Tourism Plays a Key Role in Connecting Georgia with the World
In the wake of the recent flight ban from Russia to Georgia, several discussions have emerged about the ban’s effect on Georgia. One of the most affected sectors in Georgia is the tourism sector which brings people from around the world to Georgia.
Diplomat asked Patric Franzen, the Ambassador of Switzerland to Georgia about this recent development and its effect on tourism in Georgia.
Franzen who was frank in his submission explained that it is important to mend the broken diplomatic ties because if allowed to linger, it may affect the Georgian tourism industry grossly. He also spoke about the need for more cooperation between Switzerland and Georgia in the area of tourism as he feels Georgia can tap from his country’s rich experience in hospitality and tourism.
Your Excellency, it’s been a few months since your appointment as the Ambassador of Switzerland to Georgia, before that, you worked in the Swiss embassy in Russia, hence you are aware of the political situation in both countries. How do you assess the current flight ban from Russia and what do you think about the role of tourism diplomacy in foreign relations?
The ban is a temporary measure, as claimed by the Russian authorities, and I am confident that ways can be found to lift it.
Direct transport connections serve the peoples of the two countries and respond to a natural need for human contacts, business and tourism. This is especially important between neighbors. My impression is, that Russian people have a positive attitude towards Georgia and Georgians. This is why we saw in the last years an increase of direct flight connections not only between the big cities but also between the regions of the countries. I really hope they can be resumed soon.
Tourism is more than economic figures. Tourism connects peoples and promotes the exchange of culture. Tourism therefore plays a key role in connecting Georgia with the world.
Switzerland represents the diplomatic interests of Georgia in Moscow and those of Russia in Tbilisi, do you think that these relations could be resolved in the near future and how international community could help in this context?
According to our experience, it usually takes quite some time to reestablish once broken diplomatic relations. It is a long process which needs a lot of patience.
But it is positive, that there are two existing mechanisms of regular interaction between the Parties. One is the multilateral format of the Geneva International Discussions (GID) where the international community is involved, and the other is the meetings between the Georgian Representative of the Prime Minister, Zurab Abashidze and the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin.
From our side we try to ease the consequences of the absence of diplomatic relations for the peoples as much as possible and assist the Parties in solving practical issues of common interest.
Despite the current situation on the ground, how do Swiss tourists assess safety in Georgia, do they feel safe here?
The Georgian people are very hospitable and have a positive attitude towards tourists from all countries. We therefore consider Georgia generally as a safe destination for all tourists, including our own Swiss citizens.
Do you find it easy to actually get out of the embassy and see our country? Which are your favorite places in Georgia?
The work at the Embassy keeps me quite busy in the capital, especially now that we are preparing the opening of our new Embassy premises by the end of October. Nevertheless, I try to travel to the regions as much as possible. In my first eight months I managed to travel three times to Kakheti and Borjomi, two times to Adjara and to Racha, Marneuli, Bolnisi,
Tetritskaro. Guria, Svaneti and Stepansminda are planned for the second half of this year. The diversity of these regions, the untouched nature and yet untapped potential for tourism really impressed me and I look forward to discovering more of your beautiful country.
How do you assess Georgia’s tourism potential and what do you think is the main attraction for European tourists in Georgia?
I consider the potential as high. Georgia has a lot to offer and has become a very attractive destination for tourists from all over the world. We can also see a rising interest in Switzerland. It is not only the breathtaking landscapes, the purity of nature, the great hospitality and the famous Georgian cuisine that are attractive but there is also interest in the cultural treasures the country offers, the interesting tracks of history and religion you can follow and the very vibrant cultural scene.
European tourists are generally interested in untouched nature but also in history, religion and culture. They do not necessarily look for posh and huge infrastructure complexes. They rather prefer small, cozy guesthouses with a good, personalized service in the countryside, close to everyday life of the people and nature. They also like to move as freely and independently as possible, preferably by public transport. So, Georgia has the potential to serve these interests.
I find it important to develop tourism in a sustainable way preserving the treasure of nature in this beautiful country. Georgia is rich in agricultural tradition, and developing agrotourism might be, for example, an interesting avenue to consider.
Switzerland has vast experience in hospitality industry, how do you assess bilateral relations with Georgia in the field of tourism and where do you see the room for improvement?
For 25 years already Switzerland has been sharing its knowledge, experience and expertise through diverse humanitarian and development programmes developed in response to the actual needs and challenges of the country. There is clearly an untapped potential of cooperation in the field of tourism. We receive more and more specific requests from Georgian players to develop tourism and we try to link them with Swiss counterparts. We have a wealth of expertise in tourism development as well, and we are willing to share it with our Georgian partners.
And finally, is there something that you would like to add about the future plans of Switzerland and Georgia or if there is any project in particular that you are working on right now.
Switzerland is a reliable and honest friend of Georgia. We are engaged since 1999. We are among the biggest donors and we will continue to contribute to the strengthening of the socio-economic and democratic development of Georgia.
We have been constructing a new building for the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi. It unites the different sectors of the Swiss engagement in Georgia under one roof. So, we will get a small House of Switzerland in Georgia! We are very proud of it and look forward to celebrating the official opening by the end of October this year. This is a credible proof of our strong engagement.
In my view internal political stability and regional security are key elements for Georgia to develop as a strong, democratic country. I therefore very much hope that Georgia will find a way out of its deep internal political divisions and that Switzerland can continue to play a positive role contributing to peace and security in the region.