By George Ramishvili
In September, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) made headlines when it launched an initiative called Tourism Opens Minds. In a world increasing fraught with geopolitical division and conflict, this global campaign encourages travellers, tourism industry leaders, and governments to explore new countries with an open-minded perspective.
As the UN seeks to encourage travellers to broaden their horizons and rediscover miss-perceived destinations, one location offers a perfect blueprint for success.
Perched on the fringes of Europe, where culture, and politics have often overlapped, Georgia is nestled deep in the Caucasus – a region which has long served as a crossroads of civilizations. Like many countries in the region, it also bears the scars of protracted conflicts and violence, and recent events in neighbouring Azerbaijan serve as a reminder of the Caucasus’ challenging history, which has taken a heavy toll on the region’s economic and infrastructural development.
However, there is significant hope. In recent years, Georgia has enjoyed, and benefited from, continued political and economic stability. Circumstances have led to a significant increase in European investment, offering a vital support system for Georgia, and enabling the Caucasus region more generally to prosper. Last year, Georgia generated just under $2.1 billion USD in FDI – the highest on record – and analysts believe 2023 could exceed that.
Such investment can serve as a catalyst for change, bolstering infrastructure, elevating living standards, and creating employment opportunities. If applied more broadly, it can also promote stability by fostering economic interdependence, reducing tensions, and facilitating dialogue across the region.
In the case of Georgia, tourism can also play a pivotal role in this transformative process. Often referred to as the “balcony of Europe,” Georgia has recently emerged as a central hub for musicians, skiers, and travellers. Boasting a rich cultural heritage, vast winelands, historic monasteries, and a unique cuisine, the country has drawn thousands to the region.
The numbers also back up these claims. According to the Georgian National Tourism Administration, the income from international tourism in the first three quarters of 2023 reached 3.3 billion USD, a record high for the industry. The country’s Deputy Economy Minister Mariam Kvrivishvili explained that “this is the result of the right strategy and action plan. We are working very closely with the private sector and with the airlines on increasing the tourist flow, to receive even more affluent tourists. This has a very positive impact on the strengthening of the tourism industry, the growth of incomes and strengthening of the private sector.”
While geopolitics often shapes international perspectives, framing entire regions in the same light, overshadowing cultures and historic heritage, it is tourism that can help erase those stereotypes and show people the truth depths and wonders of national cultures. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the global tourism industry is expected to reach €8.9 trillion in GDP contributions in 2023, and an ever-growing proportion of this will be from tourists seeking new ‘undiscovered’ locations.
In Georgia for example, we have a whole host of ‘hidden gems’, and the company I chair has done an amazing job of renovating some of them, from the Tsinandali Estate, where wine was first bottled in the country, to the ongoing work we are doing on the iconic Telegraph Hotel. In renovating these properties and giving them a new lease of life, we are ensuring that they offer tourists a tantalising glimpse of the beauties of Georgian culture, and as others like us continue to do the same this will in turn drive further economic growth in the tourism sector.
However, Georgia’s flourishing tourism sector isn’t just based on redevelopment. At the Silk Road Group, we believe that wine tourism in Georgia holds exceptional promise, as visitors can experience the true science behind the art of wine tasting.
To that end Tsinandali Estate hosted the Wine Symposium on 3 – 4 November, bringing together the world’s most influential winemakers, experts, sommeliers, journalists, and critics – all with the aim of introducing the rich European winemaking practices to the Georgian wine professionals and aficionados and showcasing the history and quality of Georgian wine. The symposium featured a tasting of 2010 Bordeaux Grand Cru wines – a significant chapter in the Georgian wine heritage that’s unparalleled in the region – as well as the selection of Georgia’s best wines and international products from the most renowned European houses.
The event also featured seminars and masterclasses by leading wine experts and scholars, such as Jean-Pierre Giraud, a world-renown expert of wood aging and a permanent member of the Grand Jury Européen, Jacky Rigaux, a famous wine writer, wine critic and researcher of Université de Bourgogne, Axel Marchal, a researcher at the University of Bordeaux and ISVV and Prof. David Lordkipanidze, a Georgian anthropologist, archaeologist and interdisciplinary researcher.
I believe that this is just the beginning for tourism in Georgia, and there is no denying the potential for positive change that such activity bring. European investment and tourism can serve as building blocks for a more prosperous and peaceful region. By embracing these opportunities, Europe can build new bridges from Georgia to the world, ultimately paving the way for a more connected and harmonious global community.
Next year, Georgia is set to host World Tourism Day, presenting to the world its historic landscapes and cultural heritage and bringing together people from across the world amidst on going regional tensions. Against that backdrop, the political significance of tourism in the Caucasus cannot be overstated, as it provides a means to create a brighter future in a region defined by its complex history and turbulent geopolitics. I hope that one day soon, it will instead be defined by its tourism.