Establish a Workforce Development
3.0 Establish a Workforce Development and Education Program for Mountain Tourism Professionals
Workforce development for mountain tourism professionals in Svaneti is a strategic objective aimed to enhance the competitiveness of mountain tourism professions and position Svaneti as an exceptional mountain destination and as a hub for adventure tourism education and training. This objective recognizes the importance of providing training and education programs for tourism stakeholders, local communities, and service providers to enhance their skills, knowledge, and capabilities in delivering quality tourism services to meet the growing demand for adventure tourism services and ensuring the long-term success of the region. Workforce development and training opportunities play a crucial role in the success and sustainability of any mountain adventure destination.
As the demand for mountain tourism continues to grow, it becomes essential to ensure that guides and other professionals in the industry possess the necessary skills, knowledge, and expertise to provide safe, enjoyable, and informative experiences for visitors. Key reasons for an established framework and educational system include: safety, enhanced visitor experience, environmental stewardship, professionalism and reputation, and economic impact. To promote workforce development and training, Svaneti can collaborate with educational institutions, industry associations, and experienced professionals. They can establish training programs, workshops, and mentoring opportunities that cover a wide range of skills, including safety and risk management, customer service, cultural awareness, environmental conservation, and technical expertise related to specific activities. Continuous professional development programs should also be encouraged to ensure guides and professionals stay updated with the latest industry trends and best practices.
By investing in the development and training of guides and mountain tourism professionals, Svaneti can differentiate itself, enhance visitor experiences, foster sustainability, and drive economic growth. Ultimately, a well-prepared and knowledgeable workforce is instrumental in positioning the destination as a premier choice for mountain enthusiasts and ensuring long-term success.
3.1 Open an Adventure Tourism School branch in Mestia
The Adventure Tourism School (ATS) and its predecessors, including the Georgian Guide Service, Georgian State Mountain Guide School, and Georgian Mountain Guide Association, have been instrumental in developing guiding institutions and educational platforms since the early 1990s. Their mission has remained consistent: to educate local youth and empower them to become true leaders in adventure tourism. With the formalization of the education process, the Adventure Tourism School has significantly expanded the number of training programs and graduates since its establishment in 2016.
To ensure long-term sustainability in Svaneti, the construction of the branch “ATS West Point” in Mestia will serve as a strategic stabilizing factor. This expansion has already proven successful in Gudauri and Kazbegi regions. Key stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Education, Skills Agency, Mountain Tourism Association, Georgian National Tourism Administration, and Resorts Development Agency, recognize the importance of supporting the operations of the Georgian Mountain Guide Association and Adventure Tourism School in Svaneti. This highlights the urgent need for qualified adventure guides, ski instructors, rescuers, ski-lift servicemen, and avalanche hazard service personnel.
By bringing adventure tourism programs to Svaneti in western Georgia, ATS West Point will greatly increase accessibility and provide equal professional education opportunities to more students, including those from rural communities in lower and upper Svaneti, as well as Lechkhumi, Tsageri, and Samegrelo. This expansion will particularly benefit girls in rural areas, where educational and employment opportunities are currently limited. The potential for growth and development in these areas is enormous, and ATS West Point will play a crucial role in unlocking these opportunities and fostering a more favorable educational and employment environment.
ATS West Point will establish a comprehensive TVET formal education program/matrix, providing a wide range of interrelated non-formal, short certificate, and professional diploma courses. This innovative Adventure Skills Pathway will serve as a vital roadmap, guiding ambitious youth from all corners of Svaneti towards successful careers in adventure tourism. Each step along this educational journey will seamlessly connect to the next, ensuring a holistic and progressive learning experience.
ATS West Point will replicate and authorize existing popular and in-demand programs tailored specifically for Svaneti. These programs will encompass a diverse array of exciting disciplines, including Trekking Guide, Ski Guide, Alpine Guide, Canyoning Guide, Ski Teacher, Rock Climbing Guide, Equestrian Tour Guide, Rafting Guide, and many more. By offering these specialized courses, ATS West Point aims to meet the industry's demands and equip aspiring professionals with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in their chosen adventure tourism fields.
