EU support improves mountain tourism in Juta

EU support improves mountain tourism in Juta

EU support improves mountain tourism in Juta

The FINANCIAL -- One would think the field located at the 2,300 meters above the sea level, at the bottom of Chaukhi pass in Juta, might be just another impressive, but monotonous sight. Beautiful views, unique nature and a peaceful atmosphere is something that we have already seen and enjoyed.

So camping in similar environment may seem uninteresting. What should people do in the field for several days, surrounded only by the mountains and bare rocks, away from the settlement where horses have long been used as a means of transport?! The tourist complex ZETA, which is located in the village of Juta, at the bottom of Chaukhi pass, breaks all the stereotypes and proves that where we expect homogeneity, there might be the most diverse environment.

The weather is inconstant. A heavy rain might begin just a few minutes after bright sunshine. The change of the sky color is not directly proportional to the change of the mood and especially when there are lots of wonderful sights and activities for you to explore and enjoy.

You are on one field, in one space, but in reality, you are filled with completely different impressions during the whole day, which is not tedious at all. Every day is different, each season is different. The tourist complex ZETA is located exactly in such an area and is oriented on mountain tourism development. Thanks to the EU’s ENPARD program, ZETA is able to offer the guests to stay in tents and comfortable cottages, offers them café and bar services, horse riding, hiking, and bicycle tours just an hour's walking distance from the nearest settlement.

ZETA is the first fully equipped mountain tourist camp in Georgia and is located near the village of Juta, where there is no motorway to lead the camping area. The Tourist Complex ZETA was founded in 2008 – the time when there were only children and elder people living in the village and nothing interesting was happening there. Anano Arabuli decided to create a camp, where people could stay in a comfortable environment. The main motivation was the village of Juta and its unique location.

“People, especially tourists, used to come very rarely in Juta. The demand was very low, but I could see that in case of delivering the appropriate service, this place had a wonderful prospect of turning into a tourist complex”, says Anano Arabuli.

Anano shared her idea to her parents first of all. This was not surprising as Anano’s father was born and has grown up in Juta. After seeing the support of the family, Anano introduced her initiative to her relative, former alpinist Jarji Akimidze. It should be noted that none of them had experience in the field of tourism, except the fact that often they were tourists in different countries. Jarji was well aware of mountain life, while Anano has spent her childhood in Juta, with her grandparents.

“In summer my uncle’s family was hosting guests, including tourists who used to come to Juta accidently from Kazbegi. Lost hikers spending a night in our family was a regular occasion, but I was never involved in it. I always wanted to create a different environment for the guests”, says Anano.

Despite the lack of experience, the two friends decided to unite around one idea and diverse travelling experience and start to search for the proper location to finally implement their initiative. They easily selected the territory where they used to go very often when they were children and knew all necessary information about it.

“Why especially this place? Probably because you can see the best view of the Chaukhi pass from here. In fact there is no other such beautiful view in this area. Here is a big open space away from the village, but not too far away – in case you need anything, you will have connection to the settlement”, Anano says.

They started their activities from zero, but with big efforts. Of course there were no communications in the field, located away from the settlement. It was very difficult to organize and take the building materials from village to the field. They had to take the building materials by hands or by horse... They used to work only in summer, taking into account the local weather conditions.

“We knew, we could achieve our goal for sure!” says Anano.

Then the war started [in August 2008] and the construction works have stopped, but in June-July of 2009 everything was already arranged: bathroom, small kitchen and tents to spend a night.

The tourist complex ZETA had been actively functioning, but its founders still had desire to expand the complex and further improve the service. Anano Arabuli learned about the EU-supported ENPARD program through a social network and addressed the Kazbegi Local Action Group (LAG) to find out more information about the program.

The Kazbegi LAG was created in 2015 with the support of EU in partnership with People in Need, a Czech nonprofit, non-governmental organization. Kazbegi LAG introduces the LEADER approach to the municipality. The LEADER approach has been an important component of EU’s rural development for over 20 years and is now piloted for the first time in Georgia. Basic principle of the LEADER approach is that the action targets all types of local public, private and civic actors and individual inhabitants to create local partnerships and direct local resources towards more effective development.

With the support of EU and People in Need, the Kazbegi LAG supports participatory mechanisms in local decision-making processes and the municipality's sustainable growth, as well as improves the quality of life of its residents.

Within the LAG, EU grant competitions are announced to reveal and finance those initiatives that will significantly contribute to the municipal development.

After receiving all needed information about the LAG, Anano and Jarji designed a project and obtained EU funding that helped them equip the complex better and improve the service. For example, Anano and Jarji became able to offer new service by buying the mountain bicycles and renting them to tourists. They also bought a monitor and a projector as the demand on these products was high. Also the camp’s kitchen was equipped with modern and the high quality appliances and thanks to this it is already possible to offer the breakfast menu to the guests.

„When we started our activities it was hard to believe that one day getting shower, with hot water even, would become possible here. People were surprised by seeing toilets. No one could imagine that it was possible to arrange these things at the top of the mountain,” says Anano,

The idea turned to be successful as ZETA started to attracted number of tourists without even a single advertisement. In the first year, ZETA managed to receive guests just for one month only, however as a result of the owner’s hard work a completely different era has started for ZETA since 2010. It can be said that initially Anano and Jarji were volunteers who gave maximum energy to ensure that all guests at ZETA were satisfied.

