Armenia’s tourism development initiative 2001-2003

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Earmarking tourism as its top priority in its efforts towards
economic redevelopment, the Government of Armenia created
the Armenian Tourism Development Agency (ATDA) in 2000 to
act as its premier national tourism organization. ATDA’s aim is
to unveil all the wonders of this ancient land to world travelers
and to bring its awe-inspiring history and culture, replete with
exceptional sights, sounds, and tastes, to the attention of the
world’s tourism marketplace.
Armenia is a country of uncharted tourism opportunities.
Throughout its long and extraordinary history it has been
renowned for its generous hospitality and its remarkable
religious monuments. As home to one of the oldest surviving
peoples of the ancient world, Armenia is situated in what is
considered the “cradle of civilization”. A post along the historic
Great Silk Road, Armenia played an important role in ancient
Byzantium. It is an open-sky museum filled with numerous
points of interest: from petroglyphs to currently active churches
that date back to 301 A.D. In 2001, Armenia held a yearlong
celebration in recognition of its 1700 years as the world’s first
Christian nation. And… Armenians want tourists to come and
join them in celebrating until 2101, its 1800th year!
Visitors to Armenia experience an ancient land with a 21st
century democratic outlook. They take pleasure in a new ‘old
country’ whose warm, fun-loving, hardworking, and talented
people are ready to greet them with their four-millennia-old
traditions in welcoming people to their homeland. They explore
and enjoy the unsurpassed natural beauty of this mountainous
country. And they leave absolutely enthralled.
Please join us in Armenia soon. Come discover one of the
tourism industry’s best-kept secrets. We look forward to saying
“Bari Galoust” when you arrive here in the valley of Noah’s
landing: Armenia.

Nina Hovnanian-Aleksanyan
Executive Director
Armenian Tourism Development Agency (ATDA)

Substantial improvements have been made to the
development of tourism in Armenia in recent years.
Following a December 2000 report completed by a
Volunteer Executive (VE) from International Executive
Service Corps (IESC) for the United States Agency
for International Development (USAID) entitled
“Tourism Development in Armenia”, USAID granted
funds to IESC for the implementation of a Tourism
Development Initiative (TDI) to help the Government
of Armenia promote tourism. This Initiative is now
being implemented by IESC in collaboration with
the Armenian Tourism Development Agency (ATDA),
various ministries within the Government of Armenia
(GoA), private companies, and non-governmental
organizations.
The TDI is a comprehensive, multi-faceted tourism
development program, with initiatives for destination
marketing through trade shows and familiarization
trips for both tour operators and press, visitor
services, and cultural heritage promotion, among
other activities.
By bringing together the private and public
sectors in Armenia to promote and market Armenia
as an international tourism destination, our goal is
to increase jobs and generate income for small and
medium-sized enterprises, not only in the capital,
Yerevan, but also in less developed (and sometimes
forgotten) rural areas in the regions.
With concerted cooperation across and within the
larger tourism community in hosting and organizing
joint events and activities, Armenia’s tourism industry
has made great strides towards achieving its critical
objective, that of putting Armenia “front and center”
on the world’s tourism map!

Lisa Scorsolini
Country Director Caucasus
IESC Representative Office in Armenia

Background

During the Soviet Era, Armenia had a flourishing tourism industry with more than 600,000 visitors a year, but the collapse of the Soviet Union coupled with the devastating 1988 earthquake and ensuing blockade provided Armenia with unique, and extremely severe, economic problems. Over the past decade the economy has begun slowly to revive, and the development of tourism has contributed to its recovery. In the year 2000 Armenia received 84,000 visitors — in 2001 that figure increased spectacularly to 123,000, most likely due to the events associated with the 1700th anniversary of Christianity in Armenia celebrations.

Despite the events of September 11, 2001 and their negative effect on tourism worldwide, including the South Caucasus, tourism in Armenia seems to be little affected as the number of visitors continue to grow. Growth is steady, but the recovery is still slow.

Armenia can be compared to countries like Israel, Ireland, and Scotland, in that it has a very significant Diaspora market, primarily from the United States. The US is the single most important national market in Armenia accounting for 20% of visitors, followed by Russia and France. In total, the E.U. countries account for approximately 30% of visitors and CIS countries 22 percent.