3.2 Future Guides Summer Schools and Adventure Tourism Leader Program
The program will focus on delivering essential adventure tourism competences, including Risk Management, Outdoor Skills, Navigation, and more. Participants will also develop transferable skills such as Leadership, Organization, Teamwork, and gain technical expertise in various adventure tourism disciplines like Rock Climbing, Hiking, Canyoneering, Cycling, and more.
Future Guide Summer Schools will seek partnerships with private companies and public organizations that will be willing and capable of supporting this platform. By investing in the grassroots development of adventure skills in Svaneti, a more resilient and sustainable guiding industry will be created, long-term training costs will be reduced, and significant growth in the number, quality, and diversity of certified professionals will be achieved within a shorter time frame. The program aims to equip the youth of Svaneti with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in the adventure tourism sector, thereby ensuring the long-term success of the region as a premier destination. It is estimated that about 100 middle/high school freshmen will enroll every year, with at least 50% of them expected to continue vocational education in adventure tourism.
3.3 International accreditation of qualified trainers in adventure tourism education
Catering to the surging demand for adventure guides in the adventure tourism industry of Svaneti, ATS faces a pressing need for field experts. However, the educational sector encounters challenges due to limited resources compared to the commercial sector. To bridge this gap, ATS West Point, in collaboration with the Supervisory Committee, aims to establish partnerships with renowned international organizations like IFMGA and UIMLA. These alliances will facilitate the engagement of expert professionals from abroad, who will contribute their valuable knowledge and skills to the adventure tourism training process.
Securing the necessary funding becomes a crucial next step, as it will enable the compensation of trainers' fees and support the overall Adventure Tourism Education at ATS West Point. Investing in building a pool of qualified trainers and experts is of utmost importance to meet the escalating demand for quality education in adventure tourism and ensure the sustainable growth of the industry.
Taking into account the ratio of adventure students per trainer, which ranges from 1 trainer to 2 students for high altitude mountaineering to 1 trainer to 6 students for trekking, ski touring, horse riding, rafting, etc., a minimum of 15 Guide Experts should be estimated within a 5-year period to meet the demand for various specializations.
3.4 Establish a Multi-Source Financing Mechanism for Adventure Guide Training
Formal professional education in Georgia primarily relies on state budget funding, which is allocated through government agencies, public-private partnerships, and programs like the Ministry of Education & Science and Vocational Skills Agency.
The Voucher System, administered by the Ministry of Education, stands out as a notable financing mechanism for diploma courses. It provides individuals with vouchers that fully cover the cost of specific diploma programs. Additionally, the Vocational Skills Agency offers financing for training and retraining programs, catering to those seeking to enhance their skills or transition into new careers. Both sectoral private enterprises and TVET providers (colleges) can develop market-demanded training programs, authorize them with NCEQE, and receive co-financing from the Vocational Skills Agency.
The Skills Industry in Georgia also benefits from funding through a wide range of programs supported by donors and international organizations such as USAID, BMZ, KFW, GIZ, ADA, GRETA, as well as targeted financial support from the US Embassy and other diplomatic missions. These initiatives encompass areas such as TVET promotion, gender equality in the Skills Industry, and representation of vulnerable communities.
Despite some private sector involvement, it currently accounts for only around 10% of TVET funding in Georgia, according to a 2019 report by the European Training Foundation. This indicates a significant potential for increased private sector participation in financing and supporting TVET, presenting opportunities for further growth and development in Georgia's formal professional education landscape.
3.5 Promote Mountain Guiding Professions through Guide Offices and Enhanced Services
To boost the mountain guiding professions in the region, it is essential to establish a network of "guide offices" that offer comprehensive adventure guiding and travel operating services. This initiative aims to encourage certified guides to establish regional Guide Offices, enabling them to provide competitive services delivered by internationally certified adventure guides. These offices will serve as a vital resource for visitors, providing essential information on trail and mountain route conditions.
