Why the tiny nation of Georgia has seen a big tourism boom

It might have been the call of the historic capital, Tbilisi, all ramshackle red roofs and fairytale castles, or on the strength of a rumor about the greatest wine scene you’d never heard of. Instead, it’s the result of huge political change, coupled with a structured, sustained campaign by the country’sgovernment toopen Georgia to the world, and take it from a pretty, but mostly unknown, Eastern European backwater to a global tourist hotspot. In the past two decades, the country’s economy has grown steadily by around 4.5% a year, even amid the turbulence of the global financial crisis, tensions with Russia in 2008, and a tumble incommodity prices. Here’s what’s helpedit getthis far: Gallery: Best places to visit in 2019 (StarsInsider) After 1994, progress was gradual, until 2003, when the Revolution of Roses precipitated presidential and parliamentary elections. Mikheil Saakashvili was elected as the country’s leader, ushering in widespread economic and political reforms, including a pro-Western foreign policy. Speaking to the New York Times, minister of education and science Dimitri Shashkini explained that the wider goal was to teach every child in Georgia tospeakEnglish. Gallery: 25 places you should visit off-season (Espresso) For a month in 2015, Renaissance Capital economist Charles Robertson told the Financial Times (paywall), local passport officials “not only granted you an automatic visa on arrival if you came from a country richer than Georgia, but handed back your passport with the gift of a small bottle of Georgian red wine and sometimes a smile.” The wine is no more, but citizens ofnearly 100 countries can now visit Georgia for up to a year without any visa whatsoever. In 2015, the bank loaned the country million to improve infrastructure in the Samtskhe-Javakheti and Mtskheta-Mtianeti regions, both of which have striking historical sites and promising ski fields, with the specific goal of increasing tourism. The country has placed “respecting, enhancing, and protecting Georgia’s natural and cultural heritage” and “creating unique and authentic visitor experiences centered on those assets” at the top of its tourism objectives (pdf).