Transcaucasian Trail wins the “Innovation of the Year” Award, launches summer volunteering

The Transcaucasian Trail (TCT) project has won the “Innovation of the Year” Award at the Adventure Travel Awards 2017. The Awards are the UK’s only awards dedicated to recognizing and rewarding the businesses and individuals who support, grow and promote the adventure travel industry through sustainable and responsible travel.

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TCT team: Paul Spethens, Marta Mills, Tom Allen, Vahagn Vardumyan and James Scipioni

TCT is a new long-distance hiking trail that is being built across the Caucasus mountains, to make hiking safer and more accessible to everyone while increasing economic opportunities for local communities and protecting the environment. The project’s responsible tourism focus has been recognized by the panel of independent judges, who argued that the TCT “is a genuine case of true trailblazing and innovation in every sense. Driven by a group of idealistic outdoor and travel enthusiasts, this will open up previously unreachable places, and help change the lives of the communities involved for the better.”

Why TCT?

Hiking in the Caucasus can be dangerous: trails are either non-existent or poorly marked and neglected; there is lack of accurate and detailed mapping. This doesn’t encourage tourists to come and stay in the mountainous villages that rely heavily on tourism. The TCT team of international and local hikers with deep connections to the region, believe that the Trail will put this hidden gem on the radar, bring much-needed tourist income for the local people, in often very remote places. The TCT will also improve access to historic sites and protected areas and raise their profile, helping to ensure that the natural and cultural heritage of the Caucasus can be enjoyed by future generations.

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The TCT will connect roughly two dozen existing and proposed national parks and protected areas in the region. In addition to building new and improving old trails, and mapping it all in detail, the project will work with various partners on developing responsible tourism in Georgia and Armenia to maximize the positive and minimize the negative impacts of tourism.

“Innovation in every sense”

The TCT project launched at the beginning of 2016. After forming local partnerships, we spent two weeks in the mountainous region of Svaneti in June getting the approval for the TCT building from the local people. The first-ever community consultation for a tourism project in Georgia was conducted – it was met with disbelief (that we have bothered to meet, ask and discuss) but also with immense gratitude from the communities consulted. At the same time, the team in Armenia is continuously discussing the trail development with the local people while scouting the route there.

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Throughout July and August, local and international volunteers started building the TCT in Svaneti in the Greater Caucasus. Having listened to the local people, we focused on building west of Mestia where there is no tourism. At the end of the summer, a 60 km section of the TCT in western Svaneti has been improved, making it now possible to hike the first section of the trail for 10-12 days.

The TCT team in Armenia started the Transcaucasian Expedition that scouted and mapped out the Lesser Caucasus. In six months of 2016, they have identified approximately 75% of the southern route and mapped it all in detail. The data will be added to OpenStreetMap gradually, making it available to everyone to use, providing a tangible solution to the lack of reliable mapping in the Caucasus.

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Get involved this summer

Anyone can get involved in building the TCT – applications for summer volunteering programmes in Svaneti and in Dilijan (Armenia) are now open or check out the TCT Facebook page and the website for more details.

Marta Mills leads stakeholder engagement and communications efforts for the TCT. She has worked on poverty reduction programmes in South Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Currently studying for a MSc in Responsible Tourism Management at Leeds Beckett University.

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