Collaboration with the local Destination Management Organization (DMO) is crucial in promoting the region. Guide offices can actively participate in international adventure tourism events, contributing to regional promotion efforts. By leveraging their expertise and local knowledge, guide offices will play a pivotal role in supporting and coordinating activities with rescue services, as well as huts and trail managers.
3.6 Enhance Safety and Risk Management in Mountain Operations
Ensuring the safety of mountain operations is paramount in the realm of adventure tourism. A comprehensive approach to safety and risk management is essential at all levels, spanning Policy, Institutional, Corporate, and Field aspects. Given Svaneti's status as an adventure tourism destination, establishing robust safety and risk management mechanisms becomes a strategic objective.
ATS West Point, in collaboration with the DMO, should develop a concise non-formal training course focusing on Safety and Risk Management. This course should be tailored for tour operators, hotels, practicing guides, and other stakeholders within the tourism infrastructure. By enhancing the knowledge and skills of these professionals, a safer environment can be fostered. The DMO should also initiate an awareness-raising campaign targeting key stakeholders that aims to engage a critical mass of stakeholders who will actively contribute to the implementation of safety measures. Collaborative efforts among the Mayor's Office, ATS West Point, DMO, Guide Office, GNTA, M.T.A, and the Skills Agency are necessary to establish an Adventure Tourism Forum. This platform serves as a venue for addressing crucial and pressing topics related to "Safety in Adventure Tourism." The forum will facilitate discussions on policies, legal frameworks, regulations, skills provision, safety and rescue infrastructure, and more.
By implementing these measures, Svaneti can bolster its safety and risk management systems, ensuring a secure environment for adventure tourism activities. The collaboration and cooperation among key stakeholders will foster a comprehensive approach to safety, further enhancing the reputation and attractiveness of Svaneti as an adventure tourism destination.
3.7 Support Skills Development for Local Hospitality and Transport Businesses
Local hospitality providers, including hotel, transport, and catering business owners, often have limited personnel, mainly consisting of family members. It is crucial to support their skills development and enhance their capabilities. In collaboration with the Skills Agency, GNTA, and other stakeholders, the local TVET College Tetnuldi should undertake an assessment of the skills gap among local hospitality providers. Based on the findings, tailored training and retraining programs should be developed and delivered. When designing the training modules, special emphasis should be placed on preserving authenticity. This ensures that the delivered tourism products maintain a high value and reflect the unique characteristics of the region. Then the overall quality of the tourism experience in Svaneti can be elevated, leading to increased visitor satisfaction and positive word-of-mouth promotion.
Local drivers also play a crucial role in the tourism industry, particularly in overland touring. To improve their performance capabilities, it is essential to address their interpretation skills and enhance their knowledge of overland touring. Language courses can significantly boost their abilities and enable some drivers to expand their portfolios.
3.8 Enhancing Destination and Trails Management
Mountain Trails Agency in collaboration with Tetnuldi College, and ATS West Point should aim to establish training programs for ski resort personnel, focusing on cable car maintenance, snowcat mechanics, and box office operations.
A special attention should be given to the training and retraining of personnel and managers responsible for overnight huts and mountain lodges. These facilities should be strategically located at reasonable distances from each other, offering diverse functions and belonging to different categories while embodying various authenticity elements. Additionally, a system of trans-regional hiking pathways and animal-drawn transportation should be established to connect these accommodations. It is essential to train personnel for the development and maintenance of these facilities. Adventure Guides should be prioritized as a target group for training, given their natural familiarity with the environment and existing business operations in the area.
A certificate course for Trail marking and maintenance should also be developed to train specialists who will be responsible for planning, marking, and maintaining trekking routes in accordance with the National Technical Regulation on Planning and Marking of the Trails. The course should primarily benefit individuals from the local communities in the Svaneti region, where trail development is actively taking place. By participating in this course, locals will acquire the necessary skills and competencies, leading to increased local expertise and the creation of additional job opportunities.
3.9 Mountain Host Campaign - a tailored vocational training program
The objective of the Educate, Equip & Expose Program is to to train Svaneti Hospitality Industry professionals as Mountain Tourism Hosts and to meet the growing demand for high-quality service while providing an authentic local experience. This program will serve as an interim solution, engaging locals in the tourism industry, providing job opportunities, on-the-job training, continued education, and a qualified local workforce to bridge the gap between demand and supply in the TVET industry.
