Does regional tourism in Georgia have a future after COVID-19?

Forum in Racha sparks lively discussion of strategies to survive and thrive after the pandemic

Posted August 25, 2020

Photo: Nino Zedginidze/UNDP

Over 200 local entrepreneurs and tourism service providers as well as local government and civil society representatives participated in the Regional Tourism Forum held in Ambrolauri on Friday. The event provided an opportunity to discuss the prospects for tourism development in western Georgia in the adverse conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Tourism is one of the main priorities of sustainable development of Racha-Lechkhumi and Lower Svaneti,” noted Mzia Giorgobiani, Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia. “The forum provided an opportunity to discuss the strengths and needs existing in the region as well as new opportunities brought by the pandemic reality, especially in the context of agro-tourism.”

Participants agreed that authentic experiences and unique cultural specifics were key to the mountainous region’s attractiveness. But infrastructure also needed to be improved to ensure that tourists returned.

“The pandemic hit tourism harder than any other industry in Georgia. Lots of people lost income and tourism companies are struggling to survive,” said Anna Chernyshova, Deputy Head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Georgia. “With the support of our partners, UNDP’s focus is to support recovery by funding economic initiatives that help local communities to ‘build back better.’”

Danielle Meuwly, Regional Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office for the South Caucasus, stressed the long-term support of Switzerland to regional and local development in Georgia. “Since 2012, the Government of Switzerland has been supporting Georgia in making progress in good governance, thereby ensuring sustainable economic development and wellbeing of local people,” Meuwly noted. “The pandemic hit hard many sectors, including tourism, which is a backbone of local economy, especially in mountainous regions of Georgia. Therefore, we are happy to support today’s Regional Tourism Forum which we believe will further stimulate tourism in this region and provide the opportunity for local communities to take part in this development.”  

The forum was organized by the Local Democracy Agency Georgia in partnership with the Racha Development Initiative as part of the Racha-Lechkhumi and Lower Svaneti Regional Development Initiative. UNDP, MRDI, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) all provided support to the event.

Nino Khukhua, Executive Director of Local Democracy Agency Georgia, and Giorgi Makarashvili, Acting State Representative of Racha-Lechkhumi and Lower Svaneti region, also addressed the forum.  

In addition to the discussion of threats and opportunities in the pandemic context, the Regional Tourism Forum was designed to promote tourism, particularly agro-tourism, in Racha-Lechkhumi and Lower Svaneti region. The forum was accompanied by a fair of local products which offered the region’s entrepreneurs an opportunity to showcase their handiwork and network with tourism service providers.

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