SUKHUM / AQW'A ― In 2023, Abkhazia welcomed 1.3 million visitors, marking an increase of nearly 200,000 from the previous year. This trend reflects the growing interest in the region as a tourist destination, significantly impacting its economy.
Zaur Shalashaa, the Director of the Institute of Economics and Law of the Abkhazian Academy of Sciences, and a Doctor of Economic Sciences, shared insights into the recent developments in the tourism sector. According to him, the steady annual increase of around 100,000 tourists highlights the success of the tourism season. He attributes this growth to instability in other resort regions and the rising trend of domestic tourism within Russia, a major source of tourists for Abkhazia.
The tourism industry is seen as a driving force of the republic's economy, with top revenue-generating attractions like the Ritsa Relict National Park and the New Athos Cave. In 2023, these sites saw impressive financial returns, with the Ritsa Park earning over 380 million rubles (around $4.1M) and the New Athos Cave exceeding 269 million rubles (2.9M) in revenue.
Shalashaa notes that these figures are significant and reliable, yet raises concerns about the private sector, where there is a lack of stringent financial reporting. He points out that the tourism sector often reports inaccurate data on visitor numbers. Increased tax collections following inspections by regulatory authorities suggest underreporting in the industry.
The emergence of new accommodation facilities positively impacts the economy, creating job opportunities. However, Shalashaa observes that some market players underreport incomes and wages to evade taxes. He contrasts this with organisations like Litfond, which reports average wages of 70,000 rubles (around $767), reflecting its transparent operations. In contrast, others claiming average wages of around 14,000 rubles (around $155) are likely underreporting.
Shalashaa estimates that the shadow economy in Abkhazia accounts for about 30% of the total economy, a figure that is potentially much higher according to specialists in socio-economic research. This underscores the need for more effective regulation and transparency in the tourism sector to accurately reflect its true impact on the economy.