The program will equip the tourism industry workforce with the necessary skills for employability and employment in the mountain tourism value chain. It will focus on developing specific skills adjusted to meet the demands of the incoming tourism industry. The desired outcome is a critical number of trained and promoted local Mountain Tourism Hosts in Svaneti who can serve as competent local counterparts, tour leaders, and corporate representatives for incoming tour operators, DMOs, and MICE industry. They will also be capable of guiding adventure tours in limited competence areas.
The educational component of the program will consist of various courses developed based on existing and newly designed TVET programs, including sustainable tourism principles with a strong emphasis on preserving the unique treasures of Svan language, Svanetian lifestyle, traditions, and art. The courses will cover the basics of incoming tour operations, with an emphasis on providing exceptional service, as well as management, finances, logistics planning, entrepreneurship, and more. Practical experiences and insights from leading tour operators and successful hotel and restaurant owners will be incorporated to provide students with practical tips and standard operating procedures to establish a solid foundation for their performance in the incoming tour industry and develop their own small tourism businesses (guesthouses, hostels, rental services, etc).
To support successful graduates, a small grants scheme should be established to assist in upgrading their current operations. Local DMOs, GNTA, and other public stakeholders should develop promotion plans and campaigns for Mountain Tourism Hosts through national and international networks. A web portal featuring their profiles should be created, and their promotion and exposure at industry exhibitions domestically and internationally should be prioritized. Selecting 20-30 beneficiaries annually over a span of 5 years will create a significant workforce of knowledgeable and competent Mountain Tourism Hosts who can serve as local counterparts for the incoming tourism industry, guide in limited adventure tourism areas, and contribute to the overall growth and success of Svaneti as a mountain tourism destination.
3.10 The institutionalization and formalization of existing spontaneous knowledge in the field of cultural heritage
A new training course should be introduced at the local vocational school "Tetnuldi." This course will serve as a bridge between local traditional knowledge and national and international standards of valorization of cultural heritage properties. By combining these elements, the course will ensure the preservation of knowledge and produce qualified personnel who will be responsible for proper interpretation of history and culture of Svaneti to enhance experience-based travel. The implementation of this course will not only create additional employment opportunities but also actively involve the local youth and others in the process of protecting and their own culture, fostering a sense of ownership and pride.
This objective focuses on developing a strong destination brand identity, creating a unique value proposition, and positioning the destination globally in the minds of target audiences to differentiate it from competitors and attract specific market segments worldwide. By effectively promoting Svaneti with targeted messaging, appealing to the right markets, and ensuring high-quality services, Svaneti can position itself as a top-tier adventure tourism destination. To achieve this, Svaneti should focus on experiential-based segmented marketing, storytelling campaigns, regional marketing efforts, and collaboration with tourism associations.
To promote Svaneti in the global adventure market, an effective marketing strategy should be designed and agreed between the regional DMO and national partner GNTA. It is crucial to align marketing efforts with the GNTA Strategy and Marketing Plan, developing comprehensive marketing campaigns and strategies to raise awareness, attract target markets, and promote the destination's unique selling points, such as its natural beauty, cultural heritage, or recreational activities. GNTA, the leading national agency promoting tourism on a global scale, is a well-established and well-funded institution with significant expertise. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to maintain cooperation and ensure the stewardship of GNTA in promoting Svaneti as an integral and distinctive destination in Georgia.
Online presence should be enhanced through a dedicated website and engaging storytelling campaigns that captivate potential travelers. DMO Svaneti with support from GNTA’s team should collaborate with content creators and influencers, who will share their Svaneti experiences with their audiences worldwide. Partnering with tour operators, travel agents, and participating in adventure travel trade shows and exhibitions will expand reach and attract adventure-oriented travelers to Svaneti. Global promotion is essential as it allows Svaneti to reach a broader audience of adventure travelers actively seeking unique and authentic experiences.