Issue 4, 2013. August-September



Tom Flanagan, the Area Vice President for Eastern Europe for the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, was in Tbilisi in June for the group's annual conference. spoke with him about Radisson's projects in Georgia and its vision for the hospitality industry in the region.

With two hotels in the country, two more in the pipeline, and plans for several more, Tom Flanagan, the Area Vice President for Eastern Europe for the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, said Georgia is the fastest growing market in the region for the hotel group, after Russia and Turkey.

Georgia, noted Flanagan, is a country where seeing is believing. He was in Tbilisi in June for the group's annual conference - a one-a-year opportunity for Radisson hotels to host executives and to showcase their facilities.

He noted that after bringing a group of large event brokers to Georgia, Radisson received several bookings instantly. The norm is a couple bookings after several weeks.

"I think one of the main factors is definitely the access, but even before you get to the access, it is the awareness... you have to see it to believe it," he said, noting that the reaction of the 75 guests for the hotel group conference was amazed from the moment they arrived at the airport.

If Georgia increases its investment to bring business in, thereby advertising Georgia,"that is really going to one key factor to developing the business [hotel industry] even before we ask people to book a flight to get here," he said.

Bringing Russian tourists will be the "big kahuna" for the Georgian tourism sector if it can capture the winter and summer tourists.

"Now it is predominately business [tourists from Turkey, Germany]... Now the Russians, I think, will be their number one clientele, even after summer," he said. "We are working now on a program especially for the Russian holidays because that is a really an interesting capture period because everyone travels anyway so it is easy to convince them but what we are really working on is the business clientele."

Nostalgia and niche tourism should help Georgia's tourism sector continue to grow, he noted.

"[W]e were discussing how Georgia could compete with Turkey and I think they shouldn't. The south of Turkey is very much like the Cote D'Azur, it has its own tourism, its own prices -- I think we have to go with more boutique tourism here and they are definitely doing that and retaining these resorts, ecologically," he said.

Georgian wine, in particular, could have mass appeal.

"[T]his week we had a huge amount of different varieties of suppliers here to show the general managers and to experience Georgian wine. It is stunning and it is extremely different. We had flavors that I have never personally tasted before. There were so many international general managers looking for wine shops!" he said.

"You want to try something that is from the newer world and this is the oldest newest world together."

He noted that Radisson's project with partner Silk Road Group in Tsinandali has the potential to be "one of the classist experiences" in Georgia.

"In three or four years time, we want ten hotels in Georgia," he said. "And we are going to do it."