For a returning visitor to Armenia, particularly in Yerevan, the changes associated with tourism over the last five years are evident. New and renovated hotels and restaurants abound. Visa procedures have improved, including the issuance of single entry tourist visa upon arrival at the airport and land borders and on-line.

Armenia is only the second country in the world to process e-visas. An extensive museum renovation program along with infrastructural improvements in Yerevan are under way, such as the replacement of sidewalks, repavement of roads, and updating street and traffic signs. These efforts are commissioned by the Government of Armenia (GoA) and funded by the Lincy Foundation.

 

For a returning visitor to Armenia, particularly in Yerevan, the changes associated with tourism over the last five years are evident. New and renovated hotels and restaurants abound. Airport procedures have improved, including simplified procedures for the issuance of single entry tourist visa upon arrival.

The TDI

An important theme of the December 2000 IESC report was that previous tourism development surveys of Armenia had tended to concentrate on ‘supply’ rather than ‘demand’. That is, recommendations had concentrated too much on infrastructure problems, rather than focusing on the task of increasing visitor numbers. The current TDI took on a “novel approach” in that it focuses on two primary objectives: to increase visitor numbers to Armenia and to increase their expenditure while in Armenia. The broader goal of the TDI is to increase employment and generate income for small and medium sized enterprises located not only in the capital city of Yerevan, but in the rural regions of the country as well.
The main components of the TDI are outlined in the following pages.

Marketing

In line with the December 2000 report, the first priority was to start a ‘Come to Armenia’ marketing campaign. The reasoning was that more tourists will bring more spending, which in turn would allow the private and public sectors to improve facilities.

Prior to formal approval of the TDI by USAID, IESC was asked to organize Armenian representation at the International Tourism Exchange (ITB) tourism trade show in Berlin, Germany in March 2001. Concurrently a marketing campaign was organized to include the preparation, publication, and distribution of high quality ‘Come to Armenia’ brochures. Following the successful debut of Armenia’s tourism industry at ITB 2001, the TDI scheduled
Armenian representation at the two largest world travel fairs – World Travel Market (WTM) in London in November 2001 and 2002, and International Tourism Exchange (ITB) in Berlin in March 2002 and 2003. Up to ten (10) Armenian companies jointly exhibit under the Armenia “umbrella” stand at these exhibitions. The stand design (created by an IESC VE) is filled with national crafts and photographic imagery intended to reflect Armenia’s cultural richness and charm. IESC provides technical and financial assistance to the Armenian Tourism Development Agency (ATDA) for the construction and organization of the stand, while sales are the responsibility of the participating companies. Participating companies pay a percentage share of the costs.

As part of the marketing program a logo and slogan were created for Armenian tourism, featuring the pomegranate and memorable phrase “Timeless~Undiscovered”. The logo and slogan are now featured on all ATDA publications. Additional features of the marketing program include the creation of a 6-minute video featuring Armenia’s attractions and other promotional materials such as posters, CD-roms, and press kits.

Visitor Services

The second theme of the TDI was to improve the availability of information about Armenia for tourists who are already in Armenia. A system was needed so tourists could learn about the various events and attractions that are available. Such a system, of course, would be very valuable for local Armenians and expatriates already in the country as well. In September 2001 ATDA and IESC opened ARMENIAInformation, Yerevan’s first visitor information center (VIC) at 3 Nalbandyan Street, a very convenient downtown location of Republic Square near major hotels and museums. The VIC features an online
database of tourist attractions, accommodation, transportation services, events, shops, and restaurants.

Trained staff members are on hand to answer questions from 9:00 -19:00 seven (7) days a week, and a system is in place to train university students as interns. More than 50 Armenian organizations have placed advertising brochures for display in the VIC including hotels, restaurants, tour operators and travel agencies, carpets, antiques, and souvenir shops, entertainment facilities, and Yerevan museums.

In November 2001, the President of Armenia, the Honorable Robert Kocharyan, visited the VIC and welcomed its creation. He stressed the willingness of the GoA to support the goals of the TDI.

