Tbilisi…new hot destination?

Tbilisi…new hot destination?

Chris Clarke, director of boutique events agency Purple Dog Solutions, recently visited Georgia’s capital city Tbilisi, as a guest of Design Hotels’ CO-LAB MICE Edition event. Chris was interviewed by InVoyage, here are his thoughts on this vibrant, unusual destination

First impressions
I arrived in Tbilisi quite late at night and it was pouring with rain, which is quite unusual there for this time of year because they tend to have hot dry summers, so it wasn’t really until the following morning in the cold light of day that I got a sense of the place.

The event was held across two different Design Hotel properties – Rooms Hotel and the recently opened Stamba Hotel – which are adjacent to each other and located in a former newspaper factory and offices. And wow – these are seriously cool properties, particularly Stamba, which is very urban, almost post-industrial with lots of exposed concrete.

Tbilisi itself is a little bit urban decay, but it also feels unbelievably cool. It reminded me of the first time I went to Berlin years ago – it feels like there’s this vibe in the air that anything is possible. It’s a busy city and the traffic is quite bad, but there are some really interesting pockets. If you were travelling on your own I think you would have to do a fair bit of research beforehand, and if you were taking a group, you would definitely need some local DMC support. One thing about Georgia is that punctuality there is a shocker – everything was late!

But there are some very funky restaurants and bars in the city. Both Stamba and Rooms Hotels have destination restaurants and bars that are really fashionable places to hang. Design Hotels also hired a fleet of classic Soviet-era cars and took us for dinner at the old Presidential Palace overlooking the city. The food and wine were amazing everywhere we went, and as a vegetarian I was very well catered for.

Outside the city
We went on to Kazbegi in the mountains, which was a three-hour drive from Tbilisi and not the most comfortable journey to be honest. The scenery en-route was interesting but when we got up there, it was stunning –  everywhere you look is so Instagrammable and the whole area is like a painting.

We went on a hike to a waterfall, and I got up at 5.30am to see the sun rise from my balcony – catching the early morning sun hitting the peaks in the distance was worth getting up for. We stayed at Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, another Design Hotel, which was nice but not as cool as the one in Tbilisi and they could make a bit more of the spa there.

If you were taking a group up to the mountains – you could make the journey more enjoyable by stopping for a picnic by the river, but you would have to make sure they are clear that it’s a three-hour transfer. However, we were told that they are building a tunnel, which should be open in two years and will cut the journey time in half, which will make a huge difference.

To pitch or not to pitch…
I always get a thrill out of going somewhere I’ve never been, and I was really excited by the vibe in Tbilisi. If you have got a client who wants to do something a little bit different – it could be really unique. The nightlife is great, there’s a big techno vibe in the clubs and lots of casinos. It’s also really good value for money. The hotels we stayed in were circa €160 – a similar type of property in London would be three times as much.

I would pitch it now, but it would have to be someone who is a little bit brave. As an incentive destination, it would absolutely suit a young fairly hip group. It could definitely work for business too, for a client that needs to have an eastern region business event, and potentially even for a car launch but it would need to be a 4×4.