Issue 5, 2016. October-November



Georgia is attracting a growing number of travelers who are using technology and word-of-month to see the country's wonders on a shoe-string budget.

Joseph Larsen

Things move quickly in Georgia. Tbilisi is a hotbed for startups. And the skyline in Batumi is continually being transformed by new construction.

Some things stay constant, however. People are optimistic, food is fantastic, and hospitality is always a priority, even in bad times. It's partly due to those things that Georgians have become accustomed to something else, too: a steadily growing number of incoming tourists. Arrivals grew from fewer than 560,000 in 2005 to 5.9 million in 2015, according to the Georgian National Tourism Administration. Nearly 4.25 million foreigners came to Georgia during the first eight months of 2016, which is primed to set a new record.

Budget Destination

Russia is the largest source of tourists; more than 700,000 have come to Georgia so far this year. And Georgia's popularity isn't just because of historical ties and its abundance of Russian speakers. "Georgia is cheaper compared to Europe, especially restaurants, hostels and hotels . . . Because of the ruble's weakness compared to the euro, trips to Europe, Spain, Italy, France, and the Czech Republic, have become too expensive for Russians," according to Oksana Sarycheva, a Tbilisi resident who works for a Moscow-based travel agency.

Her agency offers an all-inclusive seven-night package for $800 per person and a shorter, four-night package for $500 per person. They serve mostly upper-middle-class clientele, but Sarycheva finds that Russian visitors usually want a budget-friendly experience: "The most popular [accommodation] is city hotels in the Old Town for $60 per night per room. Hostels are also very popular among individual budget travelers—from $10 per night in a dormitory."

Where are the other tourists coming from? And what are they coming for? More than 60,000 Israelis have come so far in 2016, a 59 percent spike from a year ago. That's to say nothing of Iranians, who are coming in droves now that the Georgian government is allowing visa-free travel again. Even arrivals from France topped 10,000 for the first time in 2015.

Tourists come from all over, but the bulk are still bound for Tbilisi and Batumi. According to a report by Colliers International, the two cities contained roughly 57 percent of Georgia's 16,786 hotel rooms in 2014. And hotels still account for nearly two-thirds of the country's total accommodation units. This August, Tbilisi unveiled the Biltmore, a massive, luxury hotel with an average single-room rate of 930 lari per night. Kazbegi is another popular spot and is home to the famous Rooms Hotel. But don't be fooled. The country is full of small hostels and family-run guesthouses where rooms can be rented at rock-bottom rates.

Sofi Bokuchava's family rents a number of guesthouses out of their home in the Abanotubani neighborhood of Tbilisi. They have options ranging from 40 to 180 lari per night— "We're definitely a cheaper choice for budget travelers," she says. Travelers can find their place on and, but some simply walk in. "Taxi drivers take them here. They often recommend our place." In Bokuchava's view, Georgia has also benefitted from Turkey's recent political instability and its complex relationship with Russia. "It's so much safer to be in Georgia than in Turkey . . . It's [also] cheaper." That has helped bring in Russian tourists, many of whom preferred Turkey in past years. She said of their ten units, Russian guests are currently staying in eight of them.

Georgia is getting more attention from Western Europe as well. Steef Van Gorkum, a Dutch citizen, recently visited Georgia with three friends. They were impressed with the culture, natural beauty, and pristine hiking trails. As he told, affordability was also a plus: "There's plenty of great stuff to see for a relatively low cost. And it's probably possible to do it even cheaper than we did; we insisted on having our own car, and an apartment for just the four of us, but if you would go in hostels and take public transportation, it could be done even cheaper."