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Georgia will be on our minds

Nick Easen of for eTurboNe  Aug 14, 2008

In Gori’s main square, which is dominated by a huge statue of Stalin, there’s a big hole in the concrete, blood stains on the pavement and burnt out cars on the road. This Georgian town has been the world’s latest amphitheater for war--pummeled by Russian missile strikes.

What many don’t realize is that the town, which is several hours drive west of the capital Tbilisi, is also on Georgia’s nascent tourist trail. I know, I’ve been there. That’s because Stalin, the godfather of Russia’s present day power, was born Ioseb Jugashvili and is Gori’s most famous son. He adopted the surname Stalin from the Russian word “stal” (or steel) later in his career.

Defiantly, it’s probably one of the only places in the former Soviet Union that hasn’t torn down the edifice of his controversial mustachioed face. It is Stalin’s anonymous past that kept Gori and his kitch hometown museum off the tourist map. And it is not without irony that the town has been splashed over the global media from BBC to CNN.

The fact is anonymity is a killer for many developing destinations that have paltry sums of money to market themselves. Georgia’s obscurity is not lost on the country’s president, Mikhail Saakashvili, either. “It is Europe’s best kept secret; not Asia’s; not the Middle East’s,” he told me over dinner.

Not any more. There’s already a rising interest from tourists and business travelers in Georgia, just ask the investors now rising the metal skeletons above the Tbilisi skyline. We are talking about a new Kempinski, Radisson, Hyatt and InterContinental hotels. It’s all evidence that there is a growing economic confidence in the country.

Only a month ago, the British government was promoting Georgia as a venue for investment and tourism, it may have been advising its citizens to leave in the wake of the latest breakneck war, but they will be back. Now more people know where it is.

And it is difficult to turn down some of the finest food and wine in the region, soaring Caucasian peaks that are bigger than the Alps and Black Sea beaches. Then there’s the hospitality, which is as fierce as any Russian military strike. So, expect to hear more from the Georgians. Bad news can be good news and they certainly need it.

Georgia will be on our minds
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