Nestled between Russia and Turkey on the edge of the Black Sea, Georgia has established itself since 2010 as a dream tourist destination.
Since the end of the war against Russia in 2008, huge sums have been invested in modernizing infrastructure.
With its mountains, ski centers, ultra modern seaside resorts like Batumi, vineyards as far as the eye can see, and an architectural heritage, the former Soviet Republic attracted 6 million tourists from abroad last year.
The industry was in full swing and the summer of 2020 had to break ridership records until the country was forced, like almost all the nations of the planet, to close its borders to contain the spread of COVID -19.
It goes without saying that Georgia is in a hurry to open up to foreigners, but the big difference with Italy or Spain is that the small country of the Caucasus has the luxury of boasting of being one of the rare sanitary havens of l ‘Europe, where the virus is almost nonexistent.
The country, which was one of the first to isolate itself from the rest of the continent in March, escaped with 746 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and only 12 deaths. This assessment has earned it a prominent place in most of the safest post-COVID destinations in Europe.
An enviable position that the Georgian government intends to exploit when it reopens its borders to foreign tourists from July 1, but certainly not to anyone.
Reopen the door, but not to everyone
Georgia’s Minister of Economy Natia Turnava is responsible for reviving tourism, which accounts for almost 15% of the country’s GDP.
She gave us an interview from her office in Tbilisi where she is piloting a new kind of diplomacy: negotiating reciprocal agreements with others “safe countries”, Whose epidemiological situation compares to that of Georgia.
We are currently negotiating with several European countries, and some in the Gulf, in order to create safe green corridors for our nationals.
Georgia has therefore chosen extreme caution.
These green corridors, or tourist bubbles as they are called, will allow tourists from selected countries to travel to Georgia, without submitting to a quarantine period and vice versa.
Georgia has already signed an agreement with Germany, and negotiations are underway with the Baltic states, Greece, Austria, and Portugal.
An agreement was about to be reached with Israel too, but a resurgence of cases in the Tel Aviv region has forced the suspension of talks at least for the next few weeks, says the president of the Tourism Association of the Georgia.
“This is proof that we will not take any risks“Explains Ms. Kvachantiradze who adds that her association and other key players in the industry participated in the development of the selection criteria.
The new slogan chosen by the government will also reflect the measures in place, said Minister Natia Turnava: “Visit Georgia, the safe destination”
However, that means depriving yourself of millions of revenues and denying entry to Russian neighbors, who represent a large clientele, as well as to Americans until the virus is contained in their respective territories.
Strict rules for the hotel sector
At the Adamo Hotel, right in the center of the capital Tbilisi, the countdown has started.
Workers are striving to put up windows at the reception and stickers that indicate precisely where visitors will have to keep a distance of 2 meters, in all common areas, such as restaurants and living rooms.
Because to be worthy of its new slogan, the government has imposed some of the toughest rules in the world on the hospitality industry that go far beyond physical distancing.
Hotels have also played a major role in managing the pandemic in Georgia, since as of March, more than 7,000 rooms have been requisitioned to accommodate Georgians repatriated to the country. Customs officers will obviously have a key role in monitoring travelers and in the possible tracing of their journey.
COVID-19 screening tests will be mandatory, either when arriving at the airport or before even flying. A welcome that may seem complex and even discouraging, but the post-COVID tourist will not be the same as before, according to the Minister of Economy, and it is a reality with which we will have to live from here. that the vaccine be developed.
Mariam Margvelidze is not convinced of the urgency of lifting the barricades at the borders, moreover the idea worries more and more.
However, it is not wanting to reopen her little paradise to visitors … The 20-year-old woman and her parents own a magnificent vineyard in the mountains in the Racha region.
The ancestral home has been converted into a charming inn, where 85% of customers came from abroad before the pandemic.
Under government rules, small hostels and bed and breakfasts like theirs will also have to undergo an inspection before welcoming tourists. Masks, disinfectant and clear distancing instructions will be mandatory. The government is also banking on outlying regions like Racha in the countryside to attract tourists seeking tranquility and outdoor activity far from the crowds.
For the Tourist Association, opening the door, even a little bit to tourists, is essential and strategy will be a key element of the marketing campaign to attract travelers who not only want a vacation, but forget the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For small emerging countries like Georgia, the pandemic offers us an opportunity to redefine ourselves and sell to tourists who usually turn to France, Spain or Italy.“Adds Kvachantiradze
Gallery: Will these famous places survive the crisis? (Espresso)