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Georgian Embassy Hosts Reception to Promote 2019 WFTGA Convention

By Larry Luxner

The Caucasus republic of Georgia — an increasingly popular tourist destination known for its majestic mountains, world-class wines and medieval monasteries — will host next year’s 18th World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA) convention.

On Sept. 20, the Embassy of Georgia in Washington hosted a reception to drum up interest in the event, which will attract some 400 delegates. So far, 220 people, including 21 Americans, have registered for the Jan. 21-27, 2019, gathering at Tbilisi’s Biltmore Hotel.

“Georgia right now is promoting tourism. It’s a very strong component of their economy, and we had the deputy ambassador talk to us about it,” said WFTGA brand ambassador Maricar Donato. She said three destinations — Georgia, Thailand and the United States (specifically New York) — bid to host the 2019 convention, and Georgia got the most votes.

“I’ve not been there yet. None of us have ever been there,” said Donato, a native of the Philippines. “That’s why they won, because it’s so unknown. Georgia is an emerging destination, and we want to showcase that in the tourism world.”

Panoramic view of Batumi, Georgia’s bustling resort on the Black Sea. Photo: Larry Luxner

In 2017, a record 7.55 million foreigners visited Georgia, up 1.19 million from the year before. That’s according to the Georgian National Tourism Administration, which said tourism generated $2.7 billion in revenues. The largest numbers of visitors came from neighboring Armenia (1.72 million, up 14.8 percent from 2016 arrivals); Azerbaijan (1.69 million, up 11.2 percent); Russia (1.39 million, up 34.1 percent); and Turkey (1.25 million, down 0.8 percent).

Tourist arrivals also rose substantially from European Union member countries, including the United Kingdom (+39.9 percent); Netherlands (+31.1 percent); Spain (+29.9 percent); and Germany (+25.7 percent).

Yet relatively few Americans visit the former Soviet republic, which traces its history back nearly 3,000 years. It has a rich tradition of winemaking — the country boasts 500 varieties of grapes and its own unique way of crushing them — as well as distinctive polyphonic folk music and a unique alphabet, which is unlike any other in the world.

Less admirable is Josef Stalin, the communist dictator who ruled the U.S.S.R. from the mid-1920s until 1953, and whose brutal purges and forced industrialization of Soviet agriculture led to the starvation of millions of people. Despite his dubious legacy, a museum in Stalin’s birthplace, Gori, has also become a popular — some say creepy — tourist attraction.

An advertisement on a Tbilisi street for organized tours to well-known historical attractions in Georgia. Photo: Larry Luxner

At the Sept. 20 reception, Mamuka Tsereteli, senior fellow at the American Policy Council’s Central Asia Caucasus Institute, spoke about the current political situation in Georgia, which in May marked the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the first democratic republic, and in August the 10th anniversary of Georgia’s war with Russia.

About 40 people attended the event — most of them members of the Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, D.C. 

“Next year will start with new adventures and experiences in Georgia for many tour guides from all over the world,” said Mariam Tarashivili, second secretary at the Georgian Embassy. “Guests will have the opportunity to explore Georgian culture, its ancient sights, unique traditions, music, food and certainly the wine.”

Tarashivili noted that the number of tourists visiting Georgia annually is now twice that of the country’s population of 3.7 million.

“As tourism numbers increase annually, we will continue to work with U.S.-based tour agencies to attract more and more American tourists to Georgia,” she added.

A cake is served at Sept. 20 reception at the Embassy of Georgia to promote the 18th WFTGA Convention in Tbilisi in January 2019. Photo: Courtesy of WFTGA

The WFTGA, established in 1987, today represents about 200,000 tourist guides from more than 70 countries. It is headquartered in Vienna.

Previous WFTGA conventions have taken place in Estonia (2011), Macau (2013), Prague (2015) and Tehran (2017). About 400 people attended the last gathering in Iran. Five countries are bidding for the 2021 convention, including the Philippines.


Larry Luxner is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.




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