Armenia remains largely unknown for foreign tourists

Pegor Papazian:

Armenia remains largely unknown for foreign tourists

PanARMENIAN.Net - Tourism has been a priority for the Armenian government over the recent several years. However, this is a field which needs constant attention and innovative approaches. One of the goals of the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia (NCFA) established though cooperation between the Armenian government and entrepreneurs from the United States, Russia, EU countries and Middle East is to secure competitiveness in healthcare, education, tourism and other fields. NCFA executive director Pegor Papazian commented on the problems and tasks in tourism as well as ways of its development in an interview with PanARMENIAN.Net.
Tourism was announced one of priority fields for economic development. How do you assess the current situation?
Although it can’t be the only pillar for national competitiveness, tourism is one the basics for the economic development. It’s extremely important by a number of reasons. First, it’s Armenia’s cultural and historical heritage. Second, tourism depends on export, which is not highly developed in Armenia. Third, tourism attracts financial flows and investments. I strongly believe that considerable progress in this field can be achieved within a couple of years. Opening of The Wings of Tatev longest reversible aerial tramway helped attract more tourists in Armenia. In November 2010, the number of tourists exceeded that of the entire 2009. This proves that rapid development in the field is possible.

Which are the main barriers for development of tourism in Armenia?
Problems existing in other fields, specifically the closed and small domestic market, can hamper development of tourism. However, we think that low awareness is the main obstacle. Foreign tourists do not come to Armenia not because of the bad service or undeveloped infrastructure but because they do not know about Armenia and believe our country to be uninteresting for tourism. We should develop a package of new services and represent it in foreign countries, especially in Western Europe.

There is an opinion that Armenia is attractive to tourisms only thanks to its monastic complexes and historical monument? What else can attract foreign tourists here?
True, we have unique historical monuments but it’s not enough. Tourists should see a variety. So, we must create conditions for rural, cave, cultural and culinary tourism to make one tour package include several trends.

Tourists are often scared away by high prices for hotel services. How does this affect the number of visitors?
Travel agents say that should the prices for tickets and hotel services be lower, the number of tourists would considerably grow. As a whole, prices in Armenia are affordable, but there are problems such as monopoly, unfavorable business environment and insufficient demand. Actually, if the number of tourists increases, it will allow for lower prices.

We often call Diaspora Armenians tourists but actually they are not such… What should be done to increase the number of foreigners in Armenia?
It’s obvious that visiting Diaspora Armenians help development of tourisms, but we should focus on attracting more foreigners. Besides, not only citizens of foreign countries but also Armenians show interest in cave and culinary tourism, the sector which has not been properly developed yet.

Let’s speak about Lake Sevan and the Southern corridor. What steps does the Foundation take to develop these trends?
The Lake Sevan and Southern Corridor investment master plans will take the form of urban planning maps and scale models where prominent infrastructure projects, product development possibilities and commercial development sites are identified as sustainable and mutually reinforcing components of a coherent tourism cluster. The Southern Corridor will be in focus this year, as its potential is almost not used. Areni, Noravank, Sisian, Karahunj, Ughtasar, Tatev, Goris are splendid spots for tourism. Developing this sector will attract greater number of tourists and investments. As to Lake Sevan, a special program envisaging development of mountain sports tourism is being elaborated.

Can mining industry in southern provinces of Armenia hamper development of tourism?
Irrespective of tourism, I am among those Armenian citizens speaking out for reasonable usage of minerals. Tourism, like mining industry, can attract investments. However, mining industry can run out while tourism is a developing and recoverable field. Thus, what we should do is to work out a policy allowing explorations in certain places and under strict control.

The launch of Wings of Tatev, the longest reversible aerial tramway, was a remarkable event. Does the Foundation plan any other significant projects?

The Tatev Revival Project is not reduced to launch of the aerial tramway. Together with the Armenian Apostolic Church we will launch a project to revive monastic life. We will also finance and carry out a social project envisaging raising of public awareness and involvement of the local population.

In 2011, the Foundation will implement various large-scale projects, specifically in higher education and nuclear medicine. We are planning to establish a center for production of radioisotopes. Although, nuclear medicine is not expected to produce immediate results, like in tourism, its development will highly facilitate competitiveness of healthcare sector.

Besides, we plan a major project titled “Armenian Cuisine”. In Areni, we are planning to organize a wine holiday.

Cooperation with travel agents and companies is extremely important for development of tourism. What does the Foundation plan to do to that end?
This year we will take part in at least 4 international exhibitions, what will appear as the best opportunity to establish contacts with foreign tour operators and secure tourist flow in Armenia.

Yekaterina Poghosyan / PanARMENIAN News