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Georgian Tourism has Potentials for Growth but Requires Careful Planning

When Diplomat Magazine spoke to Elizabeth Rood, Charge d’Affaires of the United States Embassy in Georgia, she was full of praises and optimism for Georgia’s greatest treasure which, she describes as “its natural beauty”.

Rood believes that Georgia is an attractive tourist destination with a variety of offerings for her visitors but she believes that only Georgians can truly develop the Georgian tourism industry through sacrifice and careful planning targeted at high quality tourism infrastructure.

You travel a lot in Georgia, which places impressed you most?

Charge d’Affairs, Elizabeth Rood: Georgia’s greatest treasure is its natural beauty, and every place I’ve visited is beautiful in its own unique way. The places that have impressed me most are very remote, because I like quiet places best. First, the hiking route from Likheti, in Racha, to Shkedi, in Lower Svaneti, is spectacular for its vistas. Second, Lagodekhi National Park, especially Black Rock Lake on the border with Daghestan, is breathtakingly beautiful and home to endangered species, that are so important to protect. Third, I love the green mountains of Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, especially the less-visited Kharagauli side, which has so much potential for more visitors to enjoy. Later this summer I hope to climb Kazbegi and trek from Tusheti to Khevsureti. There are so many other places I have not even visited yet, including the place many people love most, Mestia, so I will have to keep busy!

Which places in Georgia do you visit/would like to visit more than once, why?

This year I had the privilege of joining hundreds of young people in taking the icon of St. Andrew from Sioni cathedral in Tbilisi to the top of the Iron Cross mountain in Kharagauli. This was an amazing and rugged experience that brought together so many enthusiastic people who love their country, its traditions, and its nature. I will never forget that day and would be happy to join again next year. Of course, there are other places I’ve visited many times – Borjomi, Gudauri, and Batumi, for example. I loved whitewater rafting on the Rioni River in Racha earlier this year, and definitely want to return soon to raft a more difficult stretch of the river. I’ve hiked twice to Kldekari fortress in Kvemo Kartli, and I would like to take more hikes in that area, too. Really, there are so many remarkable places to see and see again – the only problem is lack of time!

If you were not a representative of the Embassy, would Georgia still be an attractive tourism destination for you?

CDA Elizabeth Rood on the peak of Mount Kazbegi

It definitely would, and I think Georgia is an attractive tourist destination for anyone, because it offers such tremendous variety. There is something here for everyone throughout the year. This country is growing increasingly wellknown throughout the world for its historic sites, exotic and unique cuisine, its sophisticated wine, as well as its vibrant culture, and its thriving arts, music and dance scene; and, of course, its people. Tourism has been a growing industry in this country for many years, and it continues to attract more visitors every year from all over the world.

In your opinion, what could be done to attract more travelers from the United States?

First, Georgia’s facilities for tourism have been developing rapidly, but there is still a need for carefully planned further development of high quality tourism infrastructure. It is essential that development preserve, rather than damage, Georgia’s irreplaceable natural and cultural treasures. Second, Georgia is a long journey from the Unites States, and we hope there will be better flight connections in the future that will make travel from the United States faster and easier. Finally, I think Georgia will attract more international tourists by continuing its ongoing efforts to integrate with Euro-Atlantic institutions by developing its economy and democracy. I am proud of the work done by the U.S. Embassy, USAID, and MCC, together with our Georgian partners, to promote innovation, entrepreneurship, and Georgia’s sustainable economic development.

Russia’s ban on flights is a challenge for the Georgian tourism industry, what would be your advice to the Georgian people and government on how to transform this challenge into an opportunity?

This is an incredibly resilient country with a long history of overcoming great challenges. I have no doubt that Georgians will rise to this challenge, just as they always have. I think the social media campaign #spendyoursummeringeorgia is a fine example of this resilience. We have seen in this campaign a clarity and unity of message that transcends political, economic and social differences of opinion and instead speaks with a single and clear voice. I think this campaign should expand its scope to #spendyourvacationinGeorgiaallyearround. Beyond this, the Georgian government and business community should energize their efforts to attract tourists from many different countries, and I know this work is underway.

Do you believe in tourism diplomacy and the role it can play in the foreign affairs of Georgia?

President John F. Kennedy said “as people move throughout the world and learn to know each other, to understand each other’s customs and to appreciate the qualities of the individuals of each nation, we are building a level of international understanding which can sharply improve the atmosphere for world peace.” He believed, as I do, that tourism can transform the lives of the tourists themselves and the people with whom they directly interact, while bridging the cultural and societal gaps that exist between cultures. In a sense, all international tourists are ambassadors for the country from which they travel, and this is both a privilege and a responsibility. In that regard, tourism can play a very profound role in shaping the relationship between two nations. When citizens of another country travel to Georgia and experiences all that Georgian culture has to offer, they return to their country and speak of the positive experience they had here. It encourages others to come here, and they in turn encourage others still. The development of this sector of the economy positively affects the business and investment climate, which further improves the overall economy, which in turn invites more tourism. Thus, it is a virtuous circle. This is what I hope to see in Georgia, and it is what I believe will happen here.