At the beginning of June, I spent two weeks in the mountainous region of Svaneti in northern Georgia, consulting local communities about our proposal to build the #Transcaucasian Trail. To our knowledge, the TCT project is the first tourism-related project in Georgia that puts community engagement at the heart of its operations.
I had been preparing that trip since the beginning of the year (single-handedly but with guidance and supervision of a community development and responsible tourism specialist Lucy McCombes from Leeds Beckett University), finding relevant people in Svaneti online via my Georgian friends, various Facebook groups and other contacts I came across during my research. In Svaneti, I was joined by James and Tom from our team and Beka from the National Hiking Federation, our invaluable partner. And by Georgina, our invaluable team vehicle.
The main purpose of our consultation was to introduce ourselves, answer questions, discuss the benefits and impact of the TCT on the local communities and address any concerns, discuss ways to cooperate on the TCT development and get the local community blessing in each village to go ahead and start building.
It was a fantastic trip – we got the approval and blessing for the TCT in every single village we have visited and built good foundations for the trail building that was then carried out in July and August. We met some fascinating local people and learnt a lot about their unique Svan culture, religion, architecture, history, customs and tradition – something incredibly invaluable for an anthropological nerd like me. And it was also the best team building exercise we could ask for!
You can read about what we did, how we did it, who we met and what we learnt in my blog here:http://transcaucasiantrail.org/en/blog/first-ever-community-engagement-deliveredne