Eight British tour operators and a few journalists visited Georgia last week. The visit was held with the initiative of the British-Georgian Commerce Chamber (BGCC), in cooperation with the bmi Group. The aim of the meeting was to explore Georgia’s potential as a good tourist destination, and to show representatives of tour agencies that the country is safe to travel. One of the initiators and the organizer of the event, Mako Abashidze, the director of the Chamber said, “Our activities are directed to help Georgia’s tourism and economy. We want to have closer relations with Britain. Later this year, we plan to hold a seminar in London, dedicated to Georgia. We hope it’ll have tactile results.”
The first place the guests visited was Mtskheta. After returning to Tbilisi, bmi account manager Agnieszka Lojko didn’t try to hide her emotions, saying the town was fantastic. It was her first time in Georgia, and Ms. Lojko added that she is very willing to broaden her company’s business, which has operated here since 2007.
The visit followed a meeting in Georgia’s tourism department. The senior adviser of the head of the department, Katja Setzkorn, presented a small but informative review about the Georgia, its culture, nature, and tourism potential. “Europe started here” was the headline of the meeting.
“The only tourists that arrived here this summer were journalists and politicians, and that’s all because of the war. Lots of tourists that had booked tours in the summer refused to arrive, and that was really a big loss for the business. Now we’re trying to get back to the situation we had before the war,” said Ms. Setzkorn to the guests.
“These kinds of tours help tourism develop and attract more tourists in Georgia,” said Gvantsa Razmadze, Head of the International Tourism and Marketing section of the Georgian Tourism Department.
The visitors had many questions. When one asked if there are guest houses in the rural areas, the answer was positive. Later, they advised the department to have a permanent representative in London, who could promote the country more actively. Godfrey Cromwell, director of British-Georgian Chamber of Commerce suggested “an ambitious young man” for the job. It was his second time in Georgia, and now he decided to take his family here on vacation.
“Georgia has culture, wine, fantastic cuisine, places for skiing and tracking, it has everything for tourism, and it’s so sorrowful that British people know almost nothing about the country. Georgia has a great opportunity to have a big tourist business. Besides, you need less than 5 hours flight to get here from London. We held this event for the popularization of Georgia. As we see it, there is nothing dangerous here. We walk and feel absolutely safe, we want to tell it to the British people,” he said later in the interview.
After the visit to the Kazbegi and Gudauri mountain regions, BGCC held a reception in the TBC bank exhibition hall. The reception was attended by the ambassador of the UK in Georgia, Denis Keefe, and his wife. He welcomed the guests from Britain, and he expressed his hopes that the visit of tour-operators will help the tourism industry and the Georgian economy as a whole.
Cecilia Ban, a tour consultant from the Cox and Kings travel agency, said, “I’m really very happy being here. There are many talks about Georgia, newspapers write a lot, but when you see with your own eyes that is completely different. I cannot see any danger here. Of course I don’t recommend my clients to visit South Ossetia or Abkhazia in this particular time, but the rest of the country is absolutely safe and worth seeing. Besides, if you are interested in culture and if you want to see new things, no obstacle will stop you.” She said she will advice her agency to plan tours in Georgia.
On the last day the Georgia tour, British guests stayed in the region of Kakheti. It is worth mentioning that all the tours were managed by the Georgian tour-operator Caucasus Travel, and the BGCC representatives expressed their thanks to the agency.
They visited the Sighnaghi National Museum and the Teliani Valley wine shop in Sighnaghi, where they tasted red and white Georgian wines. Guest Robert Lourence said he was inspired by the Georgian wine and by Kakheti. “This region looks absolutely different than other parts of Georgia. Sighnaghi is like an Italian town, I like it very much.”
He said his company has already booked some tours in Georgia, and they will probably continue with them. “We mostly have devoted clients, and they trust us. On our web-site we always put information about countries where we usually plan tours. Sometimes we don’t recommend them to visit countries that are dangerous, but I promise that we will never tell our clients that Georgia is unsafe, now I see that it isn’t true.”
His company, Scott’s Tours, will not plan big tours, but will instead work on individual tours in Georgia. He talked about the country’s advantages, such as the fact that it’s cheap and easy to travel. “The absence of difficult visa procedures makes the visit attractive here. People don’t like to have troubles on documents and spend money, so they’ll find it comfortable to travel here,” Lourence added.
The last stop was the village of Tsinandali in Kakheti. The famous Georgian museum of Chavchavadze family was opened for presentation. The Silk Road Group, which has taken the museum for a 49-year leasing, had yet to complete restoration, but the organizers opened it for the invited guests. The evening was accompanied by the famous Orchestra of Gidon Kremer and the Kremereta Baltica. The British Guests left Georgia on October 9.