TOWARDS A TRANSFORMATION OF TOURISM IN GEORGIA
As Georgia steps-out as official Digital Adventure & Sustainability Partner of ITB Berlin NOW, travel professionals and media from around the world will have the chance to discover an entirely new facet of this fabulous destination.
With the global Covid-19 crisis changing the “normal” for travel now and for the future, the small nation of Georgia has totally changed tack when it comes to international tourism. And the fact Georgia has been chosen as “adventure and sustainability” partner for ITB Berlin NOW this year comes as no surprise. In the 2010s, Georgia became a fast rising star of culture, nature and food tourism. A country blessed with millennia-old history and friendly people, its amazing landscapes of mountains and traditional villages, delicious food, excellent wine and mesmerising traditional music have become increasingly renowned. Add to this the bustling capital Tbilisi with its patchwork of old and modern architecture and lively night scene, and Georgia could be said to be a true gem for the curious traveller.
Georgia and ITB Berlin have agreed a wide-ranging partnership that will span three successive years. Within this framework Georgia and the World’s Leading Travel Trade Show have signed a partnership for 2021, 2022 and 2023.
While as early as this year, Georgia is the Digital Adventure & Sustainability Partner of ITB Berlin NOW, in 2022, as ITB Berlin’s Official Cultural Destination, Georgia will highlight its cultural heritage. The title of Official Host Country will follow in 2023. In cooperation with ITB Berlin, the host country traditionally organises the Grand Opening Show of ITB Berlin and will be highlighted during the entire trade event.
Georgia is at the intersection of Europe and Asia. The birthplace of wine, its gastronomy, agro- & eco-tourism, history & cultural heritage, natural monuments, wellness and spa tourism, and adventure travel are all complemented by legendary Georgian hospitality. For them, the concept is that the guest is a gift from God.
The Georgian economy is highly dependent on tourism, generally accounting for 8% of GDP, and over 300,000 jobs in tourism and related fields. In 2019, the nation hosted over nine million international visitors, almost three times more than the population of the country itself.
When Covid hit, the nation was quick to close borders, resulting in a very low rate of infections locally. Entering the country as a foreign tourist was however not impossible, as the government developed new policies to attract freelancers and the self-employed to live and work in the country, in a safe and controlled way. Georgia’s economy minister Natia Turnava announced a visa policy that would allow foreigners to work remotely from the country.
Turnava stated that: “we’re inviting this targeted audience to Georgia and offering them to live in our country. Georgia has an image of a safe country in terms of epidemiological standpoint and we want to use this chance. We’re talking about opening the border in a manner which will let us protect the health of our citizens and… let every foreign citizen who falls in this category enter Georgia”.
Remote workers are thus allowed to live and work from Georgia, provided they are staying for six months or longer and can afford to quarantine at their own expense for 14 days on arrival.
So, what now?
A spokesperson for the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA), explains that the realisation is that post-COVID, the nation will need to focus more on sustainable tourism development. This will be done by creating new opportunities, discovering new routes through untouched nature, where one will feel like the first ever visitor. New authentic experiences will increasingly include cooperation with local communities, with greater attention to Georgian living culture. “Quality over quantity” will be at the heart of Georgia’s new offering.
GNTA has a role of ensuring sustainable tourism development and increase awareness of Georgia, as a truly exceptional tourist destination, on the international market. The aim of the organisation is to directly impact the development of the country’s economy through growth in tourism.
The government is slowly opening up the country, with new travel regulations being put in place, such as being one of the world’s first countries to accept vaccinated tourists without quarantine or tests. To this end, the tourism sector is being readied for a gradual rise in tourist numbers.
Georgia’s beauty is legendary and takes many forms. From the cobbled streets and hidden squares of old Tbilisi to the rock hewn monasteries at Vardzia and the breath-taking Caucasus mountains.
New itineraries take in some of the lesser known gems, allowing the visitor to explore ancient churches, wander through picturesque mountain towns, marvel at the opulence of the Georgian State Museum and sip world-class wine in the vineyards of Kakheti. There’s also the opportunity to drive along a newly repaired stunning route through the Lower Caucasus to Akhalsikhe from Tbilisi and to visit the remote Davit Gareja desert complex, near the border with Azerbaijan.
Wine has been produced in Georgia almost as long as there have been Georgians. Grapes have been cultivated in the nation’s fertile valleys for over 8,000 years. With over 500 varieties of endemic grapes and the world’s first cultivated grapevines, the traditions of viticulture are entwined with the country’s national identity. It’s also believed that the word “wine” is of Georgian origin (“ღვინო” – “ghvino” in Georgian). Georgia’s traditional winemaking method of fermenting grapes in egg-shaped earthenware vessels has been added to the world heritage list of UNESCO.
Adventure & sustainable tourism – a growing force in Georgia
Georgia’s nature is under the protection of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. About 20% of the territory of Georgia are declared as areas to be protected. During the Soviet regime 15 nature reserves with a total area of over 168,000 hectares were based in Georgia, including Algeti, Achmeta, Borjomi and Kazbegi. Situated right in the heart of Georgia, the national parks have become an ideal place for fans of ecotourism, trekking, for walkers, as well as becoming highly sought-out destination for botanists, ornithologists and photographers.
The culture of Georgia has evolved over the country’s long history, providing it with a unique national identity and a strong literary tradition based on the Georgian language and alphabet. This strong sense of national identity has helped to preserve Georgian distinctiveness despite repeated periods of foreign occupation.
The USAID supported ZRDA project in Georgia has been working with sustainable adventure tour operators in Georgia, developing innovative, sustainable travel experiences for post covid travellers throughout Georgia. Seven of these tour operators will be attending Berlin ITB NOW with ZRDA