Experience – Opening a Hostel in Georgia as a Foreigner

Nestled amongst the vast canyons, natural hot springs and ancient monasteries of Samegrelo, Martvili is a stunning area of Georgia that is gaining popularity among tourists, especially those who fly to Georgia via Kutaisi. Emanuela, Wout (Woody) and Max, from Belgium and Poland, decided to settle in the area and open a hostel. The charismatic trio worked nine months to renovate a beautiful house on the outskirts of the village. Now that Karma hostel is open and the dust has finally settled, we caught up with them to find out more about the project.

What were you doing before you came to Georgia?

Emanuela, from Poland, was in feminist theater and working as an actress, photographer, videomaker and queer activist, which she still does now. Max, from Belgium, was working as a social worker with children with social, emotional and behavioral problems whilst Woody, also from Belgium, was an academic researcher at the UNESCO Water Institute in Bangladesh involved in migration and climate change.

Why did you come to Georgia?

Emanuela first arrived in Georgia ten years ago, and Georgia never let her go. Five years later, she moved permanently to what had become her beloved second home. After spending many summers in Samegrelo, especially around Martvili, she had the idea to create a space for travellers in the area. She saw how much potential the region had for a cool hostel.

Then, in the summer of 2017, she met Woody who was travelling around Georgia. After telling him her idea of starting a guesthouse in Martvili - he was hooked. Woody and Max originally came to Georgia together and they both fell in love with the country. So, when Emanuela told Woody her dream, he called up his best friend Max to join them in the venture.

Max was sitting at home when he got the call. He told them he had to think about it, so he went to eat a burger and fries. Then he had an epiphany. While waiting for his food, he decided to take a leap of faith and, without even having met Emanuela, he joined the adventure.

How is your relationship with the locals?

“The concept of ‘neighbor’ in Georgia is very different from what we are all used to in Europe, and we love it,” they told us. “There are no such things as doorbells in the village, so our neighbours just come by bringing wine or freshly home-made cheese. They help us out whenever they can, and vice-versa.

“We really feel like we’ve already become part of the community here. They have taken us to amazing hidden places in the region where we can now also take our guests. We’ve become regulars at the local markets and families nearby deliver us their delicious, organic veggies.

Our neighbors love us but they also think we are slightly crazy: we moved from a European country to the Georgian countryside to start a hostel here- who does that?! Much to their amusement, we also have a dog, cat, pig, and two sheep who all have names and are all very cuddly.”

What were the biggest challenges?

“Finding and buying our house was far from easy and took a long time as there is a small housing market in the Georgian countryside,” they said. “The renovation took nine months and we did almost everything ourselves. As neither of us had prior experience, we had to rely on help from the neighbors, friends, family, and youtube. We also had help from a lot of volunteers through Workaway, an online platform through which travellers work abroad in exchange for food and lodging. It was also tricky that not all the materials and tools were available in Georgia, so we often had to improvise. But Georgians are generally quite good at that. The biggest challenge was probably the language barrier, although Georgians can be very forgiving with foreigners who only speak rudimentary Georgian.”

Do you have any advice to people looking to open their own hostel in Georgia?

“If you’re a foreigner looking to buy a property for a business in Georgia, you should find a legal advisor,” they warn. “Opening a business is very easy, but buying property in the countryside is quite complicated. We were lucky to have a good Georgian lawyer who helped us through the whole process.

“Also, a neighbor once told us that neighbors are like family in Georgia, because you will rely a lot on each other – and he was right! If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, they will help you a lot with your business.”

If you would like to discover Martvili and meet this friendly trio, you can book a private room or dorm bed at Karma hostel on Airbnb or send them a message via their Facebook page – www.facebook.com/KARMAmartvili/

By Amy Jones

Image source: KARMA Hostel

19 August 2019 17:12