Creating World Class Tourism Products
2.0 Enhance Svaneti’s Unique Selling Proposition by Creating World Class Tourism Products
This strategic objective aims to position Svaneti as a premier destination for adventure tourism and encompasses several initiatives that include promoting off-piste skiing opportunities, developing new ski trails, hosting international events and competitions, revitalizing historic urban environments and heritage sites, connecting communities and valleys through trails, and improving hospitality standards and entertainment options.
Svaneti's ski resorts, Hatsvali and Tetnuldi, offer unparalleled opportunities for off-piste skiing and freeride experiences, attracting skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts from around the world. The development of new ski trails and the establishment of a ski-touring network further enhance the adventure offerings in the region. Hosting international events, festivals, and sporting competitions not only showcases Svaneti's expertise but also fosters networking and exchange within the adventure tourism industry. Initiatives like the Guide's Marathon and Guide's Competitions elevate the region's profile and attract professionals from various adventure disciplines. The creation of heritage trails, the revitalization of historic urban environments and heritage sites, and the development of equestrian, mountain biking, and hiking trails connect visitors to Svaneti's rich history, cultural traditions, and natural beauty. These experiences provide immersive travel opportunities and highlight the unique identity of the region. Improving hospitality standards, accommodations, food quality, and entertainment options ensures a memorable and enjoyable stay for visitors. By emphasizing the "Hosts and Guests" relationship, Svaneti aims to provide exceptional hospitality and authentic experiences, complemented by traditional performances, cultural events, and outdoor activities.
Overall, these initiatives collectively contribute to enhancing Svaneti's reputation as a world-class adventure tourism destination, introducing new tourism products or experiences that cater to different market segments - such as adventure tourism, cultural heritage tourism, ecotourism, or niche markets like culinary tourism or wellness tourism - attracting a diverse range of visitors and offering unforgettable experiences in a unique and captivating setting.
2.1 Promote Unlimited Off-Piste Skiing Opportunities Around Tetnuldi Ski-Area
Skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts are finding less enjoyment on groomed slopes at most developed ski resorts due to restrictions on skiing outside of those areas. However, Svaneti's ski resorts offer a refreshing change. With modern ski lifts and high-quality groomed slopes, both Hatsvali and Tetnuldi provide the freedom to explore beyond the designated trails.
Hatsvali, known for its beautiful "home run" that winds through the forest, spans an altitude range of 2400 to 1700 meters. In the near future, it will be expanded to include new slopes that connect to Mestia settlement, enhancing the overall ski area experience.
Tetnuldi, with its enchanting mountain landscape, presents endless possibilities for freeride enthusiasts. This uniqueness attracts freeskiers and experts from the international ski and snowboard community. Spanning an altitude range of 3200 to 2200 meters, Tetnuldi's ski area is set to undergo further development by the Mountain Resorts of Georgia (MTA), the ski area operating company.
Plans include constructing a new gondola station to connect the valley (village Mulakhi) with the ski resort, providing even more opportunities for exploration and adventure.
2.2 Develop new ski trails around existing resorts (Tetnuldi and Hatsvali) and beyond
Ski-touring network: Ski-touring is a rapidly growing segment within the ski/snowboard industry, attracting a wide audience in Europe and North America who are constantly seeking new adventures and destinations. Svaneti, with its untapped potential, offers limitless opportunities to establish an extensive network of ski-trails that connect valleys and ski-resorts.
One advantage of ski-touring is that enthusiasts are always on the lookout for new slopes and destinations to explore. The necessary preparations primarily involve setting up affordable cabins and mountain huts along the trails, as well as ensuring decent accommodation options at guesthouses or mountain lodges located at the starting and ending points of the routes. The most active season for ski-touring is spring-early summer, providing an ideal opportunity to bridge the gap between winter and summer seasons.
Ski-touring festivals and competitions serve as effective tools to generate interest among amateur athletes. Svaneti possesses a unique advantage by offering ski-touring cross-runs that connect the valleys of upper and lower Svaneti (refer to the proposed runs/trails on the map).
2.3 Host international winter festivals and sporting events
In collaboration with the Destination Management Organization (DMO), it is vital to host international events, festivals, and sports competitions that bring together professionals and amateur athletes. These events serve as valuable platforms for networking and exchange of ideas within the adventure tourism industry.
