NEW HIKING TRAILS DEVELOPED AND TOURISM OPPORTUNITIES PROMOTED IN GEORGIA AND ARMENIA BORDERING REGIONSPublished: Dec 28, 2022 Reading time: 6 minutes
December 2022 - Georgia and Armenia have potential for rural and adventure tourism, but due to the COVID -19 pandemic the sector has seen severe disruptions and setbacks. As the economy is recovering, new opportunities have arisen in the tourism market. Namely, there is greater international demand for outdoor activities, and stronger domestic and regional outdoor tourism markets are developing. To utilize these opportunities, the USAID Economic Development, Governance, and Enterprise Growth (EDGE) partnered with People in Need (PIN) Georgia that created a network of rural and adventure tourism stakeholders and supporting actors in the region and built their capacity to attract visitors to these new tourism market segments.
In the frames of the grant, PIN Georgia worked closely with local partners and scouted and developed new hiking trails in Akhalkalaki municipality and Mtskheta-Mtianeti (Aragvi) regions in Georgia and Shirak and Lori regions in Armenia, and connected them to the growing Transcaucasian Trail initiative. In August and September, the Transcaucasian Trail of Georgia scouted 122.9 km in Aragvi, and 200.8 km in Akhalkalaki regions, while their counterpart in Armenia scouted 102 km in Shirak and 110 km in Lori region September through November. 190 km of these trails are already marked. These trails are expected to act as a “honeypot” to attract new visitors to these rural areas, and the local enterprises received necessary capacity building, small grant assistance, and promotional material to maximize the business opportunities.
Quote from participant(s) in the scouting of the trails in Georgia and/or Armenia, about their experience with the activity, why are these new trails important, what are the future benefits of the new trails for the tourism development of the regions, what are the future plans.
Ana Panchulidze, Aragvi Local Action Group member tells: “I love hiking and on weekend I always try my best to go somewhere in mountains. It was the first time I attended the training on trails and outdoor tourism, but the practical training on trail development and maintenance in Borjomi exceeded expectations. Mtskheta-Mtianeti region (Aragvi) has a lot of potentials, but in recent years, many villages are gradually being emptied. I think the newly identified trails will benefit the tourism development in our region. Some young people are still living in Aragvi and I see the main strength in ourselves to start mobilizing resources to arrange the new trails in the future.”
A key focus of the Transcaucasian Trail – Promoting Cross-Border Tourism grant is local and regional networking and sustainability of the activities. Local Action Groups (LAGs) and Women Resource Centers (WRCs) played a strong role in bringing together key stakeholders from public, private, and civil society sectors in their respective regions. They facilitated the initial local buy-in for the development of the new hiking trails and will coordinate trail maintenance in the future.
Sergey Khachatryan, Vice President of the LAG Akhalkalaki was involved in all stages of the activities for trails scouting and development in the Akhalkalaki region, and coordinated the engagement and active participation of local businesses and stakeholders, such as local accommodation and tourism service providers in the region. “We [LAG Akhalkalaki] provide economic development support to SMEs in tourism development, environment and nature protection. Although Akhalkalaki is lagging in tourism development in comparison to other regions of Georgia, the LAG is actively working to enhance the tourism offerings and supports local tourism SMEs.”
The collaboration of LAG Akhalkalaki with PIN and Transcaucasian Trail Georgia started in spring this year, and focused on trainings that engaged local people, especially young people in tourism development and promotion. “We participated in the four-day practical training for trail development and maintenance of trails that was very beneficial. We also facilitated 16 local tourism SMEs and service providers to participate in the tourism marketing and promotion training that enhanced their capacities. This was very successful collaboration and we are constantly looking for opportunities and initiatives to further develop the tourism capacity and socio-economic prosperity of the region.”
Given the relatively low profile of the region on the tourism map in Georgia, promo visits were organized for 15 tour operators and guides that explored the region, got introduced with the tourism offerings and established connections with the local tourism service providers. They visited Kartsakhi/Khozafina lake that is an area included in the new trails, and visited the guest houses alongside these newly identified trails.
Quote from some of the tour operators/ guides that participated in the promo visit to Akhalkalaki, about the tourism potential of the region, and potential plans for future promotion of the region.
Nanita Zautashvili, the tour operator of tourist company – Ntravel Kutaisi says: “Visiting the Samtskhe-Javakheti region was the beginning of a new adventure. Different natures, climates and beautiful lakes leave an indelible impression on me. On a tour organized by the Czech organization "People in Need Georgia" I actually rediscovered this beautiful region with its magnificent lakes and beauty. The promotion of tourist trails for the development and promotion of tourism is very necessary for our country. Until now, I didn't pay much attention to trails. However, the promo tour pushed me to start thinking about it. I am glad to have had the opportunity to visit these trails and the tourist services around them. My future plan is to organize some tours in this region. I appeal to all my local and foreign tourists to join me, because the Akhalkalaki is rich in beautiful sights.”
In October, PIN Armenia organized marketing and promotion training for 20 Armenian tourism SMEs and service providers from Lori and Shirak regions to enhance their knowledge and capacity for tourism promotion. Ten of the participating SMEs expressed interest and they worked with a consultant and developed customized marketing plans. In addition, PIN assisted sixteen tourism SMEs from these regions in Georgia and Armenia with promotional materials. For example, PIN Armenia engaged Absolute Armenia, which is a specialized travel blog, and their bloggers visited SMEs in Lori and Shirak regions and created articles and posts to promote their activities on their web page and Facebook.
Quote from SME from Armenia that participated in the marketing promotion training and received a marketing plans and /or was featured in the Absolute Armenia blog. What is their tourism business, what was their experience with the project, what are the benefits from the training and the marketing plan and promotional materials. How they have/or will benefit from the promotion through Absolute Armenia blogs/posts?
Arevik Yeghiazaryan, co-founder of WINNET Vanadzor (Women Resource Center), tells: “The marketing training gave us new prospects of developing the social entrepreneurship ideas we had in the sphere of master classes for tourists. We were able to design the services based on the knowledge we have got from the training and to develop a marketing strategy, which will be a road map for us in this process. Also, due to the individual coaching, we have polished the strategy and came up with many ideas on how to make organization more sustainable by this social enterprise and be able to support more women and youth. The visit and article of Absolute Armenia was an additional impulse in this process, because as a result of that many people got interested in our services.”
Hasmik Petrosyan, the representative of Gohar brand says: “Thanks to the marketing support(training, strategy development, coaching, promotion), we got to know professional experts in the field, an article has been written about us on the page of Absolute Armenia and, of course, we hosted tour guides and journalists on a familiarization visit. We had very positive reactions to those visits. There were publications on social networks and the recognition of the Gohar brand increased."