Sue and I have recently returned from the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) first Global Conference on Wine Tourism in Tbilisi, Georgia and I know just what you are going to say. What in the world is the UN doing sponsoring a wine tourism conference and why was it in the Republic of Georgia?
First Things Second
Let me answer the second question first. Georgia is the self-styled “Cradle of Wine,” with documented wine production going back 8000 years so it certainly has standing. It is also probably the most wine-centric culture I have ever experienced. Wine is everywhere. Just about everyone drinks it, most families make it for their own consumption, and its symbolic and practical importance is everywhere to be seen. Wine and vine — these are key elements of the Georgian DNA. Really.
Georgia is a poor nation, especially outside of Tbilisi’s bright city lights. Mexico’s per capital GDP is about $9000 according to World Bank statistics. Georgia’s is about $3800. So anything that can create employment opportunities (especially rural jobs) and spur economic development is welcome here. Tourism of the nature and adventure varieties is a big contributor to national income. Why not leverage Georgia’s rich culture, and especially its deep wine traditions, to create economic opportunity?
So it is easy to see why Georgia would volunteer to host a conference like this — and they did a magnificent job. But what’s the UN connection?
Wine Tourism Rationale
The basis for UN programs in tourism and now wine tourism is surprisingly strong, as the “Georgia Declaration on Wine Tourism (pdf),” which was promulgated at the conference, makes clear. The UNWTO’s mandate, for example, states that, “The fundamental aim of the Organization shall be the promotion and development of tourism with a view to contributing to economic development, international understanding, peace and prosperity, and universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”. Tourism cannot accomplish all these goals by itself, but it can be part of the process.
Tourism is one way that we experience and understand other nations, peoples, and cultures. It creates jobs, of course, but it has the potential to also increase understanding. International tourism has been one of the global growth industries of the last 30 years, so it is not unreasonable that the UN pay attention to this economic and cultural exchange vector.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, includes tourism as a tool for sustainable economic development. “By 2030,” the document specifies, the UN should “devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”.
The UNWTO had previously identified gastro-tourism as being an important element of its sustainable tourism development program. The wine tourism initiative and this conference were organized as part of the gastro-tourism program.
About the Conference
The first UNWTO Global Wine Conference attracted more than 250 participates from 42 countries. My panel on best practices in wine tourism included speakers from Italy, Canada, Japan, Argentina and the United States (I talked about Napa’s success and also its challenges).
The organizers designed the program to minimize talking head blah-blah-blah and maximize focused interaction among the participants. (I have never before traveled through 11 time zones and back in order to speak for 10 minutes!) There was a lot of knowledge and experience in the room and it made sense to draw it out through small group discussion.
I think the strategy worked on the whole and Sue and I feel our time was well spent, but I wish there have been an opportunity for greater depth on at least some topics. The conference moves to Mendoza, Argentina next year — it will be interesting to see how the program evolves.
One interesting innovation was to move the conference out of the typical sterile hotel ballroom or convention center environment and to have the sessions in wineries, where wine tourism strategies could be seen in practice as well as discussed in theory. Come back next week for an analysis of what we learned from these experiences.
Sue and I were delighted to meet Matt Horkey and Charine Tan at the UNWTO conference. Their fist book, Uncorking the Caucasus: Wines from Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia, was published last week and it is recommended reading if you are planning a wine tour to this region or are interesting in these wines generally. Sue and I found their recommendations for Georgia and its wines on the mark.
I like this book so much that I wrote a publicity “blurb” about it. Here it is:
Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan take us along for the ride as they travel the wine roads of Turkey, Armenia and Georgia in their intriguing new book Uncorking the Caucasus. It is exciting to see these ancient wine regions through their eyes and to experience the ways that the very old and the very new come together through wine. A perfect read for wine lovers looking for new wines, new regions, and new perspectives. Pack your bags and join Matthew and Charine as they uncork the Caucasus. Highly recommended.
This is the first in a short series of columns on the UNWTO conference and the Georgian wine industry. Thanks very much to the UNWTO and the Georgia National Tourist Authority for making our participation in this conference possible.