POLITICS
"Georgia has a long way to go in Tourism"
16 September, 2019
Because of the booming tourism industries, the Georgian government starts to implement regulations. “But this happens not fast enough, not efficient enough and not rigorous enough”, says Stefan Meister from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung.

Stefan Meister, Tourism is thriving in Georgia, it became one of the leading industries. Good news for the country, isn’t it?

Of course, this is an important economic benefit for Georgia, but there are downsides. Firstly, the highly dependence from one sector creates vulnerabilities. What if
there is a Terror-Attack one day? What if Russia – where most of the tourists come from – imposes a long-term ban like this summer when all direct flights were cancelled after the protests of the 20th of June? Secondly the infrastructure gets overstretched and is not prepared, for such a rise.

But isn’t the government investing heavily in infrastructure?

Yes, they do invest. But they cannot keep up with the development. In Georgia the whole infrastructure is outdated. Water pipes, streets, waste disposal just to begin with. Now you have these booming sectors – not only tourism but real estate as well. But the infrastructure isn’t ready. The effects are too much traffic, air pollution and very low water pressure in many households, because the pipelines or parking facilities are not prepared for streets with skyscrapers. Everybody I know in Tbilisi is angry about it.

So why don’t people request better air or better water pipes from their politicians?

There is a tremendous apathy after so many years of a completely deregulated economy. Here investors have so many rights and citizens feel powerless – and these few rights they have are not even well protected. We see this all the time. A neighbourhood stands up to fight certain changes, investors try to settle, if this is not working, they wait a few weeks and just do as they please.

But there are regulations. Recently Georgia implemented zone plans to regulate constructions in certain areas.

There are regulations, but they are often ignored.

Don’t you think the boom in tourism, could help changing that? Don’t a lot of people come to see Georgia’s natural sites?

Unfortunately, right now Georgia is aiming for the mass tourism and is not able to provide the infrastructure needed for sustainable tourism, it’s lacking a strategy, where it wants to go in this sector. There is no sustainable way of transportation. The railway system is limited and mostly in bad conditions. People travel by minibuses or in taxis, which is generating even more traffic and pollution. And tourists often take the easy way – so they all travel on the same paths and in consequence destroy a lot. It really is a vicious cycle.

At least National Parks have been created, over 10% of Georgia’s area is protected state land …

Yes, this is an important progress, but there are not enough people to supervise and protect these areas. Georgia is such a beautiful, small country with an incredible variety in landscape and very sensitive biosphere. But right now there is no sustainable development happening, but a commercialization. This is dangerous, much could be destroyed.

Stefan Meister is head of office of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung that is linked to the “Green Party” in Germany and financed by the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development in Germany. Before his arrival in Tbilisi on July 1st Stefan Meister worked 10 years for the think tank “German Council on Foreign Relations” covering all post-Soviet countries.

By Valérie Wacker

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