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“Support from the EU is prestigious for us. The EU has launched a great campaign in order to increase the awareness of the Lagodekhi Protected Areas and our terrace as well. Even the EU Ambassador and the Directorates-General of the European Commission have visited us! When the foreign guests arrive here, see the EU flag and learn that this is the EU-funded project, they become more confident.”
A hotel in the forest, ‘Wald Hotel Lagodekhi’ is like a dream come true. This is the only space with a natural landscape in the diverse Lagodekhi Protected Areas, where people have the opportunity to turn their best fantasies about vacation into a reality: to enjoy a comfortable terrace and be surrounded by forest and the unique nature, to relax in a comfortable environment, to read books, to think, watch movies and have delicious meals; at the same time not to lose the perception of space as there is no boundary between the terrace yard and the protected area. The perfect concept of the hotel creates endless impressions, delighting the guests. With the support of the EU ENPARD program the dream came true and today this hotel brings thousands of satisfied guests, many international travelers, local families, children, friends and all the people who visit the Lagodekhi Protected Area. All of them are treated with high standard service and sincere hospitality.
Valeri Kereselidze, the founder of the Wald Hotel Lagodekhi, has been thinking about establishing the tourist facility with years of savings. He was about to start his own project when he learnt about the building located in Lagodekhi Protected Area. The proposal of the state was favorable for him and as a result in August 2016 Valeri Kereselidze and the Lagodekhi Protected Area signed the lease agreement which emphasized arrangement of cafeteria and a hotel. In order to make the hotel operational it was necessary to carry out the repair works and to ensure the proper equipment.
“There was nothing on site but the empty walls and the wonderful nature, but I had been dreaming about it for so long time that the difficulties could not frighten me. Moreover, I was very happy with the proposal of the state as, in my opinion, there is no better place in Lagodekhi than the hotel’s area!” says Valeri Kereselidze.
One of world’s best-preserved, primitive areas with diversity of natural landscapes of Lagodekhi Protected Area is located in the extreme north-eastern part of Georgia, on the southern slopes of the Caucasus. At present there are five breathtaking, safe and informative tourist trails in managed reserve of Lagodekhi Protected Areas, namely: “Grouse Waterfall”, “Ninoskhevi Waterfall”, “Machi Castle”, “Black Rock Lake” and “Knowledge of Nature Trail”. The Lagodekhi Protected Area is distinguished with its flora as well as fauna, among them are endemic species that are included in the Red List.
Lagodekhi Protected Area is one of the most important bio-diverse places not only in Georgia but in the entire Caucasian region. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) identified it as one of the global eco-regions of special importance and the biodiversity hotspot of the Conservation International. Lagodekhi Protected Area is also recognized as a potential candidate of the Emerald Network and within the EU-Georgia Association Agreement the area is qualified for Natura 2000, which is oriented on preserving the rare wild animals and plants on the territory of the EU countries.
Valeri Kereselidze started implementing the project independently, with his savings. The future success of his activities was somehow a result of many years of experience: after graduating from the Faculty of Economics in Tbilisi Valeri continued his studies in the field of economics in Germany where he worked for 6 years in the hotel and in fact he took the second profession which always admired and attracted him. The years spent in Germany and experience gained there influenced the name of his own hotel: Der Wald – reads as forest and Hotel – as hotel. Valery wanted to use his experience and knowledge in Georgia and after returning to Tbilisi he started to lead the cafeteria and the family hotel. As Valeri has already had the experience in hotel management, running this type of business became even easier for him.’
"I have been dreaming about having exactly this kind of hotel since my childhood”, says Valeri Kereselidze.
The hotel with its cafeteria has become operational very soon. The interest toward the hotel was very high. Not only the hotel guests and visitors of the Lagodekhi Protected Area but also the local people were visiting the hotel. But the hotel did not have the proper space to host such type of guests. The cafeteria had capacity of serving only the hotel guests with only breakfast.
“We were able to serve other guests only when there were no other visitors in the hotel”, says Valeri Kereselidze.
It was necessary to create a new space, where people who walked in the forest or foreigners who came to visit Lagodekhi reserve, would be able to escape rain or wind and stay at the territory of the hotel, where they could have a nice talk, read books and have a good rest after a long walk. ENPARD has appeared at such a critical moment and has completely changed the everyday life of Wald Hotel Lagodekhi.
Valeri Kereselidze learnt about the ENPARD program from a member of the Lagodekhi Local Action Group who was visiting his hotel.
Lagodekhi Local Action Group (LAG) is an independent platform, which aims to mobilize communities of the Lagodekhi municipality in order to strengthen cooperation between them and develop the municipality. LAG is part of the LEADER approach which is used to stimulate agriculture development in the European Union and which is being implemented in Georgia as well. The Lagodekhi LAG unites representatives of all 15 communities of the municipality: private sector, civil society and local authorities.
CARE, an EU partner and a major international humanitarian agency striving to reduce poverty in the world, supported the Lagodekhi Local Action Group in creating the local development strategy, which is based on consultations with local population and unites local parties, local demands and territorial resources in order to encourage effective use of the territorial entity's competitive advantages.
Increasing the competitiveness in the field of agriculture, environment protection, improving living conditions and services are the main objectives and activities of the local development group. Through economic activities, it helps to create diversified opportunities for employment in the villages of municipalities and strengthening economic opportunities for rural population; it supports the development of Lagodekhi municipality; strengthens the European practice of vertical approach to rural development and also strengthens the decentralized approaches; promotes development of non-agricultural economic activities in rural areas; increase the involvement of young people in the process of municipal development and supports their initiatives.
