Issue 6, 2011. December-January

   

SKI GEORGIA: NEW INVESTMENTS IN RESORTS TO BOLSTER TOURISM

Infrastructure projects in the country's four ski areas underscore the government's plans to attract 5 million tourists by 2015. Investor.ge looks at the potential and investments being made at Georgia's winter destinations.

Aleqsandre Bluashvili


Bakuriani

Bakuriani, one of Georgia's top winter destinations, is adding to its attractions for families. The ski lift on Koxta Gora ski trail was renovated. GRDC, the development company that operates the ski lift, invested 498 thousand lari ($300 thousand) for its reconstruction. In addition, GRDC plans to add three more kilometers of ski runs to the Mitardi trails. "Currently we are working with the investors to finance the project," Levan Akhvlediani, GRDC's chief financial officer, told Investor.ge.

The new runs are tentatively planned to open next season.

There is also a new private ski park open for the 2011-2012 season in Bakuriani's central park.

Joyland, a private park, is opening a special ski area for beginning skiers, and a tubing run for both children and adults. The park is an 830 thousand lari ($500 thousand) investment, with 25 percent coming from foreign capital.

Gudauri

A perennial favorite with skiers from Tbilisi, Gudauri is ramping up its ski runs and lifts for the 2012 season.

Just seven months after Tbilisi took over management of the hamlet, the resort boasts 57 kilometers of ski runs, more than double that of last year. The extra trails make Gudauri to move from second to fourth category of ski resorts on five level grading scale.

Other improvements include refurbished ski lifts and a new, 2450 meter lift with 72 gondolas. The lift, built by Eagle Helicopters, a Swiss company, cost 15.6 million lari ($9.38 million) and was paid for largely with budgetary funds.

Tbilisi City Hall took over Gudauri's development in May 2011 for five years. With a budget of 3.9 million lari ($2.35 million), the Gudauri Development Project plans to work with the Ministry of Regional Development and the Ministry of Environmental Protection to renovate roads, parking lots, and water lines at the resort.

Over the past eight months, Black Sea Group has built 1.5 kilometers of new road at the resort, and four kilometers of new water lines.

"Gudauri should become a favorite winter destination for all types of visitors, starting from families with children to extreme adventure seekers... Our goal is to lay the foundation for private investors and then they should drive the development of Gudauri resort," said Giorgi Tskhakaia, the deputy mayor in charge of the project.

Private investors appear to be eager to join the project: Kalasi, a Georgian construction company, is investing 3.5 million lari ($2.11 million) in a new hotel at the resort. Financing for the hotel is from the Bank of Georgia.

In addition, Nicke, a development company, is investing 4.98 million lari ($3 million) in a new apartment complex. Funding comes from TBC Bank, and the project will be completed by September 2012.

"Gudauri is becoming an outstanding ski destination among post-soviet countries...increasing interest to skiing among Georgians, coupled with a growing number of tourists, creates a bigger demand on the real estate and we are trying to fill the gap in the market," noted Nicke Director Irakli Beridze.

Mestia

Investment in the Svaneti ski resort continues apace, with two new ski trails on the Hatsvali slope, for a total of five kilometers of ski runs at the resort.

In addition, two platter lifts - also known as j-bar lifts - were built at Hatsvali making it more accessible for skiers.

The government also invested heavily in road, water, and sewer systems in the region, partially financed by a $5 million grant from the Asian Development Bank. A new road from Zugdidi to Mestia is under construction, reducing travel time from nearly seven hours to five. The 51 million lari ($30.7 million) project is nearly complete. An additional 49 million lari ($29.5 million) is earmarked in the 2012 budget for development projects in Upper Svaneti, together with 40 million lari (18 million euro) in French investment. The French funds will be used to build a mini meteorological station on Tetnuldi Mountain, as well as being used for other projects slated for final approval in spring 2012.

New hotels are also under construction in Mestia to house the anticipated demand for 2012: a 20-room hotel on Zuruldi Mountain is under construction for next season and 85 new hotel rooms will be opened when the new hospitality complex is built in Mestia.
Currently, Mestia can provide accommodation for 1000 tourists; 42 thousand tourists visited the resort last year, according to government data.


Adjara Mountains

The newest of Georgia's ski resorts, the slopes in mountainous Adjara, are getting more attention from skiers and private investors.

Goderdzi mountain resort shows the most promise out of the region's three existing ski resorts. In 2011, the government spent one million lari ($600 thousand) on a new road to the resort and a new master plan for its development. An additional 10 million lari ($6 million) is earmarked for infrastructure projects in 2012.

Gomarduli and Kedlebi, Adjara's remaining ski resorts, have attracted 600 thousand lari ($361 thousand) in private investment and, according to projects by the autonomous region's government, investment should double in 2012.

There is an increased interest in the two resorts - the number of visitors doubled from a thousand in 2010 to 2000 last year.