“We still are continuing to work and make all efforts to create the best environment for our guests. ZETA is located in such a unique and beautiful area that it seems to be natural that it can easily attract many travel enthusiasts, but I'm sure, without hard work nothing is achievable”, says Anano.

ZETA always meets the needs of its guests. Constant concentration on demand and innovation is the special niche of ZETA complex which is reflected into annual expansions and constructions. In 2011 the first three-bedroom cottage was built on the territory of the camp, next to the tents. This was a very important development for ZETA as it appeared that most people preferred sleeping in a room instead of staying in tents. Due to the success and the demand from the guests, another three-bedroom cottage was built in ZETA tourist complex in 2012.

As of today ZETA includes two three-bedroom cottages and two separate buildings – one for kitchen, dining room, warehouse and veranda and the other – for bathrooms. The first building built on ZETA territory actually does not exist anymore, which once again shows the desire to create better and better environment for the guests. Currently the tourist complex is able to freely host 60 people at the same time, although very often about 100-150 people gather at the bottom of the bare rocks and ZETA manages to ensure safe stay for all of them. Part of the guests spend night at the cottages, while another part – stay in tents, which are fully equipped. ZETA camp also includes restaurant, bar and other offers different kind of services, such as horse riding, hiking, and bicycle tours.

ZETA also offers diverse choice of guided tour packages: Chaukhi, Khevsureti, Abudelauri lakes... ZETA offers service of professional guides for those alpine groups who strive to climb the peak. In other cases, the horse with guide is available to the travelers. ZETA is not distinguished with musical or other noisy events. The founders do their best to take into account the guests’ opinion and understand their desire to enjoy peaceful environment while camping. However, there were cases when ZETA hosted musical festival, wedding ceremonies, birthday parties, which were fully organized by the complex.

“At some stage we might have been able to develop the ZETA tourist complex the same way as it is now, but the EU support and its ENPARD program accelerated this process. It allowed us to offer new services to our guests, which turned ZETA into a more diverse alpine complex. This is the first year we use the inventory purchased by ENPARD grant. It is early to talk about the final results as the season has not yet ended, but we can say that offering breakfast to the guests proved to be very profitable. Besides, people have already booked the bike tours. It is also an important achievement for us to create new job place for a person who will guide the bike tours”, says Anano.

Twelve people are employed at the tourist complex. Periodically, in case of construction or inventory transportation, or in case of hiring horses or other types of equipment, local people are also employed by the ZETA tourist complex.

Apart from the unique location, the guests also make ZETA diverse. They find information about the complex and come here from different parts of the world to enjoy the exotic life at the bottom of the Chaukhi pass. Anano Arabuli recalls that the main guests of ZETA were foreigner tourists in the first years. Over time, Georgians have also become interested in the complex.

“People come here from different regions of Georgia. We often host individual guests as well as corporate groups. There are still more foreigner guests than Georgians, about 60-40% relatively”, says Anano.

ZETA has been hosting more and more guests. The number of visitors as well as revenues increases by about 20 percent annually. If the complex hosted about 200 guests in 2009, last year about 8,000 guests visited ZETA.

Juta has become a four-season tourist destination which led to the constant increase in the number of visitors. ZETA tries to meet the demand and interest of the visitors and welcomes them during all season except of winter as road is completely closed during that period. However, the complex is attractive for many guests exactly in the winter season. Skiers or extremists visit ZETA in snowfall, in the coldest months of the year and the tourist complex hosts them with warm cottages. But during certain periods of winter it becomes impossible to host the tourists because of heavy snow and even the founders of ZETA leave the complex.

When the construction of ZETA started, there were no tourists in Juta and tourist services were not available as well. Years and experiences have encouraged the local population to take care of the development of tourist services and today everyone tries their activities to be somehow related to tourism.

“We wanted to give people the opportunity to drink coffee at a place where it seemed unimaginable. Today when you visit Juta, there are so many services available for the guests, that nothing seems unbelievable anymore. Today Juta is one of the most active tourist destination. Majority of the local population run guesthouses. After visiting Kazbegi almost every traveler comes to Juta too. So, many things have been done here … some people might think that it was easy task for us to develop this area, but when we started our activities, the idea of a modern camping complex was unimaginable”, says Anano.

What is exotic for the guests and why is ZETA so demanded among the visitors? “First of all, because it is located in a remote location. I am sure if ZETA was in the village, people would not love it that much”, says Anano.

Unique location is combined with customer-oriented service, which is constantly improving. Anano and Jarji are striving to fulfill the wishes of their guests. ZETA is also distinguished with its loyal prices that makes the complex affordable for many. This is a niche that the founders of ZETA try to maintain.

Anano and Jarji are actively thinking about expanding the ZETA complex in near future by opening new branches. They have already selected new places but do not share more information about the future plans yet. Hard work, experience and constant strive for growth and development will certainly bring success to the two friends.