EBRD bets on agritourism for historical Mukhrani region

Mukhrani Valley. Photo from Sky Travel.
Agenda.ge, Feb 09, 2018, Tbilisi, Georgia

A historical lowland district in eastern Georgia, Mukhrani, is the next promising area in the country where tourism or agritourism may flourish.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has initiated a training programme to support the agritourism sector in Georgia. Mukhrani has been selected as a pilot area for the project. The EBRD has appointed Tourism Development International (TDI), an Irish company which provides consultancy advice for the tourism industry, to undertake the project.

As managing director at TDI, Peter Mac Nulty believes that Mukhrani has significant potential for the development of Georgia’s agribusiness sector and specifically agritourism.

A newsletter about Mukhrani’s tourism and agritourism potential, created by the TDI, says that opportunities exist in hospitality and traditional food production, particularly for women and youth.

Agritourism also offers farmers an opportunity to diversify their business and add value to products already produced on the farm and which can support the generation of additional income,” read the newsletter.

In 2016, the Foundation for Regional Economic Development of Mukhrani commissioned TDI to prepare a Tourism Development Plan for Mukhrani Village. The consultants concluded that Mukhrani has significant untapped tourism potential.

The following SWOT (an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis was conducted for the Tourism Development Plan for Mukhrani, and highlights the potential opportunities for Mukhrani in agritourism along with challenges to be addressed.

Strengths and weaknesses for tourism development in Mukhrani

Centre of food production/agrarian economy, natural environment, hospitality of host community, community support for tourism and traditions and culture such as wrestling for example, are considered as strong sides for Mukhrani which promise potential and opportunity for the area in agritourism.

On the other hand Mukhrani faces some challenges as well such as:

  • Lack of awareness/destination identity
  • Lack of ‘market-ready’ attractions
  • Very limited accommodation/restaurants base
  • Limited visitor facilities i.e. toilets, information, visitor information/orientation
  • Lack of tourism knowledge and skills
  • Lack of tourism training
  • Current unsafe food hygiene practices

Growing market of active, wealthy, independent travellers looking for alternative holiday experiences is one of the opportunities for Mukhrani, the newsletter says.

Also, the study’s authors think that the proximity of Mukhrani to Mtskheta (which is an existing tourism hub and UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the fact that Mukhrani is on the national wine tourism route creates additional opportunities to Mukhrani.

The authors also see potential in capitalising Mukhrani’s historic role as a regional centre of food production and trade and developing festivals and events based around food and heritage.

Lack of awareness of Mukhrani is one of the threats for Mukhrani, says the newsletter, along with:

  • Cost of conservation of built heritage
  • Lack of capacity to respond to market opportunities e.g. accommodation, visitor facilities

What is Mukhrani community’s feedback on tourism development?

TDI conducted a telephone survey with representatives of the Mukhrani community in December 2017. The survey identified strong interest in tourism with many respondents interested in starting their own agritourism business.

Accommodation features strongly in the agritourism activities respondents were interested in.

Mukhrani citizens are also interested in capitalising on their strong food traditions by selling agricultural produce to visitors (both tourists and locals) and running restaurants offering traditional Georgian dishes.

There is also strong interest in providing tours, guiding services and transport services.

The main challenges facing potential beneficiaries wishing to work in tourism are lack of experience of the tourism sector, in addition to lack of information.

The poor condition of Mukhrani’s infrastructure and lack of finances are also identified as significant issues, reveals the survey.

The newsletter said that the majority of respondents are willing to receive training in business operation, sales and marketing, finance and funding, and customer care. There is also a strong desire for training on food safety and standards.

The next newsletter will be issued in mid-February. Also, the TDI is organising a Beneficiary Forum on February 28, where further details will be provided about the second newsletter.