Responsible tourism in Georgia

Tourism in Georgia has grown rapidly over the last five years, with international visitor numbers increasing from 2.8 million in 2011 to almost 7 million in 2017. Not surprising, as it has a lot going for it: the dramatic expanse of the Caucasus Mountains, wildlife filled nature reserves and rushing rivers. Culturally, too, it’s appealing, with UNESCO World Heritage sites aplenty, ancient towns carved out of rock, famously delicious cuisine, most of which is locally sourced, and well preserved cultural traditions.
However, Georgia’s cultural and natural wealth has not yet translated into wealth for its all of its inhabitants, and there are big divides between rich and poor, old and young, rural and urban. If not managed responsibly, tourism could end up destroying the very things that draw tourists to the area in the first place; with particular impact on rural communities and the environment.

People & culture in Georgia

Well managed tourism penetrates rural areas and undeveloped regions and offers sustainable employment to marginalised communities and women without destroying cultural ties and traditions. The money that it brings to rural communities can prevent migration to cities, encourage children to remain in school as their parents now have an income, and promote the creation of crafts, cuisine and other cultural traditions, which are now given greater value by tourism.
What can you do?
You can help ensure that tourist revenue gets to the people who need it by support businesses run by local communities. For example, when you’re in Georgia try to stay in locally run guesthouses and home stays rather than in international chains, where much of your money won’t stay in the country. Eat and drink at locally owned restaurants and bars, use local guides and shop at local markets and shops – perhaps buying some of Georgia’s handmade textiles while you’re at it.
As Mark Huggins, from our supplier Undiscovered Destinations, explains, small group tours are a great way to ensure your money ends up where it’s most needed:
“Some rural mountain villages may not be so used to tourism and numbers are increasing all the time, so this needs to be properly managed. Fortunately, we operate very small groups of maximum 12 clients and only three or four departures a year. We use locally owned accommodation such as the fantastic range of guesthouses in the High Caucasus Mountains. You can be sure of good food and a warm welcome.”
And remember that traveling responsibly means respecting the local culture. Georgia is a conservative country, so dress modestly, especially if in rural areas, and avoid public displays of affection.

Wildlife & environment in Georgia

Georgia has a diverse selection of plant, bird and animal life that’s impressive for a country of such diminutive size. Add to this the dramatic Caucasus mountains and lush green national parks and it’s unsurprising that the country’s wild landscapes are drawing increasing numbers of visitors. While the main threat to Georgia’s environment currently comes from big business, such as the logging industry, tourists can also play their part in preserving the county’s natural beauty.
What can you do?
The most important thing you can do is to dispose of your waste responsibly. Never drop litter, whether in the town or the countryside, and try to avoid single use plastics by carrying a reusable water bottle. If you’re walking in the mountains, remember to stick to the proscribed paths so as not to disturb the landscape or the wildlife.
Jonny Bealby, from our supplier Wild Frontiers:

“I don’t think Georgia is different to anywhere else that is emerging from the shadows of poverty to become a wonderful tourist destination. Travelers should be respectful of local cultures, try to use local suppliers – guides, cooks, drivers – so their tourist dollars stays with the local communities they are visiting. If walking and camping, have regard for the environment and use and discard as little single use plastic as possible. Georgia is finally becoming a lot more popular. In the last couple of years tourist numbers doubled, this does put a strain on limited tourist infrastructure meaning it is better wherever possible to book before you go.”

Responsible tourism tips

Stay local. Choose locally run small hotels or guesthouses, trek with Georgian guides, and eat in local restaurants – the food is incredible! Your money will go much further and will reach those who genuinely need it. Be respectful of the local culture and history. More conservative dress may be appropriate in conservative regions, such as the mountain villages, and women may need to cover up during church and monastery visits – check with your tour leader or guide. Always ask before taking photographs of local people. If you would like to photograph a stallholder or someone working in a café, buy something from them first. Strike up conversations before pulling out your camera. And if they refuse a photo, at least you’ve had a chat and got to meet someone. When hiking, stick to the trails so as not to disturb this unique landscape and leave it for others to enjoy. “Women should take a few scarves/shawls for church visits in Georgia as trousers are not regarded as modest attire and head's need to be covered.” – Melinda Vos, in her vacation review “Ladies, take a skirt for the churches and monasteries.” – Anna Cooper, in her vacation review
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Creative Travel Projects] [Stepantsminda, Georgia: Alexey Okhrimenko] [Traditional Georgian singers: arrancat] [Gypaetinae: Francesco Veronesi] [Fresh fruit and local Georgian wine: shankar s.]
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