Freeride World Tour and FWT Qualifier events have been organized in Svaneti since 2022. The slopes surrounding the Tetnuldi ski area have been thoroughly tested and selected to host events ranging from 2 to 4 stars, and have already been pre-selected by FWT/FIS for the FWT challenger pr Summit runs for the upcoming years 2024-2025. This distinction sets Svaneti apart as the only location between the Alps and the mountains of Japan to host such events.
To establish Svaneti as a top destination for Freeski, certain measures need to be taken. These include implementing a mountain emergency rescue system that operates on-site, ensuring the presence of qualified local staff on the slopes, providing mountain guides to guarantee safety during operations, and establishing a local organizing committee to host the events. All of these initiatives have been initiated and implemented through the collaborative efforts of the Mestia Mayor/DMO, MTA (ski-lift operator company), GNTA, and with the support of donors such as USAID, EU, ADA, and SiDA. In the years to come, Svaneti will become a regular host of the Freeride Week/Svaneti, solidifying Georgia as a unique and exceptional ski destination worldwide.
To further elevate Svaneti's profile, regular Guide's Competitions should be established, focusing on popular activities such as Mountaineering, Ski Touring, Ski Mountaineering, Paragliding, and more. Drawing inspiration from the Alpine countries, these competitions will attract international professionals and showcase the region's expertise. An exciting endeavor to pursue is hosting the Guide's Marathon in 2025, spanning across Lower and Upper Svaneti. The Guide's Marathon presents a thrilling 7-day challenge for Certified Adventure Guides. This project has received funding from the United States Embassy and enjoys support from the Skills Agency, GNTA, MTA, private companies, and sponsors. The Guide's Marathon MTA-MTA made its debut at ITB Berlin 2023, hosted by Georgia, and rapidly gained popularity, significantly raising the visibility of ATS and Adventure Guiding in general. The organizers plan to select a destination for two consecutive years, with MTA-MTA 2025 in Svaneti expected to garner national media attention.
Another noteworthy example to follow is the "Svaneti Hiking Festival" organized in partnership with the international adventure event organizer company Highlander, which has gained popularity as a top summer activity since 2022. These initiatives contribute to Svaneti's reputation as a premier adventure tourism destination, attracting enthusiasts and professionals from around the globe.
2.4 Develop a “heritage trail” that retraces historical events and folk festivals
Svaneti Heritage Trails is a unique concept that combines adventure travel with rich historical content, creating a connection to the places, events, and memories of the region. Inhabited since ancient times, the Svan community has diligently preserved its language, architecture, cultural traditions, and rituals. These elements come to life during religious days, folk festivals, and event memorial days, all of which take place in remote mountain locations.
The ultimate objective of the heritage trail is to weave together these significant sites into a thematic trail, aligning with the festival calendar to create a truly immersive experience. One recommended theme out of many options is: embarking on a journey to retrace the famous mountaineers' climbing routes that were conquered in the Caucasus region during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
2.5 Revitalize historic villages and heritage sites for living history experiences
Public transportation is currently unavailable in the region. Private sector services in both municipalities cater to visitors at a high cost. Practices from European tourism destinations demonstrate that public-private collaboration is crucial for extending tourism operations and benefiting larger areas, especially communities located further from the main destinations. For instance, the success of the Stubai Valley ski destination, located 10-20 km away from the ski lifts, was attributed to well-organized public transport often included in the ski pass. A similar case can be observed between Tetnuldi ski lifts and Mestia. Lentekhi will also benefit from public transport when visitors stay or enjoy trips to small villages along the Tskhenistkali or Lakhamula rivers.
In Mestia, a circular route called Mestia Langer can be arranged for both locals and tourists. Additionally, a small minivan and mid-size bus station can be established, operating regular routes that connect popular destinations such as the airport, Seti, museum, ski lifts, and other villages. At the regional level, during the high tourism season, a main circular transport route can operate, connecting Upper and Lower Svaneti through Mestia, Ushguli, and Lentekhi.
