The Danish Hostess of Georgia

Georgia is a country of opportunities…These words have even greater value when they come from a foreigner. Charlotte Emborg has lived and worked in Georgia for 15 years. Presently she is involved in the development of Georgia’s tourism sector. 

The phrase ‘at rejse er at leve’belongs to Hans Christian Andersen, and like the famous Danish writer, my guest also knows very well that ‘to travel is to live’. Charlotte Emborg left her hometown of Copenhagen 20 years ago. After earning a degree in London, she spent time working in both Yerevan and Baku, but says that Georgia is where her home is.

And although Emborg’s adopted country is just a tiny blip on the map, Georgia possesses a very rich history, and according to many foreign visitors –endless miles of captivating landscape. In all, nearly 5.5 million visitors came to Georgia in the past eleven months, and these visitors have had a significant impact on Georgia’s economy. Today, tourism comprises 7 percent of Georgia’s total GDP. According to the National Statistics Service of Georgia, total direct foreign investment in Georgia for the last three quarters of 2015 came to over USD 1 billion.

Naturally, tourists and investors come to Georgia and spend their money. This can be viewed as a short-or medium-term investment. However, there are some that come to our country and stay here permanently, which can literally be viewed as a long-term direct foreign investment in Georgia’s economy. These people are often professionals, and one of them happens to be the first guest of our new column in Forbes Magazine.

Charlotte Emborg – or the Danish hostess of Georgia, as Charlotte calls herself – is the PR and Marketing Manager at the Georgian Hospitality Group (GHG). The company was established when leading companies in the Georgian tourism and hospitality sector, including Caucasus Travel, Explore Georgia, CT Auto, Georgian Events, AMEX, and Carlson Wagenlit, merged to form GHG. Emborg is also the corporate events manager at Georgian Events Ltd. Our new column will be dedicated to people like Emborg – people who work in Georgia for Georgia.

Emborg stands out for her vivacity and tireless enthusiasm, two contagious personality traits that serve her well. As far as her office, It is both lively and business-like, as Emborg prefers to have direct communication with her staff, rather than work alone in a back office.

When I first met Emborg, she was working at Batumi Oil Terminal. We met at the Georgian International Oil, Gas, Infrastructure and Energy Conference. The conference was held at the Sheraton Metekhi Palace Hotel in Tbilisi. Participants of the conference showcased their products at various booths, during which Emborg emanated a host-like presence, drawing a lot of visitors to her company’s banner. As people stopped by her stand, she would offer them information leaflets and various souvenirs. While Emborg has worked at several companies in Georgia, her main pursuit has always been public relations and communications.

Today, informing the world about Georgia is Emborg’s main duty, priority and her passion. So it’s no wonder that our interview began with a discussion on the subject of tourism in Georgia. Emborg says that a lot is being done to develop this sector, but many challenges remain. Emborg emphasizes the active involvement of the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA), and notes that Georgia is involved in various international exhibitions. She believes that Racha has a lot of untapped potential, and that this remarkably beautiful part of Georgia requires the appropriate infrastructure in order for it to attract more tourists.

“The development of tourism in the various regions of the country is greatly beneficial to the local population, and tourism-related revenue can make a significant contribution to the country’s economy,” notes Emborg, adding that much is being done in this respect.

Emborg also believes that the development of tourism requires the right kind of education and competence. She explains that the service sector in Georgia is still developing, and that it’s vital that this continues in order for Georgia’s tourism sector to be a continued success.

“The signs of development are obvious. Let’s take for example Batumi… people used to travel there only in the summer. Today, this port city located in the southwest of Georgia attracts tourists year round. The Kakheti region has also been very successful in this regard,” she explains.

Emborg is also delighted by the fact that in addition to the surge in tourists, there has also been a growing number of businessmen and women coming into the country.

“2015 has been a really significant year for Georgia. Tbilisi hosted the annual EBRD meeting, as well as the inaugural Tbilisi Silk Road Forum. On behalf of the Georgian Events Company, I can say that Georgia is becoming a regional hub for hosting international events,” she explains with a sense of pride.

Emborg notes that Georgia already has the necessary infrastructure in place for this, and that ongoing work continues in this direction. According to the Georgian Tourism Administration, as of the 3rd quarter of this year, a total of 1,443 accommodations and 50,286 beds have been registered.