Since opening, ATDA has hosted numerous events at the VIC for local embassies and organizations to introduce its activities and to generate interest in collaboration on projects related to tourism and culture in Armenia. Events have included holiday open houses highlighting local crafts and agricultural products.

Visits by Foreign Tour Operators and
Journalists

In recent years Armenia has hosted various groups of tour operators brought to Armenia either by GoA, or by the private sector (e.g. British Airways in 2000). The TDI is starting to formalize this system, and in May 2002, ATDA, with assistance provided by IESC, hosted a group of European and North American tour operators [one (1) German, one (1) Dutch, and five (5) US tour operators with a travel trade publisher] for a 7-day educational seminar in May 2002.

The Educational Seminar was sponsored by Nina Hovnanian-Aleksanyan (Executive Director of ATDA), British Mediterranean Airways, British Airways, several local restaurants, hotels, and tour operators, and organized by IESC.

In September 2002, a 3-day familiarization trip for representatives from European press was organized through the support and assistance of Austrian Airlines, Tufenkian Heritage Hotels, and a number of local restaurants and tour operators. Subsequent educational seminars for tour operators and press trips are currently being planned for spring 2003 and beyond.

Handicrafts Development and Marketing

A clear link exists between tourism development and crafts development. The work in this sub sector is aimed primarily at marketing and promotion of Armenian handicrafts, artisans, and crafts organizations through the development and production of a “Crafts Tour of Armenia” guidebook.

The development of “Crafts Tour of Armenia”, a book on Armenian contemporary crafts, is a strategic starting point for the marketing and promotion of handicraft SMEs. Many players will need to cooperate to form a book – tourism and service providers, museums and historic sites managers, crafts organizations, the Ministry of Culture, Made in Armenia Direct (Diaspora funded organization exporting handicrafts items to the US), possible funding sources, field workers, publication professionals, etc. – and this project aims to bring these people together with a very concrete goal.

In implementing this project, IESC will also establish a registry of craft producers and distribution point for the book with ARMENIA Information. The project will provide links between traditional and current crafts and historic sites, and advise crafts people on types of products that would be attractive to tourists.

Training

In May 2002, ATDA hosted a meeting of the main agencies involved with tourism in Armenia in order to outline recent developments. Following this meeting, IESC and ATDA combined to provide a training course on leadership for Armenian government offi cials and tourism industry managers.

In an effort to encourage the government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector involved in tourism to work together towards a common goal, IESC organized a benchmarking trip to Dublin, Ireland, in September 2002 with the goal of learning best practices in tourism development and examining methods to promote consensus and dialogue.

In November 2002, VIC staff attended a 5-day training program at Scotland’s Edinburgh Tourist Information Center. Other training in customer service, sales, negotiation, and marketing is given for VIC staff and industry representatives on an as-needed basis.

Accommodations and B&B (bed & breakfast) promotion

This project aims to train the staff of ARMENIAInformation to update and standardize listings of and create systems of disbursement of information on accommodation facilities in the regions. ARMENIAInformation
cooperates with various Armenian tourism NGOs and utilized the database created by AmCham in 2001 as a starting point for its database.

Cultural Heritage Promotion

In October 2001, IESC and GoA organized a three-day course on marketing of cultural attractions. Attendees were primarily from the public sector and the proposals from the participants often required substantial capital expenditure. There is still a need for site operators to examine methods to increase visitor numbers and visitor spending by small-scale marketing and promotional efforts. IESC’s plans in this fi eld are now being developed and such training in promotion will neatly match (on a small scale) the massive investment in
museum renovations underway with funds from the Lincy Foundation.
In cooperation with the Academy for Educational Development (AED), a group of seven (7) museum and cultural site managers with a representative from the Ministry of Culture participated in a study tour to Scotland in October 2002 on “Revenue Generating Activities for Cultural Heritage Sites”. IESC VEs from
Scotland designed the study tour program in collaboration with Historic Scotland.

