The importance of being earnest. It’s not an alternative version of Oscar Wilde’s play, but the distinctive feature of Georgia Starts Here, a website that aims to be the main point of reference for tourism in the Caucasus country.
Providing honest information about your own country is also the goal of this page that was launched on 3 June 2016 by a team of young Georgians, Tatuka (marketing), Giorgi (Google analytics) and Nestan (concept designer).
The aim is to speak about Georgia and its – many – cultural, natural, historical qualities without leaving aside characteristics that are not as beautiful.
It is a more straightforward and sustainable idea of tourism which distances itself from mass tourism, often environmentally unsustainable and linked with land exploitation.
“We wanted to promote Georgia for what it’s really like,” says Nestan, a 27-year old graduate from Politecnico, Milan, who in addition to English speaks fluent Italian. “Having the primary goal of sincere communication to our readers, we can’t highlight only advantages, but we also have to let readers know about defects and weaknesses in our country.”
If the goal is not to lure or encourage mass tourism, Georgia Starts Here doesn’t address jet-setters, either.
“Our target is budget travellers, who don’t want to visit our country to stay in luxury hotels with jacuzzi, but are interested in experiencing the local culture through the stories and tips that come from those who live here every day. Locals know better. Locals can give you the right piece of advice. In our case, we talk about museums, bars, restaurants only providing that the quality is high and that it has been tested by our authors. If we’re not convinced about a certain place, we won’t publicise it. In short, our blog is based on the trust we create with the reader.”
There are a lot of examples in this sense. From a Turkish couple to a 60-year-old Western tourist, many have chosen to visit Georgia after being inspired by the genuine character of the website.
The direct approach without formalities is not only reflected in the content of the articles, but also in their style.
“We’ve decided to adopt an informal style with a good sense of humour. Rather than presenting ourselves as formal guides, the idea is that of being virtual friends that can give practical info and tips about Georgia, for example by reminding tourists they have to insert a coin in the elevator if they want to use it or by warning them against illegal car park wardens, and a lot more.”
The web seems to show appreciation as as many as 30,000 visitors a month surf Georgia Starts Here – with 70% of them being foreigners – a considerable result for such a young page.
“Our goal is to become the number one portal in Georgia.” The website is gaining recognition, too, as it has become one of the Tourism Ministry media partners.
In Georgia Starts Here, Nestan and her colleagues seem to have found what the British educator Ken Robinson defines as ‘the Element’, i.e. “where passion and talents meet”.
“I’ve always been interested in graphics, culture and photography and in tourism, with Georgia Starts Here, I’ve been able to make my passions meet and work with great motivation.”
Telling things as they are without idealising also means talking about darker sides. “A few months ago we reported a bad experience of a young woman who had lived in Svaneti – a region that features a lot of cultural and environmental qualities, editor’s note – with some local men. Avoiding to hide defects is part of our way of telling about Georgia. By the way, after publishing her story, we and this young woman became close friends.”
If you want to test the website’s reliability all you have to do is one simple thing. Fly to Georgia and let yourself be guided. You won’t be disappointed.
Photos by Georgia Starts Here