After consultations with the Lagodekhi Local Action Group, Valeri Kereselidze found out detailed information about ENPARD. Following the announcement of grant competition by CARE, the founder of the hotel presented two initiatives – to build a terrace as well as a pergola. After passing the standard process, both initiatives were approved and Valeri started a new activity. Support from his family members was also important and especially his parents’ support, who live in the village near Lagodekhi.
“All of them were very happy, first of all because this is the most beautiful and ecologically clean area. Also, it is not just a business, but a useful activity. This way we promote Lagodekhi and give an example [of profitable work] to local people and youth. Lots of them have lost hope and thought that nothing was possible to be done in Lagodekhi. We gave an example to people to return to the regions, to work here and to look after their homelands”, says Valeri Kereselidze.
The ENPARD terrace, adapted and equipped with the cooling and heating systems, directly merged to the building of the hotel. As for a pergola, it was placed at the back side of the yard and the hotel complex became able to host new guests.
New glass-roofed terrace is comfortable in any weather and offers European and Georgian cuisine to guests from 9 am to 10 pm. At the same time, the terrace often hosts literary or creative events.
“Creating only a food facility was not my interest. It was important for me to create a literary café with bookshelves, where people interested in reading or film night screenings could come. This should be a gathering place where young people could share ideas to each other; a space where families, children, friends could come every day and enjoy their time at pleasant environment. A restaurant could not be a good idea for the hotel as it would be harder to satisfy all the visitors. A person who goes to the restaurant spends more time there and this would be uncomfortable for the guests of the hotel, who came here to spend holidays in the forest. Here are protected areas, guests come to the forest and accordingly they need a peaceful environment. I think I managed to create a comfortable environment for each guest”, says Valeri Kereselidze.
Valeri Kereselidze lives in Tbilisi, while his parents live in Lagodekhi and take care on his business there. The children are still small, but they already help elders in cleaning the yard. Most importantly, the children entertain the guests visiting the hotel and easily making friends with them. All of them wish the summer to come soon to spend their holidays in the village and play around the ENPARD terrace during the whole day.
Currently, there are nine rooms available at the Wald Hotel Lagodekhi, which provide beds for 30 guests at the same time. There are single as well as family type rooms. There are 9 people employed in the hotel constantly, but often the number of hotel staff increases to 15 people. It is worth mentioning that Valeri Kereselidze takes special responsibility for his activities.
“The fact that my parents were experienced in living in Lagodekhi helped my business a lot. Locals new about my family and respected and trusted them … The authority of my parents was very important for the local population, while it gave me more responsibility as all the people knew about us. Besides, these are the protected areas where it is unforgivable to make mistake. We heard a lot about many restaurants or cafes in the city which are not operated fairly, while we take care on the image of our family and the Lagodekhi Protected Area. All work is worthless for me if someone decides to arrive in the protected area and then gets frustrated. I also want to contribute to the development of my country. It is big happiness for me to be here and do something for my country. This is the work that gives me great pleasure”, says Kereselidze.
Valeri Kereselidze's commitment greatly influenced the local population. There were only 8 guesthouses the time when Wald Hotel Lagodekhi opened while today their number exceeds over 20. Local people saw that it was necessary to create an infrastructure, whether it would be a wine cellar or a bakery, where they would be able to host the guests. To compare, Lagodekhi Protected Areas hosted 20,000 visitors 2 years ago while this year the number of visitors reached 50,000.
“It is already the second summer since the hotel and terrace are operational. The hotel was busier over this summer compared to the previous summer. In addition, due to the bad weather people had to stay at our hotel and spend time on the terrace instead of going to the forests and visiting the protected areas.
“If not the ENPARD terrace we would not be able to host the visitors of the Lagodekhi Protected Areas. I am sure many of them would visit us but we would not be able to host them not to create an uncomfortable situation for the existing visitors. With the EU support, there is now a separate space, which do not disturb our guests, on the contrary – the ENPARD terrace has become the favorite place of many visitors. I would definitely arrange the terrace at the hotel, but it would take time, years of savings … together with the ENPARD I started popularization of my own business as well as Lagodekhi Protected Areas much earlier”, says Valeri Kereselidze.
The ENPARD terrace attracts many Georgian as well as international guests. In order to increase awareness of his business Valeri Kereselidze cooperates with the tourist companies, has launched social networks and established direct contact with many involved in this sphere. The statistics show that one satisfied guest sends at least 5 new guests to the hotel. To note, the number of international visitors of the hotel exceeds the number of Georgian visitors. Also, the hotel often hosts the trainings and camps of Georgian corporate groups or organizations. As for the individual guests, Georgians mostly visit the hotel with their families and children on Saturdays.
“The EU support is prestigious for us. The EU has launched a great campaign in order to increase the awareness of the Lagodekhi Protected Areas and our terrace as well. Even the EU Ambassador and the Directorates-General of the European Commission have visited us! When the foreign guests arrive here, see the EU flag and learn that this is the EU-funded project, they become more confident”, says Valeri Kereselidze.
Kereselidze has many and ambitious future plans. In case of the state support, Valeri Kereselidze intends to expand the hotel and build the second floor of the hotel, or to build wooden cottages and a space for kitchen/tasting events/master classes in the yard. Offering more varied, more comfortable environment and more activities for the guests visiting Lagodekhi is an integral part of his future plans. The savings are already there and now the state support and the long-term lease is needed. Valeri Kereselidze is still in the thought process of how to develop the hotel. He is waiting to complete the season of the terrace and then will summarize the 2-years of experience and work and will finalize the development plans accordingly.
Meanwhile, those who are interested in nature, clean air and holidays in the forest, you cannot find better place than the Wald Hotel Lagodekhi, which is just 150km away from capital of Tbilisi.
You can reach the place by car, see the most beautiful reserve, waterfall, lakes, bio-diverse landscape … you will have a nice walk there and if tired you will be able to take the most pleasant rest on the ENPARD terrace!