The FINANCIAL — Svaneti, an attractive place for summer backpackers and winter skiers alike, now boasts a new hotel, the Tetnuldi, and its owners are conspiring to make the region an all-year-round, world-class, tourist magnet.
Tezo Japaridze, Tedo Jorjoliani and Nodar Sapir, all originally from Svaneti, have recently opened the first modern hotel in Mestia. The Tetnuldi, boasting better standards than any other hotel in the region, has been built on the spot of the old Soviet Intourist-type accommodation. “The name was the same during the Soviet times, the Tetnuldi,” said Tezo Japaridze, one of the three partners. “We kept it because the hotel was named after a beautiful mountain that stands nearby.”
Even though the hotel carries the name of its predecessor, it conveys a vastly different message. “This is the first hotel [in Svaneti] that operates in accordance with standards that are not post-Soviet,” said Giorgi Gotseridze, an owner of a ski resort development company and a committed Svaneti tourist. “It is really nice to have a very clean room, wonderful bed sheets, nice furnishings and fabulous views out of the windows.”
Describing a dinner offered at the hotel (and included in the room price) as “fantastic” and the downstairs bar as “wonderful,” Gotseridze said he has become a fan of the place. “You get a feeling that you are in Mestia, but also somewhere else, on a good resort,” he said. “I really do like this hotel, and the cost is quite acceptable.”
With prices ranging from 120 to 180 GEL per night per room, the hotel has 35 rooms with a total of 70 beds. Since its launch on June 15, the Tetnuldi has already housed more than 100 visitors, mostly foreign tourists interested in the outdoors.
The Tetnuldi’s construction was partially financed by GRDF (the Georgia Regional Development Fund). This 30 million USD risk capital investment fund, according to its official website, “focuses on long-term growth-oriented investments in growing and dynamic small and medium size enterprises operating principally in the regions beyond Tbilisi.” GRDF was established by Millennium Challenge Georgia (MCG).
“Svaneti is one of the most exotic destinations in Georgia, both for international and domestic customers,” said a GRDF representative. “As project promoters, we think that it has all the potential to evolve into a skiing destination for the active tourists of Europe. The project was initiated to benefit from the unexploited opportunities in the area, in terms of the region’s capacity as well as its hotel facilities.”
The GRDF representative also said that the organization expects the hotel to serve “as a key tourist driver in the Svaneti region; it is expected to attract local and international tourists and help develop the local service sectors.” GRDF accepted the proposal presented by the Tetnuldi partners because their overall concept followed the requirements for a traditional mountain lodge built according to international standards.
President Mikheil Saakashvili visited the hotel during its construction stages on December 31, 2009. According to Japaridze, the Tenuldi’s prospects prompted the President to organize the construction of the nearby ski lift and road infrastructure, all of which are also currently being monitored by Japaridze. The new ski lift is planned to be opened on October 1.
“After the ski lift, we plan to do more [construction] the next year,” Japaridze said. “One can ski in Svaneti throughout the year, it is such a place.” Furthermore, Japaridze and his partners plan to build a small hotel at the top of the ski lift and another one at the bottom, thus expanding their mission of bringing tourists to the region.
Japaridze, a former Georgian champion in Alpine skiing, and his partners, also former professional sportsmen, continue to pursue skiing today also laying tracks and constructing pistes for the tourists, who, according to Japaridze, are sure to flood the region. “We like this, we like skiing, we are continuing to ski even now,” Japaridze said. “Svaneti is such a place that one could conduct a world championship here, it just needs to be organized; there is a need for ski lifts and infrastructure.”
The hotel’s impact, however, reaches beyond attracting foreign and local tourists. It now employs about 25 people. Additionally, anywhere between 60 and 70 people are working on the projects which originated with the hotel, such as the road development and lift construction. Both numbers are quite significant, considering that unemployment in Svaneti, according to Japaridze, reaches almost 80 percent.
Asked whether he thinks the hotel will push smaller guesthouses and B&Bs from the market, Japaridze said that the more accommodation the region can offer, the more tourists it can ultimately attract. “The more hotels we have, the more tourists we will get; it is not a problem,” he said.
Remarkably, the Tetnuldi’s construction began on August 20, 2008, just days after the Georgia-Russia war. Even though starting a business was fairly problem-free for Japaridze and his partners, high taxes proved the greatest obstacle. “Svaneti should become tax free,” Japaridze said. “The taxes should not exist right now in Svaneti, it is a new resort, just starting to develop, and it is hundred percent necessary to scrap the taxes there.”