Home is where the heart is

The atmosphere in the Emborg’s home is strikingly tranquil. After a hard day’s work, the family comes together in the guestroom for dinner. Charlotte lives with her husband, her two children, and two dogs. Ginger, the English cocker spaniel, is the youngest member of the family. She loves to eat, and she spares no effort in entertaining and amusing her owners in hopes of earning a few extra treats. Chili, the Russian cocker spaniel, seems more sedate. ‘Spice Girls’ is the term Emborg used to introduce me to her four-legged friends, who naturally were the first to greet me at the door. Their best friends are the Emborg’s 11 year-old son Sebastian, and 9 year-old daughter Isabelle. And while both children are happy to travel back to Denmark, both feel at home in Georgia. The young Emborgs attend a private school in Tbilisi.

For all intents and purposes, the Emborgs have a normal family and live a normal family life, something that would have seemed unthinkable for Charlotte several years ago, as she recalls vividly her first impression of Georgia upon her arrival in Tbilisi in the late 90s. At that time, she could hardly imagine herself living in a country where even electricity was a luxury.

But the walls in her house reflect the deep respect her family has for Georgia. A large canvas with large red spots displayed in the center of the living room caught my attention in particular. Esben Emborg, the Honorary Consul of Denmark in Georgia, cannot hide his admiration when he talks about Mikheil Makharadze’s canvas entitled April 9th. He admires the fact that Georgia has endured some very difficult times, and withstood a lot of adversity over the years. Noting how in 2003 the country embarked on a path to reform. The progress of development is irreversible he says.

A Danish Christmas

Just because you move to another part of the world does not mean that you leave your traditions behind. Therefore, let’s jump to the New Year – and yes, I mean this both figuratively, and in the literal sense. Emborg tells me that there is a New Year tradition in Denmark where you need to climb atop a chair or a table so that when the clock strikes twelve, you can literally ‘jump’ into the New Year. Emborg has already made one such leap. Due to her extremely busy schedule in December, she completed her Christmas preparations in November.

“December is typically a very busy month. There are lots of events planned for December. So I decided to prepare in advance, I bought gifts and tickets to Europe,” she says.

Emborg notes that she had no trouble whatsoever with early Christmas shopping, since there are plenty of good shops to choose from in Tbilisi. Not to mention, there is always the option of shopping online, which enables you to buy anything you want year-round.

Emborg and her family travel to Switzerland for Christmas Eve. Usually they stay at Esben’s brother’s house near Lake Geneva for a few days, and then make their way to Denmark to celebrate Christmas with Emborg’s family.

“There was one exception four years ago when we stayed in Georgia for Christmas. We organized a party at home and invited all of our friends – both foreign and Georgian. Everything was in accordance with Danish Christmas traditions. We decorated the Christmas tree, which absolutely has to be real – we don’t like to use artificial trees in Denmark. We also cooked traditional dishes of pork and goose. The guests loved the Danish cuisine. Our guests also enjoyed the Danish Christmas candle tradition. According to this tradition, everyone leaves the room except for the eldest person, who stays behind to light the candles on the Christmas tree. Once all the Christmas candles have been lit, the participants of the celebration return to the room lined-up according to their age. This is truly a magical scene to watch. After that, we begin dancing and singing around the Christmas tree, which is a very healthy and wise decision – especially considering the large, high-calorie dinner we ate. And in the end of course, we open Christmas gifts,” Emborg explains with a nostalgic smile on her face, as she recalls her Danish Christmas in Georgia.

Mrs. Emborg told me another story that is actually reminiscent of an old Georgian Easter tradition; one that revolves around rice pudding with almonds. According to Emborg, one of the puddings has an almond inside. Whoever is fortunate enough to receive the pudding with the almond, can expect to have a lucky year. The winner also receives a special prize – a marzipan pig. Why a marzipan pig? Well, even my hostess is unable to explain why. But she says that winning is so important for Danes, they even resort to various tricks. For instance, some will go as far as to prepare an almond beforehand, and then sneak it into their piece of pudding. This is similar to how Georgians use a wooden Easter egg in our traditional good luck contest, where opponents battle one another by hitting each other’s eggs to try and crack them. The person who ends-up with the last unbroken egg is believed to have a year of good luck ahead of them.  Lastly, Emborgs seem to be happy to end up in Georgia. They are here to stay for the long term - in the country where the heart is.

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