Global Crisis and Tourism: Armenian officials claim growth, specialists say slump in business

The world financial crisis has affected – not greatly but to some extend – the development of tourism in Armenia. Although official numbers speak about progress in the sphere of tourism in Armenia, experts, on the other hand, point out a slump.

According to Anahit Papazyan, director of Levon Travel tourist agency, the effect of the world crisis on tourism in the country will be more tangible in 2010.

She says that in 2008 a number of booked trips to the South Caucasus and Armenia in particular were annulled, first because of the March 1 tragic events in Yerevan and then because of the August war in Georgia.

“It was only a month ago that we started recovering the level we used to have in 2007, before then we had worked with a loss,” says Papazyan.

She stressed that tourist agencies register in their statistics not only tourists but also generally visitors to Armenia, including foreign citizens coming here on business trips.

During the first two quarters of 2009, according to official data, 207,729 tourists visited Armenia (0.1 percent more than during the same period last year – 207,500).

According to the head of tourism department of Levon Travel David Khachiyan, more than 700 tourists have visited and will be visiting through their agency, mostly from the USA, Italy and France. Ninety percent of the visitors from the States are Diaspora Armenians, whereas their number makes 50 percent among those coming from France.

As Khachiyan says, the average cost of travel packages in Armenia, including accommodation (hotels), meals and one-day or multi-day sightseeing tours, makes about $100-$150 per day per person.

Armen Hakobyan, representative of the Armenian Hotel Association, shares the opinion that the global crisis has had its negative effects on the development of tourism in Armenia.

According to him, another problem emerged in 2009, because of the budget reduction of many Armenian families many of them could not afford spending their vacation at resorts in Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.

As for travel services, he says, the prices have not dropped. Hakobyan also pointed out that tourism is among the rare spheres where there is no monopoly and hotel owners can set their own tariffs for their service.

He says that many construction projects in this sphere are frozen with no investments expected in the nearest future.

Mekhak Apresyan, head of the department for Tourism and Regional Economic Development at the RA Ministry of Economy, says there are a number of objective factors due to which there is no decline in the tourism sphere and Diaspora is one of them.

“Diaspora has always had a special input in the development of tourism in our country as well as the economy in general,” says Apresyan, adding that this factor is especially tangible in the current circumstances of economic crisis.

Apresyan says that the majority of visitors belong to senior age-group with established preferences which, he thinks, cannot be affected by the crisis.