Will Mougar review 28 Sep 2019
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?
The drive to Ushguli as the sun shone brilliantly lighting up the snow-capped mountains.
2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?
Be prepared for a lot of "minibus miles" and large numbers of tourists at all the major sites. "Guesthouse" means a hotel run by a family, rather than by a
company. Some of us were expecting to stay in a family house as a guest, which was not the case.
3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
Difficult to tell. We were transported and guided by local staff so a few were supported directly by employment. Difficult to see how traveling so many
minibus miles reduces environmental impact, We saw no evidence of any activities supporting conservation.
4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?
It was worth visiting because of the splendid scenery: snowy mountains, wide open high grasslands, steep-sided wooded valleys and gorges. However it was
very disappointing in many respects. None of us were prepared for the volume of tourists visiting the major sites, which was very frustrating. Our minibus had to queue to get into Mestia, where we were expecting to see a little-known region. We did not "meet the Svan people and get to know their unique way of life" . What we did learn about them came mainly from watching a film drama being shown in Mestia about people in Ushguli.
Read the operator's response here:
Thank you for taking the time to send your feedback to Responsible Travel about your recent trip to the Caucasus region.
I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed the tour overall and that the beautiful mountainous scenery of Ushguli was a real highlight for you as it is for many of our travelers.
With regards to the guesthouse in Svaneti, Georgia, this is a family-run guesthouse. There are several of these in Svaneti and the family not only live in the same property but also prepare the meals. These guesthouses are often larger than the typical family home and this is so that they can cater for groups, such as the one you were part of. It would be extremely difficult to find a home that doesnít operate as a guesthouse, yet would open their doors to visitors and be able to accommodate a group of 12. The other guesthouse is in Kutaisi and again, we donít list this as a homestay either and so Iím really sorry if it was interpreted in this way. Georgia in general is becoming increasingly popular as a destination and so whichever hotel you stay in - and there are few to choose from - you will inevitably come across other tourists and nationalities. We have revised our trip dossiers to say 'family-run guest-housesí where appropriate, in hope that this will avoid any further confusion for our travelers.
The same applies to Svaneti as a region, with regards to increasing numbers of tourists - Mestia in particular - and so we are working with our local team on the ground to try and make some changes here to enhance the experience in this region. We have recently looked into whether we could stay in Ushguli - as opposed to Mestia - but it doesnít look as though this could be an option without increasing the duration of a tour that is already 20 days long. The drive to Mestia is quite long as Iím sure youíre aware, and the drive back to Tbilisi even longer and so to travel to Ushguli and then back to Tbilisi from here, would add an extra 2 hours to both journeys - there and back.
There are also fewer accommodation options in Ushguli and the few options that there are, are of a lower standard than those in Mestia which we donít necessarily feel that our travelers would be happy with. We will be extending the amount of walking we do in Ushguli for 2020 though, and will also be including a visit to a family home to gain a more in-depth insight into Svan life. Iím really sorry if you found this aspect of the trip to be unfulfilling and we have taken all of your feedback on board with the aim to make this better for future travelers.
I do understand that there are a lot of miles involved on this trip but unfortunately there is no way to cover the highlights of these countries without covering some long distances. We have considered flying between countries but this wouldnít reduce environmental impact unfortunately. The other reason we havenít included flights from country to country is because we would usually have to be at the airport 2 hours before a flight, then we have the flight itself and getting out of the airport on the other side and so it doesnít necessarily mean that time would be saved either. With regards to flying to Georgia from Azerbaijan, we finish the trip in Sheki which doesn't have an operating airport and so for the moment it makes more sense to drive to the Lagodekhi border and then onwards to Tbilisi, with the option of visiting the Sighnaghi hill town en route.
We work with local teams on the ground in all three countries that you visited, who employ local guides and drivers, therefore directly contributing to local people and the local economy. We also avoid large hotel and restaurant chains, therefore contributing to smaller local businesses.
We are extremely grateful that you have taken the time to share your constructive feedback and would like to assure you that we have taken all of your points on board. This kind of feedback really does go a long way when improving our tours for future travelers and so weíre pleased that youíve taken the time to share your views with us and Responsible Travel.