Friday, December 23, 2011

Tourism Development in Georgia - a foreign perspective

Thoughts Georgian Tourism

“perspective from a foreign eye”

Daniel W. Silverman

Tourism is an essential component of local business in many countries, serving as a main source of income for a large part of the population. This is also the case in Georgia with its many attractions and longstanding tourism tradition. Georgia’s many cultural and natural attractions can be enjoyed by foreign and domestic visitors alike. However, just as with any other business, tourism requires good management, which includes advertising, information support, and especially well-trained and courteous staff, and buttressed with appropriate infrastructure.  

Although I am not an expert on this field, I have travelled across much of Georgia and the region in the last few years. I can observe from my own personal experience the various kinds of problems that the tourism industry faces here. Also, my family is involved in this business – helping to develop tourism and is very active in rural development.

First of all I want to mention the overall lack of information about tourism in the region, especially what seems to be a dearth of information available to locals, about the potential for local tourism and the many attractions that Georgia processes. Visitors are not well-informed about tours to the various regions. I have often heard from my foreign friends who have travelled around Georgia that it is always “full of surprises”.

They mentioned that they are not accustomed to such extreme travel – sometimes good extreme and sometimes extreme bad. Whenever I want to go somewhere I first look for information on the internet and a well-organised website is almost always a guarantee in supporting my choice of where to go, what to do, or in which hotel or guest house to stay. Transport continues to be a problem, especially in getting to the regions.

I’m sure that few, if any, region and tourist centre in Georgia effectively provides such information so I think that if the government invested in a well presented and easily accessible website describing the nature, culture and tourist routes in the Georgian regions it would be immensely helpful to the development of local tourism. This website must be kept up-to-date and all contact information accurate.

Tourism development is especially important for the mountainous regions where the population has a tendency to migrate to big cities to find jobs. The second most important thing which I think would improve the appeal of Georgia to tourists would be to train locals to work in tourist information centres. Their current level of knowledge about their own region is often inadequate, and not to a standard that allows to work in such places.

 Locals are now unable to provide adequate services to foreign visitors. They need to be able to provide information about other regions as well. Such as how to get from region A to B, how much does it cost, and then how to return to where you started. It is also important to have foreign language knowledge in the regions. At least for tourism companies, as it would be cheaper to have local guides rather than someone from the main city accompanying tour groups.

Svaneti region, one of the most isolated in Georgia, has the greatest development potential among the mountain regions, with regard to the benefits which a properly funded and well-run tourism centre would provide. Cultural tourism in this region is just as popular as mountain activities such as skiing and hiking. Generally ski runs are working here even in summer, and the main advantage of Svaneti region, when compared other mountain regions, is that the villages have not yet been deserted by people looking for work elsewhere.

A large part of the process of tourism development depends on public facilities. Even in such a crowded and big city as Batumi in summer along the promenade you can’t find more than one toilet or outside shower, a changing room or a snack bar to buy cold drinks.  Surely it’s not so difficult for local businesses to get together and fix such problems? Even where there are toilet facilities but these are stinking and the conditions are less than pristine, not to an acceptable level for domestic or foreign tourist alike.

Finally, I have to say that tour operators and tourism companies need to be more active, creative, resourcefulness and demonstrate flexibility and initiative in developing their businesses.  

Daniel Silverman, recent graduate of Shepherd University, Shepherdstown West Virginia, BS Environment Studies, 2010, Concentration Natural Resource Management.
-- - Does exactly what it says on the tin

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