The Austrian Development Agency (ADA), with the financial support from the Delegation of the European Union (EU), Government of Sweden and the Federal Government of Austria, implements the “Green Economy: Sustainable Mountain Tourism and Organic Agriculture (GRETA)” project. The project implements activities to  Improve the business environment for organic agriculture and sustainable mountain tourism;  create new and improved income opportunities in sustainable mountain tourism and organic agriculture and  strengthen the capacity of stakeholders active in these sectors. GRETA is implemented between 2019 and 2023 in selected municipalities of Georgia covering the Mestia, Lentekhi, Tsageri, Oni, Ambrolauri, Sachkhere, Chiatura and Tkibuli for the respected regions of Georgia - Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, Racha, Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti and Imereti regions.
Welcome to Svaneti
History of Tourism Development in Svaneti
The first recorded tourists arrived in Svaneti in the 19th century. Travelers' journals and historical documents praise the exceptional hospitality of the Svan people.
During the Soviet era, turbaza hotels became popular in Svaneti. Tourists from Europe made brave attempts to enter, but the KGB and security services would not allow it. Still, the locals found that interacting with Russian tourists and climbers was a positive experience and numerous groups of backpacking tourists would swarm to the passes as soon as the
summer season began. Hosting international hikers abruptly came to an end in the 1990s - a very difficult time in Georgia, with war, violence, political and economic turmoil, when tourism was forgotten. But after the Rose Revolution in the early 2000s, the situation began to change, and Svaneti's safe reputation began to be restored gradually.
Since 2007, the Georgian government has made significant investments in Upper Svaneti, aimed at promoting the development of the tourism industry while also contributing to the complex socio-economic development of the region. The state-funded large-scale projects in Svaneti are worthy of note, including the urban rehabilitation of the Mestia townlet’s and conservation of the its historic districts, the complete rehabilitation of the Zugdidi-Mestia connecting highway and the laying of a new concrete road, the construction of the Mestia airport, the urban improvement of Mestia, and the Hatsvali mountain and Tetnuldi ski cableway complexes. The Hatsvali ski-area road to Mestia and the Ushguli-Mestia connecting road were also constructed, while the Mestia museum underwent complete reconstruction. Up to 100 historical towers were restored. Hydro-energy facilities and power transmission lines were constructed or rehabilitated.
In Kvemo Svaneti, the central square of Lentekhi township and the central area also underwent improvement works. The Ambrolauri-Tsageri-Lentekhi highway underwent complete rehabilitation, with restoration of the highway connecting Ushguli-Lentekhi pass and its complete rehabilitation still in progress (slated for completion in 2024).
Svaneti Tourism Development Strategy & Action Plan | Page 6
The future of Tourism Development for Svaneti involves participation in the GRETA project activities and this destination development strategy process. Most important is the actual implementation of the Action Plan delivered out of this project, ensuring that the Assessment and Strategy are not simply a document that gets dusty on a shelf and forgotten.
Purpose of a Development Strategy
Destination management is a process of leading, influencing and coordinating the management of all the aspects of a destination that contribute to a visitor’s experience. It takes into account the needs of visitors, local residents, businesses, and the environment. A tourism development strategy and action plan (herein referred to simply as the “Strategy” or “Plan”) is a shared statement of intent to manage a destination over a stated period of time, articulating the roles of the different stakeholders, identifying clear actions that they will take, the apportionment of resources, and to insure long term sustainable management practices.. This document is designed to be utilized by stakeholders in the Svaneti region to advocate for themselves, to coordinate actions between public and private sector at municipal, regional and national level, to attract development aid and governmental funds to improve infrastructure and municipal services, and with that create conditions to insure sustainable development and competitiveness of the Svaneti region.
The first phase of a Destination Development Strategy is research and analysis. For this project, Part 1: Assessment was drafted and completed in June 2023 as a means to build a shared understanding of the trends of the region’s tourism economy, including its visitor profile, infrastructure, tourism sector services, challenges, and attractions to provide context for the development strategy, its vision, objectives, and action plans. The analysis presents relevant information about the current tourism situation in the winter and summer seasons and considers opportunities for improvement based on the findings.
The analysis process involved desk and field research, meetings and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders from local government, tourism operators, accommodation providers, small business owners, and residents across the Svaneti region. This work reflects information about a wide range of factors that directly or indirectly impact tourism development: geographic, political, demographic, urban planning, public services and infrastructure, cultural heritage, resorts, economic statistics, etc. The subject of the assessment is not only the tourism centers, but more focused on overall opportunities covering remote villages, less visited areas and new products that can be developed within the framework of the 1-5 years of strategic planning.
The strategy and action plan provided in this document acts as a comprehensive roadmap for the future development of Svaneti as a world-class mountain tourism destination. It is structured with five strategic objectives followed by an action plan matrix with responsible parties, estimated budget and timelines, as well as key performance indicators.
Under the strategic objective of developing a better living and recreation environment, the strategy focuses on improving infrastructure and public services, including access to secure municipal services, urban and land use planning, sustainable energy supply, roads and regional connectivity, public transport and visitors' transportation, water supply and waste management. These initiatives aim to create a sustainable and well-developed environment that supports both the local community and the growing tourism industry.
To enhance Svaneti's unique selling proposition, the strategy proposes the development of world-class tourism products such as off-piste skiing opportunities, hosting international winter festivals and sporting events, revitalizing heritage sites, and creating new ski, equestrian, biking and hiking trails. These initiatives aim to attract adventure-seeking tourists and highlight the rich cultural and natural heritage of Svaneti.
Education and skills development in mountain tourism professions is emphasized in the strategy, which proposes the establishment of an adventure tourism school, creation of
professional education frameworks, international accreditation of trainers, and skills development programs for local hospitality and transport businesses.
In order to promote Svaneti in the global adventure market, the strategy outlines various marketing and promotional activities, including the development of marketing plans, maintaining an online presence, storytelling campaigns, engagement with content creators and influencers, collaboration with tour operators and travel agents, and participation in adventure travel trade shows and exhibitions.
The final objective emphasizes the importance of introducing efficient destination management practices. It highlights the need for effective DMO management practices, operational efficiency, positioning at the national and international level, and collaboration between public and private actors. These initiatives aim to ensure the smooth operation and coordination of destination management efforts in Svaneti.
Overall, this action plan provides a comprehensive and cohesive approach to the development of Svaneti as a sustainable and competitive mountain tourism destination. It addresses various aspects of infrastructure, tourism products, education, marketing, and destination management, with the ultimate goal of maximizing the economic and social benefits of tourism while preserving the region's unique cultural and natural heritage.