Linkages Between Tourism and Community-Driven Economic Activities: Shaping Sustainability in Mountain Regions

Mestia_2

An interdisciplinary research project to bolster sustainable and inclusive tourism development in mountainous Georgia.

Mountain and Rural Development Initiatives – Caucasus Region (MRD-Cau), based at Tbilisi State University, is a collaborative effort between several local and international scholars with the shared vision of pursuing solutions to pressing challenges in rural and mountainous Caucasus. This platform initiates research projects focused on tackling issues related to the transformation of socioeconomic and spatial conditions, mostly centered around tourism development, management of protected areas, territorial patterns of local economic activities, etc. Importantly, most of the projects are based on interdisciplinary approaches that aim to bolster sustainable and inclusive development. One such project – ‘Linkages between Tourism and Community-driven Economic Activities: Shaping Sustainability in Mountain Regions’ – is outlined below.

Motivation

The project presented in this article was inspired by the research results of the international interdisciplinary project ‘AMIES II - Scenario Development for Sustainable Land Use in the Greater Caucasus, Georgia,’ launched by the University of Giessen and funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. One of the main conclusions drawn by AMIES II was that rapid tourism development in the study area, the Kazbegi District, has triggered significant economic growth. However, allied economic fields which should be growing in tandem to chart an inclusive development course do not enjoy the same expected growth. Hence, the research team argued that there is need for a thorough study of this fragmented development to unlock the potential of tourism’s interlinkages for synchronized development.

Project Aim

The follow-up interdisciplinary research project ‘Linkages between Tourism and Community-driven Economic Activities: Shaping Sustainability in Mountain Regions’ was initiated by Tbilisi State University in close collaboration with the University of Giessen. The project will be implemented between 2018-2020, with the generous financial support of the Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation of Georgia (SRNSFG).

Mestia 1

Mestia District in the upper Svaneti region (north-west Georgia) sits in the southern heart of the Greater Caucasus Mountain range. In 2014, according to the census approx. 15,000 people lived in Mestia.

Large-Scale Fieldwork in High Mountainous Georgia

Considering the underlying methodological concept of this project, a qualitative study was conducted in two mountain regions of the Greater Caucasus.

Importantly, the research team was primarily focused on a participatory approach during the fieldwork so as to highlight the viewpoints of local residents living in study areas. During the initial stage of the research, close cooperation was established with local stakeholders, including self-government authorities, local action groups (LAG), etc. Throughout the project implementation they will be informed and engaged in relevant activities to ensure the effective usage of the research findings.

Within the frame of the study, large-scale fieldwork was carried out in the Mestia and Kazbegi municipalities.

Key information

Duration of the fieldwork: 10 days in each study area - Mestia and Kazbegi municipalities.

  • Research areas in Mestia Municipality: Mestia borough and several villages in 15 communities (Becho, Eceri, Idliani, Ifari, Kala, Latali, Laxamula, Lenjeri, Mulakhi, Nakra, Ushguli, Fari, Cxumari, Tsvirmi, Chuberi)
  • Research areas in Kazbegi Municipality: Stephantsminda borough and several villages in 4 communities (Kobi, Goriscixe, Sioni, Sno).

Notably, up to 115 in-depth and focused interviews were conducted with two target group members, namely:

  • Representatives of local community-driven economic activities in the Kazbegi and Mestia municipalities;
  • Authorities of different sectors of the tourism industry, who operate in Kazbegi and Mestia municipalities.

Mestia 3 Meeting at Mestia Municipality City Hall

Project team meeting at Mestia Municipality City Hall.

In 2019, after finishing the analysis of the collected narratives of respondents, a focus group method will be employed to organize local people around primary study findings to validate the first insights. Such a proactive approach will, on the one hand, allow us to bring the study results to the community first for more in-depth discussion and further conclusions. On the other hand, we believe that deep understanding of the existing reality and challenges will empower all players in the community to strengthen their capacity and commitment to finding ways to utilize tourism benefits for inclusive development.

Stories Heard

From the perspective of respondents, the relationship between tourism and adjoined economic branches is not sound and sustainable in the study regions. The narratives affirm that they clearly realize the existing challenge and are willing to bridge this gap and find the appropriate solutions.

Respondent #1: "[Tourism] Did not give a stimulus [agriculture]. I have this opinion and here is the reason why: everyone set up business [Tourism]. Now I think about it and realize that there is rarely a family that is involved in agriculture to produce products for realization. For example, cheese, milk. Mestia is such a huge tourism hub and is basically dependent on the distribution [imported products from different parts of Georgia]. In short, it did not give a big boost. I say so, everybody established accommodation units...”

Kazbegi 2 Kaxi Gvantsa

Mr. Kaxi Janukashvili (a project respondent) is a farmer in the Sno community, Kazbegi municipality. Because of tourist demand, in recent years he added a new agricultural activity, lettuce farming, to his broad spectrum of agri-production. Today, he is one of the biggest suppliers in the municipality.

The high geographical coverage of the fieldwork, which means that the research team integrated the voices of local residents from both the nearest and more remote villages, enables the observation of spatial peculiarities of local community-driven economic activities with the local tourism supply chain.

Respondent #2: "In winter and afterward is a little bit complicated, because they even do not grow it [Potato] anymore. There is such snow that no one will come from the villages for selling potato... No, no, it is hard to bring to the center. Imagine bringing for instance milk from there.”

The narratives of locals involved in various economic fields gave a broad spectrum of challenges which hinder the scale-up and integration of economic activities with the prospect of joining the local tourism supply chain.

Respondent #3: "No... The roads are not open also. Now the peasant man is not able to open the road, now we have 4-5 kilometers where we have hay and if there is no support, open road so that car will pass, the development of agriculture [livestock] will not be able so far.”

The abovementioned narratives of local residents are a small sample of their reflections on the study issue. Currently, the process of data analysis is still ongoing and much more insightful findings are yet to come.

Find out more on the MRD-Cau website.
Download the project information sheet.

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