Armenian Cultural Festival (KENATS Festival 2002)

The 2000 report recommended an annual international cultural festival for Armenia to bring together its rich cultural events and promote
them to the world. The fi rst annual KENATS Festival, inaugurated September 2002 in Yerevan, highlighted Armenia’s wine, food, music, arts,
crafts, and good cheer (kenats). The long term plan is to build up the festival over time so that the event itself becomes a recognized tourist
attraction. Many cities and countries around the world (Edinburgh, Monte Carlo, New Orleans) host festivals of different cultural traditions which
have started out small but over the course of their own histories, increased to a level of international recognition and are a signifi cant vehicle for the
promotion of tourism

Statistics

In 2000, the GoA started a new system for collecting tourism statistics. This is a great step forward although inevitably it will take a few years before clear trends can be discerned. Some of the main statistics collected are presented in Appendix 1, and staff members from GoA and IESC are now collaborating to find methods of improving tourism statistics at minimal cost. A VE from IESC is helping in this regard.

Who Does What

In Armenia, as in many other countries, various government departments are involved directly and indirectly in tourism. The lead Ministry in Armenia (which is responsible for tourism policy) is the Ministry of Trade and
Economic Development (MTED), formerly named the Ministry of Industry and Trade. The Tourism Department is located in MTED. Also very important, however, are the Ministry of Culture, Youth Affairs, and Sports
(responsible for many of the ancient monuments in Armenia), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (responsible for overseas embassies and visa regulations), and the Ministry of Transport.

The Armenian Apostolic Holly Church is responsible for a few ancient monuments in Armenia.

Moreover with the collapse of the Soviet system, many international agencies have become involved in the Armenian economy, some with projects related to tourism. The main donor agencies and implementing partners that have been involved in Armenian tourism development include:

  • Academy for Educational Development (AED)
  • American Chamber of Commerce of Armenia (AmCham)
  • British Embassy Yerevan
  • Embassy of Hellenic Republic
  • Embassy of Italy
  • Eurasia Foundation
  • EuropeAID Co-operation Office (formerly TACIS)
  • German Embassy in Armenia
  • International Executive Service Corps (IESC)
  • Norwegian Consulate, Yerevan
  • Open Society Institute (Soros)
  • United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
  • United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • US Embassy Yerevan
  • World Bank

IESC is a worldwide operation which sends out Volunteer Executives (VEs) on a short-term basis (four to six weeks) to help private sector firms address marketing and management problems. VEs are recruited to work on
different components of the overall TDI according to their expertise and sub-specialty. BusinessLink Armenia (BLA) is a division of IESC Armenia that provides sales, marketing, and export promotion services to small and
medium sized enterprises in targeted sectors, such as textiles and jewelry. BLA works closely with the TDI, for example, in promoting Armenian-made products for tourist purchases.

Appendix 2 shows some of the volunteers who have worked on the TDI since October 2000.

As part of the TDI, the main international bodies involved in tourism meet quarterly to exchange information at meetings hosted by MTED, ATDA, and/or IESC. Appendix 3 lists the main international agencies involved
with tourism in Armenia.

Additionally, economic development in Armenia is promoted rather uniquely by a large number of benevolent Diaspora foundations. For example, the Lincy Foundation is currently involved in funding museum renovationon a very large scale. The Hovnanian (Vahakn and Hasmik) family subsidizes the operations of ATDA. James Tufenkian, in creating and promoting his chain of Heritage Hotels, helps Armenian tourism by promoting the country as a tourist destination.

The main Diaspora organizations involved in tourism are listed in Appendix 4.

Local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and associations are listed in Appendix 5.

The role of ATDA is to promote and develop Armenia as a tourism destination. The current members of the board of ATDA are listed in Appendix 6.

The Next Steps

Very significant progress has been made in less than two years, but now the main task is to define goals and objectives (and sources of funding) for the next few years. Possible plans include:

  • Continue the exhibition program to Berlin and London and expand to targeted markets (Italy, France, others);
  • Build the internal capacity of ATDA to operate on a sound financial and administrative basis;
  • Expand the VIC to provide professional information and booking services for tourists and locals on a commercial basis;
  • Commence a regional tourism development program (outside Yerevan) in collaboration with MTED;
  • Establish a system so that the private sector is more involved in supporting and implementing promotional activities;
  • Improve presentation and promotion facilities at visitor attractions throughout Armenia.

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