ISET-PI’s Salome Gelashvili presents at the National Conference on Regional Development
Wednesday, 18 September, 2019

The country’s extensive mountainous regions are justly famous and a particular point of focus for travel writers and producers, but their touristic appeal is somewhat offset by the lack of development, especially when compared with the capital or other major cities. In recent years, the government has attempted to address this disparity, but a significant amount of work remains to be done.

This was the focus of a presentation given by the APRC’s Salome Gelashvili at the National Conference on Regional Development, held at the Holiday Inn hotel on September 18th. During her presentation, Salome examined the shortcomings in the development of the country’s mountainous regions, and how these might be best addressed.

However, it is misleading, she said, to refer to ‘Georgia’s mountainous regions’; after all, the country is veritably riddled with mountains, with almost all of its regions having some sort of alpine or elevated landscape, and so referring to them all in one category can prevent individual areas from receiving their due attention. Kazbegi, for example, has enjoyed significant investment and infrastructural development, and Svaneti – particularly Mestia – has witnessed increased attention more recently, but other regions (such as Racha) remain underdeveloped.

This is initially obvious in the tourism sector: Kazbegi’s Rooms Hotel has become something of a point of pilgrimage for visitors to Georgia, while Svaneti is starting to become more popular with its new ski resort, which is beginning to rival the popularity of those in Gudauri and Bakuriani. These regions have also benefited most from the construction of luxury hotels and resorts – something which has yet to happen in other regions, where accommodation is mostly available in the form of guesthouses run by locals.

The lack of development in mountainous areas has also led to an influx of internal migration, with residents of these regions leaving for ‘centers of attraction’, which constitute the country’s main cities (Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi). Young people are particularly prone to leaving their home areas in search of better opportunities in the cities, but this has drained the regions of their human resources. The extent to which this is happening is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the majority of employees of relatively large hotels are in fact brought from gravity centers by the hotels to work.

Salome then explained that infrastructure is an area of critical importance; sanitation standards must be brought to higher levels, and so must road networks and transportation. Most public transport in Georgia’s regions is outdated and unappealing to use. Yet this is not only for the benefit of international visitors and the tourism sector – farmers often struggle to travel to sell their own produce due to an inability to travel with ease. In addition, raising standards is not exclusive to the tourism sector but dairy production.

The environment, too, needs attention, especially with regards to its conservation: pollution, while inherently a negative for the country, could damage the country’s landscapes, which are fueling Georgia’s fledging tourism industry. Greater awareness in this regard will be important, Salome explained.

As well as representatives from other universities both domestic and international, members of the government, NGOs, and representatives from the European Union were in attendance. For its part, ISET is very proud that Salome was given the chance to speak about such an important issue to such a distinguished audience.