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Winter Tourism Season FALLING in Georgia-Late FALLING Snow

Published: January 31, 2011 | 3:05 pm
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Blame Snow! Blame Snow! Blame Snow!



The COMMERCIAL TIMES
Winter tourism business has been hard hit due to the warm weather and lack of snow in Georgia’s mountain-ski resorts. Industry insiders say that they have seen a financial loss because of fallen winter tourism season if the bright sunny weather and the high temperatures continue they will face even more serious problems.
At the ending of the high winter ski season, tour operator, hotel managers and experts estimate Georgia’s tree ski resorts Bakuriani, Gudauri and Mestia were only visited by 10% out of the total holidaymakers than they expected at the beginning. Head of the National Agency for Tourism Maya Sidamonidze expected before beginning the winter tourist season that Georgian winter resort would be visited by 100 thousand tourists. The high season for Georgia’s ski resorts refers to mid December to mid February.
“Those holidaymakers who had booked rooms canceled reservations after the weather forecast announcement that January would be sunny,” said Marina Samkharadze, the Director of Hotel Shele in Gudauri mountain-ski resort. “It is the end of January and Shele Hotel only has hosted 15 visitors since December 20 while in previous years you could not find a room for reservation in the same period.”
According to Samkharadze if the trend continues she will be forced to close the hotel. “I have hired staff and have to pay salary for them while the hotel has not income absolutely this season,” she noted in a brief interview with The COMMERCIAL TIMES.
Gagieti, a guesthouse in Gudauri, is one of those which suffered a lot as a result of the warm weathers. The guesthouse’s owner says that a group of five tourists from Ukraine visited Gagieti but because of lack of snow on the ski routes they left the same day.
“I have been running hotel business for ten years but this is the first year that I can’t even try to cover the costs,” Nino Buchukuri, the owner of Gagieti guesthouse told The COMMERCIAL TIMES. “For the guesthouse’s reconstruction works I took a loan from local Georgian bank but now it is impossible for me to pay the debt,” she added.
Christmas week is considered the peak season for these resorts with visitors flocking to them to ski over the New Year and Christmas holidays. It was impossible to secure accommodation in any of Georgia’s ski resorts before beginning the season because almost all hotel rooms were booked.
The representatives of tour agencies prove this tendency. Inga Mumladze, the Director of Concord Travel, a local tour operator said that bookings are down about 90 percent from local tourists as well as from foreign countries.
“This year the great interest is from our neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia. Moreover tourists from Ukraine, Poland and Russia booked rooms in Georgia’s mountain ski resorts but unfortunately almost all of them canceled the reservations,” said Mumladze.
Moreover most of the tour agencies booked the hotels in advance and in case of cancellation they have to pay for the hotel. By booking terms for group booking 30% down payment must be transferred minimum 7 days before arrival while cancellation charge for group booking 30% of the total cost of the room will apply from 15 to 8 days before arrival.
The mangers of cafes, restaurant and clubs also suffer the lack of visitors. Most of them cancelled the planed events. Music hall Gudauri, a night club is between them which changed the event calendar. “On January 22 we had planned to invite a German DJ but unfortunately we cancelled the party because Gudauri is almost empty and it is hard to find a tourist to invite,” said Evgenia Todua, the Director of Music Hall Gudauri in a brief interview with The COMMERCIAL TIMES.
A bit better situation is in Bakuriani and Mestia where tourist visit resort not only for skiing. It [Bakuriani] is famous for its pine forest and fresh air that’s why it is always visited by children for their health and recreation.
Ana Pirveli runs a guesthouse in Bakuriani that accommodates 25 people. She said that guesthouse is only loaded by 20%. “The guesthouse must be loaded by 60%-70% to work properly and have some profit otherwise the business in unprofitable,” Pirveli noted.
Mestia receive its first winter tourists on 1 January, 2011 and is also one of the best destinations for ecotourism lovers and those who wish to see the ancient history of Georgia. In winter, few have come here because there was no infrastructure. After opening the airport and setting the direct flights through Tbilisi international Airport at the beginning of this year Mestia, the region of Svaneti attract hundreds of tourists.
The experts in the field of sustainable development of the environment say that exceptionally warm weather is an anomaly that happens time by time in the world.
“If the tendency becomes more frequent only after this we can say that there are the climate changes that need the immediate reaction from the government and the society,” said Marina Shvangiradze, the expert in the field of Climate Changes.
The development of tourism is a major priority for the government of Georgia. Goderdzi Pass, in mountainous Adjara, is poised to become the forth winter resort in Georgia. HOK, the largest US -based architecture and engineering firm, prepared a plan for the resort’s construction. President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili said while opening the sport ski complex in the village of Danisparauli, Khulo region said that ski resort will host tourists from next year.
According to the President of Georgia, ski tracks and ski lifts will be built in new resort. “The length of the ski route will be 5 km, longer than the ones in Georgia’s existing winter resort,” Saakashvili said.
Situated 90 kms from Batumi, Goderdzi Pass rests 2,500 metres above sea level and can serve more than 12,000 tourists.
Traditionally, Gudauri in the Greater Caucasus and Bakuriani in the Lesser Caucasus were the two major alpine resorts for Georgia’s winter tourism industry. However, starting from 2011, Mestia has emerged as a rival to the established destinations with its year-round ski resort in the high mountainous region of Svaneti, in the Caucasus Mountains.
Here the mountain slopes remain covered in snow for 4-5 months providing great opportunities for snowboarding. Bakuriani is two and a half hour’s drive from Tbilisi by car.
While in Gudauri, the first, lower station is 1,990 meters above sea level and the upper station, known as Kudebi (Tails) is at 3,007 meters, in Bakuriani, the highest point used for skiing is Mount Kokhta (Smart), around 2,200 meters above the sea.
As for Mestia, it is 480 km away from Tbilisi, 9-10 hours travel from the capital by car and only one hour by plane. Here the newly-constructed lift station is 1500 meters above sea level surrounded by 3,000–5,000 meter peaks. Heli-skiing and summer skiing on the high peaks is likely to attract many skiers from around the world.
Meanwhile, industry insiders are looking at the sky and to the 2011 calendar for more snow and more visitors. By the end of the week snow did start to fall intensively in Georgia’s mountainous resorts and hopes are up it will fall and fall.

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