The top prize of the International Tourism Fair in Berlin, with Georgia as the host country, goes to two books by Mitteldeutscher Verlag Halle

I am happy to have won the top prize at the International Tourism Fair in Berlin, the ITB Destination Award, for my travel guide „Swanetien entdecken. Ein Kultur- und Naturreiseführer für Georgien“ and the photo and textbook „Svaneti between tradition and modernity“ published by Mitteldeutscher Verlag Halle. A cultural and nature travel guide for Georgia“ and the picture and text volume „Swanetien. Tradition and Modernity“. Both books are the result of a research project in tourism geography. The ITB Book Award is the most crucial German book prize for travel literature; it is awarded annually at the ITB, the world’s largest tourism trade fair, in cooperation with the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels:

Svaneti is known for its largely untouched mountain landscape and the unique architecture of its mountain villages. That is why more than 150,000 people worldwide are drawn there annually. Tourism is changing the region massively, but life without tourism would hardly be possible there.

Until now, Svaneti was only listed as one of many exciting regions of Georgia in the usual travel guides, which is why explanations of history, culture and nature were relatively scarce. As a result, visitors to the region had to rely on information from various online platforms as a supplement, which presented the complex social, economic and ecological conditions on-site rather briefly and usually in a highly simplified manner; moreover, the significant challenges facing Svanetia, also against the backdrop of its increasing development as a tourist destination, are reported on relatively rarely.

This travel guide is based on a five-year geographical-ethnographic research project on-site, which two years later was followed by a follow-up project involving a total of five universities. The guidebook and the project „Latali – Envisioning Svaneti“ aim to support processes in which the local population can enter into a fruitful exchange with visitors to the region about the future of this fascinating space.

The travel guide published in November 2021 and the photo book published in November 2022 accompany this change, document the past and present of the Caucasus region and show the changes in the region close to the people I was allowed to get to know over seven years within my research project. The photographic material was created, among others, in cooperation with Nino Tserediani, the former director of the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography. In sensitive texts based on interviews from the research project, people from Svaneti are portrayed in the photo-book. All of them are concerned with recognising values that they see as central to the lives of Swans. But how these can be preserved is an open question.

The photo book is accompanied by comprehensive texts that contextualise photographs where necessary and invite readers to take a closer look at the region’s history, present and future. The enclosed translation into Georgian is intended to make it possible for the people who participated in the project and thus supported my research to read what was written about them. The English translation appeals to the diverse international visitors to the region.

Text: Stefan Applis (2023)

Illustrations: Stefan Applis, Mitteldeutscher Verlag Halle (2021, 2022)