2.6 Connect historic communities “from valley to valley” with new equestrian, mountain biking and hiking trails
Currently, the majority (80%) of visitors to Svaneti travel by car between Mestia and Ushguli, resulting in overcrowding and a limited capacity to provide the desired experiences. "From valley to valley" offers an alternative approach by combining off-road drives with day-long hiking, trekking, and horseback riding journeys along historic mountain pathways that connect one valley to another without relying on the main highway. Tours are centered around villages, some of which are remote, and already possess the capacity to accommodate groups of travelers through homestays, camps, or guesthouses. This combination is tailored for individuals with an interest in moderate physical activities, such as day hikes lasting 4-5 hours. Local guides assist in designing a network of trails that are readily accessible and can be promoted as a unique selling point, offering enriching experiences for visitors along the way. Svaneti's geography features parallel valleys connected by historic horse roads and trails, offering opportunities for equestrian, mountain biking, and hiking adventures.
Map 2: Tourist Routes and Trails
2.7 New regional trails connecting Svaneti, Samegrelo, Racha
Connecting Upper and Lower Svaneti involves traversing the Svaneti ridge on foot, horseback, bike, or 4WD vehicles. The terms "Upper" and "Lower" Svaneti hold historic-geographic significance, delineating the areas where Svanetians reside. These two regions differ in their nature and geographic characteristics, with the Svaneti ridge (less known among climbers) acting as a division. The Svaneti tourism strategy aims to reunite these historically defined regions into one destination, despite the limited connectivity and the fact that they fall under separate administrative regions.
Currently, road rehabilitation projects are underway to significantly improve the road linking Ushguli (upper Svaneti) and Lentekhi (lower Svaneti) through the Ugviri pass. Once completed, this road will enable visitors to embark on an enticing tour of Svaneti, offering a popular 4-5 day itinerary that combines various modes of travel and diverges from the mainstream route. Additionally, shorter one or two-day journeys on foot, horseback, or bike can be seamlessly integrated with 4WD travel to cross the Svaneti ridge. These trails have been meticulously studied, marked, and illustrated on the attached maps, with the invaluable support of local guides.
2.8 Secure partners to promote concept of “guide-trail-hut-rescue”
"Guide-Trail-Hut-Rescue" is an essential framework necessary for creating attractive, competitive, and safe adventure travel products. In many Alpine countries, the collaboration between mountain trail planners, guides, hut owners, and rescuers has a long-standing tradition, serving as a cornerstone of secure and experience-driven mountain travel. Drawing from this valuable experience, one of the key strategic objectives is to establish partnerships that foster cooperation among representatives from these four groups.
The initial focus is on creating a network that centers around the most popular and in-demand trails already frequented by travelers. This initiative involves assessing current demands, meeting service and safety requirements, and bringing together trail planners, guides, marketing experts, and public emergency services. Further details regarding these activities are outlined in another strategic objective (3) dedicated to workforce and institutional development.
2.9 Hospitality concept based on “Hosts and Guests” relation accompanied by the improved standards of accommodation, mountain huts, quality of food and entertainment
Svaneti should enhance its hospitality concept based on the "Hosts and Guests" relationship, accompanied by elevated standards of accommodation, mountain huts, quality food, and entertainment. Efforts should be made to elevate the quality of accommodation options in Svaneti, focusing on providing diverse and comfortable choices for guests. Traditional guesthouses should offer a glimpse into the warmth and authenticity of Svanetian homes, while mountain huts should provide cozy accommodations for adventurous trekkers. In addition, Svaneti's culinary scene should be enhanced, with a focus on highlighting local ingredients and traditional recipes. Visitors will be able to savor the unique flavors of Svanetian cuisine, from hearty stews to freshly baked bread and artisanal cheeses.
To enrich the guest experience, a range of entertainment and leisure activities should be curated. Cultural performances, storytelling sessions, and traditional music events will showcase the vibrant arts and folklore of the region. Outdoor enthusiasts will have the opportunity to partake in activities such as horseback riding, guided hiking tours, and skiing, taking full advantage of the breathtaking landscapes that Svaneti has to offer with the appropriate safety and rescue measures. By implementing these recommendations and emphasizing the "Hosts and Guests" relationship, Svaneti will strive to provide an exceptional and unforgettable hospitality experience for every visitor.