Attracting More Tourists to Tusheti's Mountainous Villages
08 January, 2018
Attracting More Tourists to Tusheti's Mountainous Villages
For the first time ever, I found myself in Tusheti in 2001, when some of my friends and I equipped ourselves with tents and sleeping bags and went down the most difficult road in this beautiful corner of Georgia.

At that time, it was possible to get to Tusheti only by Soviet truck “KAMAZ”, and it took almost half a day to cover a 85-kilometer road from Alvani to Omalo. Once in Omalo, we were finally convinced that this spectacular
corner of Georgia was absolutely cut off from the outside world, civilization and modernity. There was no water, no power, no hotel, nor even a way to buy some bread in the villages of Tusheti.

I traveled to Tusheti for the second time this summer. I can honestly say that I did not expect special changes there, but my unforgettable visit 16 years ago was radically different from what I found in the now modernized region. Almost all locals in Tusheti have a guesthouse. In the hotels, there is electricity and running hot/cold water; in the villages, you will find food without problem. In short, all the conditions now exist to ensure that tourists leave with an unforgettable impression. That is why the number of tourists is increasing from year to year, and in parallel, it is obvious that the employment of Tushetians in this field is growing.

Czech Development Agency and NGO 'Caritas Czech Republic in Georgia' (CCRG) greatly contributed to developing the agriculture in Tusheti and rousing the locals’ interest in the tourism field. It was due to their assistance that in the villages of Tusheti they began to develop solar energy a few years ago. The project was funded by the Czech Development Agency. Installing solar panels and batteries allowed Tushetians to start their own small business and to become employed in the tourism field. As a result, family run hotel appeared, where there is also electricity and hot water.

Another project implemented by CCRG is the development of cooperatives in Tusheti. The cooperatives allowed the locals to grow more agricultural products using the correct agro-technical approaches, and to offer tourists natural products. Together - solar panels, cooperatives and guest houses have made Tusheti even more attractive for tourists, and the locals received a stable source of income.

Natia Bakuridze is one of those Tushetians who expanded her business with the help of CCRG. Natia opened one of the most popular hotels in Tusheti, “Shina,” in 2010. Her two children and several local residents also work there. A few months ago, Natia purchased an oven with the help of Caritas, making it possible to cook different pastries, bread and pizza. So if Georgian cuisine is not to your taste, you can now give Tushetian pizza a try instead.

"After the purchase of the oven, the number of guests in the hotel increased by 15%, as we offer freshly baked bread and pastries. All this has reflected in the growth of income," says Natia, who supplies the neighboring hotels and cafés with pastries.

"Shina" is already well known worldwide. Today, before booking anywhere, we all read reviews online. In this case, on the world's number one portal Booking.com, hotel “Shina” has 9.2/10 points for cleanliness and 9.2/10 points for location.

Another resident of Omalo, Eteri Markhvaidze, is the owner of hostel and store "Tishe", which offers a variety of products to customers. With the help of the Czechs, Eteri purchased solar panels. The permanent power allowed the hostel to work at full capacity. Hostel guests and guests who stay in tents are supplied with laundry facilities, showers and Wi-Fi.

"After I had power, revenue went up. I can purchase more products and store it in refrigerators. I used to ferment matsoni, but in a very small amount and I didn’t earn anything from it. Now that I have refrigerators, I started to make money. It has also enabled me to improve the quality of service," Eteri said.

The cooperative "Tusheti 2015" was founded and developed thanks to the assistance of CCRG. The cooperative comprises of six families from Omalo. In addition, CCRG contributed to the construction of a shopping booth in the village of Omalo. A few months ago, CCRG gave a shopping booth to ‘Tusheti 2015’, where members of the cooperative sell their produce. The members of "Tusheti 2015" mostly possess potato and cucumber farms. Last year, they grew 900kg of cucumbers.

Makvala Melaidze, Chairwoman of the cooperative, says that in Tusheti, the owners of hotels bring potatoes from the valley because local potatoes come only in late September.

Apart from the cooperatives, other families started to grow different varieties of potato and are pleased with the fact that despite the drought, they had a better harvest than in previous years using good seed material and a proper agro technique.

Onise Ichirauli, who is a ranger in the Tusheti National Park and knows Tusheti's conditions well, decided to engage in beekeeping and when CCRG announced a business grant program to help the locals in Tusheti, he applied for it. Today he owns 15 hives.

“Our honey stands out for its qualities and there’s a great demand for it. Next year, I plan to produce 300 kilograms of honey and to supply it local hotels,” said Onise. In addition, he plans to produce candles and raw propolis chunks.

Tusheti also needs the boldness of youth: 27-year-old Dato Mosaidze and 22-year-old Giorgi Ichuaidze are from Omalo. Giorgi was educated in Europe, but returned to his homeland to connect his future with Tusheti. Young people in Omalo run guesthouses and breweries.

Tourists in Tusheti can participate in brewing and tasting takes place on location. We tasted Tushetian beer, and will not easily forget the taste of this beer. By tradition, women are not allowed to go to the brewery and at traditional Tushetian festivities, men and women’s beer is brewed separately.

This season, the young people sold 100 liters of beer, a good indicator for one touristic season, which lasts only 4 months in Tusheti.

64-year-old Irakli Bukvaidze is well known in Tusheti and beyond. He, along with his wife, are the only residents in the village of Shenako who remain in Tusheti throughout the year. The couple are employed in various fields – they run the guesthouse, cultivate vegetables and potatoes.

"Potatoes were planted on an area of 0.4 hectares. I would have planted more, but the absence of techniques prevented me from doing so. Last year, I sold my seed potatoes in the villages of Shenako and Omalo for 2 GEL. With the help of CCRG, I also purchased a dryer that dries up herbs in a way that keeps their color and aroma. We sell our products year-round," says Irakli Bukvaidze.

"Tusheti has become an example of development for mountainous regions of Georgia," says Ekaterine Meskhrikadze, Head of the Czech Republic Caritas Mission in Georgia. "With the support of the Czech Development Agency, we contributed to the improvement of the economic situation of the local population by implementing various activities and carrying out financial interventions."

"CCRG continues to work in the region, and hopefully we will have more important results in cooperation with other donors during the next one year," she added.

Author: Vazha Tavberidze

Source: Georgia Today
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