN and the US to flow as much as $4 billion into the Georgian economy. The money was invested in infrastructure and the development of the tourism and energy fields.
According to Kobalia, Georgia has many hydroelectric stations and exports electric power to Turkey and other nations.
High potential in tourism industry
According to Kobalia, tourism is a significant economic resource that makes up for the nation's lack of other resources. She said that the industry has high potential in her country, especially on the quickly-developing Black Sea coast.
She stated that 2 million tourists visited Georgia so far this year, and 3 million are expected to visit next year. Kobalia said that hotels must be built to accommodate the growing volume of tourists – as many as 10,000 rooms are needed to be built by 2013.
Some of the main tourist attractions in Georgia are its ski resorts, which Kobalia listed as an alternative destination for Israeli tourists. She described these sites as less expensive than in Western Europe without compromising quality, and added that it is an especially convenient destination when the harsh winters in Europe prevent travelers from skiing.
Kobalia also praised the nightlife in the nation's capital, Tbilisi, saying it rivals that of Greece and Turkey. She mentioned that all-inclusive deals are being designed for Tbilisi's casinos and night clubs.
'Georgia tourism industry has high potential'
Cancelling visa requirements?
Kobalia met with Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz on Tuesday, and the two agreed to raise the frequency of flights between Israel and Georgia to 6-10 a week. Only one airline, a Georgian one, has served the Tbilisi-Tel Aviv route so far, but additional flights are in the works for Israeli airline Arkia. Another airline might join the route as well.
Kobalia suggested cancelling the visa requirement for Georgian tourists and businessmen as a way to boost tourism in Israel.
Despite her young age and famous looks, 29-year-old Kobalia said that she thinks her age and appearance do not affect her successes in any way. She said that investors want to know what they can profit from investing in her country, and that as nothing to do with looks.
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