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Hrant Gadarigian

A Whimsical “Shalom”: Prime Minister Invites Israeli Tourists to Armenia

Hot on the heels of the Armenian Diaspora Virtual Museum fiasco, I can’t help but bring to the attention of our readers, especially those living outside Armenia, another example of a top Armenian official who evidently enjoys making blithe statements to the TV cameras without regard to the consequences.

This time it was Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan who shot from the hip when he invited Israeli tourists to choose Armenia as a vacation spot over Turkey.

It's like when the Diaspora Minister declared she wanted to decrease the number of mixed marriages in the diaspora. Please, lighten up on the impossible and focus on what's practical for a change.

"We plan to accommodate up to 3 million tourists in the coming years, many of them from Israel," Sargsyan said. Armenia currently hosts about 750,000 tourists annually,” Prime Minister Sargsyan allegedly said in a special interview with the Israeli news service, Ynet.

Now, any casual observer will tell you that Armenia does not host 750,000 tourists annually. In fact, 75,000 is probably closer to the truth. But hey, who’s checking the facts? Why not make it a round 1 million while you’re at it?

Armenia tourism industry is down in the dumps as spring arrives. I’ve been told by those in the business that Yerevan hotel bookings are way down from last year.

With the appreciation of the U.S. dollar in Iran, only a fraction of tourists from Armenia’s neighbour will be arriving in Yerevan to celebrate the Nowruz holiday.

Even in prior years, many Iranian tourists would complain about the high prices of hotels and other accommodations in Armenia’s capital. With the new exchange rates, Armenia will have a hard time attracting tourists from Iran who came more the relatively lax social norms of Yerevan and the Sevan shore than anything else.

In the interview, PM Sargsyan is reported to have said, “"We have great potential for religious tourism, and we wish to learn more from Israel in this area."

Why doesn’t the government start with the basics of tourist development?

How about a few more parks and fewer cafes?
How about teaching Yerevan police a few vital phrases in English?
How about getting some decent public transportation on Yerevan streets?

PM Sargsyan promised to find ways to improve accessibility to Israeli tourists. Great, but the problems facing the tourist trade in Armenia relate to tourists in general, not merely those from Israel.

Lake Sevan, one of the prime, if not most important natural tourist destinations in Armenia, has been a tourist nightmare for many years. The management and oversight of this highly valued piece of Armenian real estate has been an embarrassment for the country for too long.

Let the government prove it is serious by starting to fix the mess that turns off foreign tourists in general.

Yerevan hotels remain un-booked right now because most are in the business of short-term gain rather than taking a long-term perspective regarding the tourist trade.

They waited till the last minute in order to jack up their rates and now no one is taking the bait.

Prime Minister Sargsyan’s invitation to Israeli tourists is yet another example of PR bluster with nothing to back it up.

EL AL doesn’t fly to Yerevan and Armavia, Armenia’s financially shaky national carrier, just started twice weekly flights to Tel Aviv.

I checked Armavia’s website for prices. It will cost one adult around $550 to fly Tel Aviv – Yerevan, round trip. Then add around $100 per night for a hotel room and a minimum of $20-40 per day in spending money and your average Israeli tourist just might get away with coughing up about $1,500 for a week in Armenia.

Even with the bad vibes between Israel and Turkey, I’m sure that Israeli tourists can get a bigger bang for their buck in Turkey.

And what about Greece, if Israel tourists forego Turkey as a vacation spot? Given the financial mess that Athens faces, you can be assured that the Greek Board of Tourism will leave no stone unturned to attract visitors and vacationers to the sunny shores of the Aegean Sea, the Acropolis and points in between.

Can Armenia hope to compete with all this?

A few basic steps in the right direction could make a world of difference.

Sadly, the government seems more intent on appearance than content.

Government officials can make all the declarations they want, promising this and that, but when there is a lack of follow-up, accountability and effective management down below, what results is a travesty at best and proof of unprincipled governance in essence.

When a government hands over public lands to commercial interests in the heart of Yerevan, decreasing already scare parkland and green space, then how can we take the prime minister at his word when he promises to develop the infrastructure needed to attract tourists to Armenia?

When the government gives the go-ahead for open pit mines adjacent to the much heralded Syunik Tourist Gateway, with the medieval monastery of Tatev as the jewel in the crown, then we get suspicious.

When a hydroelectric power station was being built practically atop the Trchkan Waterfall, with the full knowledge and tacit backing of the government, then we have the right to cry “foul”.

Grandiose schemes and public declarations by the government need to be backed up with actual deeds.

Half measures and haphazard management can no longer be tolerated.

You want tourists to come to Armenia - from Israel and the wider world?

Then start with the basics...start by showing others that we value and cherish the cultural and natural inheritance we have been bequeathed.

Comments (4)

Tuf Raf
I am a foreigner living in Yerevan, involved in the tourism / travel industry and I have to say that the various govt bodies and their officials who are meant to develop tourism are either not really interested or dont know how to develop tourism (although they think they are super qualified). Having had meetings with several of them and given them excellent ideas on development, we came away thinking that we had completely wasted our time. Individual Travel Agents are paying at their own expense to visit travel markets worldwide to promote Armenia - this should be the responsibility of the Armenian Govt. - when they do actually do something, it is completely lacking in professionalism and does not promote the many different types of tourism potential here - their main focus is on religious relics. - Armenia has an abundace of tourism potential. BUT the infrastructure, serivce and standards HAVE to be improved. I often ask our tourist's leaving Armenia if they enjoyed their time here and would they come back, the usual answer - not in the near future - why? because the hotels / service are poor and very expensive, a lack of english language - which is generally spoken worldwide these days are the most common comments. It starts at the airport - and ends at the airport - Immigration staff give a very negative initial impression, with their unfriendly approach and lack of English. Armenia needs tourism as a form of much needed income. It would be better if they just admit they need outside help to get them on the right path. The dividends will be excellent and every body bennefits.
It's great that the word is getting out regarding the level of governance in Armenia. Surely those who have commented here are aware of the situation. It seems that the diaspora, those segments that follow events in Armenia, only see fit to comment when it comes to monumental events like the Protocols, et al. Stuff is going on one a daily basis that blows the public mind. Yes, let's have more diaspora engagement and this doesn;t mean only relocating here. One can make their views known from afar as well. As to the question of accountability of officials, it is sorely lacking. There needs to be more professional reporters and media people in Armenia. Most are students are new grads with no sense of their true role. Let the diaspora put its money where it would make the most practical sense - assisiting the fourth estate in Armenia and organizing media training courses, etc...As regards the Virtual Museum fiasco, the Diaspora Minister is less than sincere when she states that they solicited help from the diaspora. Who exactly did they contact? They all make grandiose statements about this and that, but it's all hollow rhetoric.
both comments above are correct. The government is at fault, but outside influence or say, operating a hotel at normal prices, will be the easiest way to show success.
There is no government in Armenia. It all operates on Camorra Mafia based and the boss is president. Unfortunately new republican party and president are all low class uneducated, rude trash. We need more inelligent and educated peoiple in our government, not oligarchs, mafia and corrupt greedy bloodsuckers.

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