Georgia tries damage control as Gudauri accident video goes viral

Country’s reputation as a safe winter-sports destination endangered by viral video of horrifying Gudauri accident.

A general view shows the ski resort of Gudauri
The ski resort of Gudauri is about 130km north of Tbilisi [File: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters]

Videos of a horrifying ski-lift accident at a tourist resort in Georgia have hurt the country’s hard-fought image as an attractive winter sports destination.

Friday’s incident saw skiers being violently thrown from a malfunctioning chairlift at the Gudauri resort when it suddenly began running backwards at high speed.

Ten people, including nine tourists, were injured.

The footage quickly went viral, prompting Georgian authorities to take swift action to minimise the damage by compensating the victims.

Giorgi Chogovadze, head of Georgia’s tourism administration, said that in addition to paying for all expenses, the government invited those injured and their families to return to Georgia.

“It made us very happy that all of them are interested and expressed their wish to visit us again. In the next winter season, those injured and their companions will be invited, and all of their expenses will be covered by the Georgian Mountain Resorts Development Company,” he said.

“The country’s image has somewhat suffered from this fact, of course. The tourism administration and other government bodies will increase efforts tenfold to improve the image, including by inviting journalists as well as [launching] advertisement campaigns.”

Sixty-five percent of Georgia is mountainous [File: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters]
Sixty-five percent of Georgia is mountainous [File: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters]

Some of the tourists involved in the incident also took to social media to try to defend Georgia’s reputation as a safe place to visit.

Rustam Ibragimov, a Russian tourist who jumped from the faulty ski lift to save himself, wrote an extensive note on Facebook, defending the resort’s administration from those accusing them of negligence.

“The ski resort administration reacted promptly on accident and they worked at 200 percent. Now there is a lot of misinformation going on, and my request would be not to spread it. No need to panic. The Georgian government provides assistance to the injured,” he said.

“The brake system did not work and why, we do not know now … We should wait for the results of the investigation.”

The four-seat chairlift, featuring an emergency brake, was installed at the ski resort in 2007, the Austrian manufacturer of the lift said. 

The Georgian Mountain Resorts Development Company, a government body under the economy ministry, told Al Jazeera that Georgian ski resorts saw a 364 percent increase in visitors between 2011 and 2017.

“Gudauri and Georgia’s other mountains are much loved. We hope the incident will not change that attitude,” the body said in a statement.

Some Georgian social media users said they felt shame was brought on the country due to the accident and predicted a loss of popularity for its ski resorts.

Others were less pessimistic. “The world found out that there is a ski resort called Gudauri in Georgia,” said Jaba “Roquai” on Facebook.

Source: Al Jazeera