Challenges for Tourism in Kakheti

Lagodekhi big waterfall

Luscious green fields, rolling hills, deep valleys, countless vineyards, national parks and blue rivers against a backdrop of the Caucasian mountains – the Kakheti region of Georgia, known for its monasteries, landmarks, artists, and excellent vines and meat dishes among others, has always been a tourist attraction during Soviet and post-Soviet times alike. More than 300.000 visitors used to come to see its beautiful nature, taste its infamous vines and experience the Kakhetien hospitality every year before the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Although this number has decreased, more than 90 percent of Georgia’s tourists still pay a visit to this region during their stay. Nevertheless, according to experts’ opinions, the interest in the region and its potential for touristic development currently do not match the preparedness for tourism in Kakheti, which raises questions about how this potential is to be realized in the near future? Developing tourism always represents an area of conflict between the interests of the regional population -being keen about finding solutions for economic shortcomings- and the interest of international investors. Furthermore the interests of the tourist industry might contradict with environmental concerns. Thus, Georgia is well advised to look at some lessons learnt from other big tourism development projects, in order to be aware of potential problems and possible options for the regional development.

Tourism represents an important socio-economic drive for Kakheti, and it can thus become a key contributing factor shaping its transformation to a fully operational market economy and its democratic development. With its first public debate in Kakheti at the State University of Telavi, the Foundation encouraged civil society to present their views and take part in open and democratic exchanges about a topic that holds new prospects, but -if mismanaged- also carries great risks for the region’s future development. Since 2004, the Foundation has organized public debates in Tbilisi and has recently expanded this format to Georgia’s regions, in order to empower people throughout the country to actively participate in shaping the transition towards democratic development and market economy. To this end, experts, stakeholders, and interested members of the public assembled in Telavi to discuss “The Challenges for Tourism in Kakheti” from the perspectives of public and private interests on a regional level.

The experts – Chairman of Georgia’s Tourism Association, Natalia Kvachantiradze, Chairman of the Association “Caucasus Meridian”, Alexandre Sukilashvili, and Manager of “Georgia Discovery Tour”, Gia Aliashvili – acknowledged the enormous potential of the region, but pointed out that the current state of the infrastructure, the lack of thoroughly developed tourist routes providing guidance and incentives to visit different parts of Kakheti, the need for professional training in the field of tourism, improvements of the information and PR services, and the underdeveloped appreciation of the benefits of working together and coordination among local stakeholders pose some of the most severe obstacles to Kakheti’s touristic development at the moment. These views gave rise to a lively debate and the search for joint answers to overcome the obstacles.

Moderated by journalist Levan Aleksishvili, the debate yielded a number of ideas, among them the establishment of a Kakheti Tourism Association, bringing together all stakeholders in order to build a network for cooperation, and to strengthen their ability to start a structured dialogue with the government about the potential and needs of this region.
The appropriation of micro-credits, fostering the availability of professional trainings to improve services, increased exchanges with European experts about the demands of the modern tourism industry (such as eco-tourism), representation of Kakheti at international tourist fairs, and developing thematic routes interlinking touristic sites throughout Kakheti were additional initiatives discussed.

Bringing together the different stakeholders to openly and jointly discuss the potential of Kakheti’s tourism industry and its challenges was a first step on a path to touristic development of the region. While all participants agreed that this will be a long road ahead, the debate nevertheless laid a cornerstone for further cooperation and initiatives.