Tourism, travel up in Armenia with hopes for ecotourism

Tourism in Armenia has grown by an average of 25 percent a year since 2001, according to the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development. The country is one of the top destinations for affordable family vacations and adventure travel.

In 2007, Armenian travel data shows, 510,000 tourists visited Armenia, up 34 percent over the previous year.

“This data show the cooperation between the state and private structures is becoming more and more efficient and targeted,” says Mark Apresyan head of the tourism development department of the ministry adding statistical surveys are done to evaluate the achievements, to classify the geography, the gender, the age and other data about tourists.

He says tourism development has boosted also the hotel construction in armenia and the number of hotels complying with international standards has grown. Official information says there are about 70 reliable hotels, with more than 10,000 beds.

Armenia is regularly advertised on international tourism markets. For several years various Armenian organizations take part in international festivals; introductory tours are organized. Since 2006 Armenia has been advertised on CNN and Euronews channels.

Apresyan also credits the tourism development doctrine adopted in 2000 that provides Armenia’s proper representation in the international market, increase of the competitiveness and quality of services as well as the creation of human resources as their provision will also develop the ecotourism.

“A tourist visiting Armenia to get acquainted with historic and cultural values goes to the rural areas, finds himself in beautiful natural sites, which means all kinds of tourism are provided in one here,” he says, assessing Armenia’s resources for ecotourism ranging between sufficient and good.

Director of the World Wildlife Fund Armenian branch Karen Manvelyan believes, however, the tourism development programs will stay on paper if industry continues to develop on sites where there are large opportunities for tourism development, like Noravank and Tatev gorges.

He says Armenia has large opportunity to both develop tourism and have environmentally safe agricultural products.

“Today, their actions are not coordinated. They want to develop the mining industry on the one side and tourism on the other side, but they don’t understand those two contradict each other,” says Manvelyan.

He says ecotourism cannot develop as long as many sightseeing places are covered with garbage, like is the case with the area of the Devil’s Bridge leading to the Tatev Monastery, the Garni and Hrazdan gorges, etc.

“People used to swim there (in the area of the Devil’s Bridge) and make barbeque. Now we have prepared a separate place for picnicking and have hired two villagers to guard the area,” says Manvelyan, mentioning such initiatives are aimed at promoting ecotourism.

“In future it is also planned to sell tickets for entrance; that will be a source of income for both the guards and the community. This system can be applied in different places of Armenia,” says Manvelyan. Zhanna Galstyan, chairwoman of the Ecotourism Association of Armenia however has concerns judging from the precedents as many projects do not go beyond the limits of being just projects.

“They did the design of the Sevan Park once, which however was put aside and forgotten leaving it out from the government’s final program when the lake shore was built up all along. We now have the Dilijan National Park and that would be good if it didn’t repeat the sad situation of Sevan,” says Galyan.

Galyan is confident developing the ecotourism needs operation of clear mechanisms for financing and management.

“Preservation of natural monuments becomes utmost important for a given community when people feel its positive influence on the quality of their lives,” Galyan asserts confirming Manvelyan’s words that “ecotourism can develop only in case of proper management of nature.”

“People must understand after all preserving the natural resources and serving them in a proper way may bring more income than its careless exploitation or damaging,” Manvelyan says.

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