Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Travel Weekly": Georgia rises

Photo: Travel Weekly / Godwin 
28.11.2012 (HTN - Hvino Tour News). Today the leading US national newspaper of travel industry Travel Weekly published a fundamental article on Georgian tourism and wine tradition. Several excerpts from the article "Georgia rises" by Nadine Godwin follow:

When I passed through immigration at Georgia’s Tbilisi Airport, an agent quickly stamped my passport, then handed me a box.

Never before had I received a gift at an immigration checkpoint. The small bottle of red wine came with a message that said in part: “We warmly welcome you to Georgia, the country that gave wine to the world.” All arriving foreign-passport holders were gifted at entry in Tbilisi, a gesture that left no doubt about the country’s desire to please foreign visitors.

Georgia already is realizing some of its potential for wine tourism, with vintners in Kakheti, the country’s top winemaking region, offering tours and tastings. Georgia claims to be the place where winemaking was born around 8,000 years ago, though some scholars credit other locations in the general vicinity.

Regardless of who got to the starting line first, winemaking, using millennia-old methods, is a vibrant 21st century business in Georgia. The country counts more than 500 indigenous grape varieties, all with unpronounceable names unknown in the West. Some popular European varietals have been imported recently, and today, selected wines are made using European techniques.

But traditional methods, which involve aging the crushed grapes with their seeds and skins in clay jars buried in the ground, are alive and well. The reds are so dark Georgians call them black.

In my experience, the traditional wines varied widely, from the dry and smooth tastes Westerners appreciate to something that was indescribably odd.

Also, in recent years, international arrivals have risen sharply without even a blip during a 2008 war with Russia. Worldwide, the numbers rose from 559,753 in 2005 to more than 2.8 million in 2011. The bulk of arrivals were from neighboring countries, but the U.S. market, while small, was the largest outside a region that includes the Middle East. U.S. arrivals climbed from 12,922 in 2005 to 24,236 in 2011.

Worldwide, arrivals rose 56% in just the first nine months of 2012, compared with 2011. From the U.S., the increase was less stunning, but strong, at 21%. International tourism receipts were nearly $1 billion last year.

The country is diverse for its size, slightly smaller than South Carolina, giving it potential for wide touristic appeal. Cultural aspects include a uniquely Georgian cuisine to go with the wine, polyphonic music, traditional dances noted for the male dancers’ vigorous routines and a nearly 1,700-year history of Christianity with potential for pilgrimages.

The diversity also includes the resorts along the subtropical Black Sea coast and an attractive cruise destination at Batumi; bird-watching in a land of 360 species; and the Caucasus Mountains, a setting of great beauty, dotted with medieval villages and open for skiing, rafting, trekking, rock climbing and other adventures.

Further, if Americans know about Georgia at all, it is usually as a result of the 2008 war with Russia. And few tour operators offer programs to Georgia.

Mariam Kvrivishvili, deputy head of the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA) in Tbilisi, said demand for hotel rooms “is already outstripping supply” as a result of recent tourism growth. She expects the supply to increase, especially in Tbilisi, which will host the Youth Olympic Festival and soccer’s 2015 UEFA Super Cup.

She said 76 hotels are planned or under construction across the country, the bulk in Tbilisi, on the Black Sea or in Samtskhe-Javakheti, an area to the south offering spas and skiing. Many planned four- and five-star properties continue to be concentrated on the Black Sea, where Batumi is slated for a Kempinski next year and a Hilton and Holiday Inn in 2014.

Kvrivishvili said the GNTA “is starting to enter the U.S. market.” It rented a large booth at ASTA’s trade show in Los Angeles this fall to raise awareness of the destination, and it hosted an event for travel agents in Brooklyn, N.Y. She said the GNTA will continue promoting at trade fairs and hosting fam trips.

Georgian-born Vera Pearson Sagareishvili, managing director of corporate accounts for Panorama Travel, was tapped by Georgians in the U.S. to head up promotion of the destination on a volunteer basis, since Georgia does not have a tourism office in the U.S.

Her goal, Pearson said, is “to put Georgia, the country, on the map.” She works with the GNTA by, for example, organizing events where GNTA personnel make presentations. This included the September dinner for agents in Brooklyn, which coincided with ASTA’s event.

Source (excerpts)

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