Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.
In a bid to promote Georgia’s profile in world markets and attract tourists and investors, Tbilisi has signed a deal with the global music entertainment network MTV for a high-octane concert to be televised worldwide, a source close to the negotiations has confirmed to EurasiaNet.org.
The concert, tentatively planned for May or June 2011, will be held in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi, according to Georgian Tourism Department Director Maia Sidamonidze. The performance will take place under the auspices of MTV Impact, a division of the network that uses concerts to expand MTV’s reach in developing countries, with the pledge to use the MTV brand to encourage economic growth.
Pop stars like Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas have headlined similar MTV events in the past, attracting tens of thousands of fans to far-off destinations like Malta where the annual The Isle of MTV Malta festival reportedly brought in over 50,000 concert-goers. As many as 60,000 people could attend the Georgia event, parties involved in the negotiations estimate. A mixture of state funding and corporate sponsors will cover the concert’s estimated $2-million-plus price tag.
A spokesperson for MTV only commented to EurasiaNet.org that the company had identified Georgia for “a strategic alliance.” The MTV deal, though, is not the first time Tbilisi has turned to the celebrity music scene to trade positive publicity for any lingering images of its 2008 war with Russia. The strategy, though, has not always gone according to plan. In September, the Georgian government unceremoniously backed out of an oral agreement with the New York Philharmonic for a concert in Tbilisi; a misunderstanding over costs was blamed for the canceled plans.
With an eye to MTV’s huge potential television audience, the government is keen to make sure that a similar embarrassment does not happen again. Sidamonidze told EurasiaNet.org that officials are doing everything possible to make the event a success. “It is a huge responsibility, I understand, but I don’t think we realize how huge of an opportunity for Georgia in terms of creating awareness of the country [it will be],” she said. “[I]f we are organized enough, if we start our organization and preparation work far in advance, I think we should be able to do it.”
But significant logistical challenges remain. While Batumi has long been aggressively promoted as the star of President Mikheil Saakashvili’s tourism strategy for Georgia, the city and the surrounding region are still under-developed; basic infrastructure problems , including poor roads and periodic electricity blackouts, persist.
So far, though, the drawbacks appear to faze neither side. The Georgian Tourism Department is preparing a list of acceptable accommodation sites around Batumi, and will hold training sessions on hospitality skills for Batumi restaurant and hotel staff. The government will also work with private companies to organize shuttle buses to the event from local hotels, Sidamonidze said. MTV is also advising the Georgian government on how to prepare for the concert, Sidamonidze added; executives from the channel’s Networks International division traveled to Batumi in November to assess the location. Local event planner Eastern Promotions, which has handled technical preparations for large-scale outdoor concerts in the past, will work with MTV on concert logistics.