By Anush Dashtents
A town in central Armenia that used to be one of the main winter resorts of the former Soviet Union is experiencing a tourism boom after a decade of economic decline.
Tsaghkadzor was a quiet place with deserted streets and half-empty hotels only a few years ago. A far cry from the 1970s and 1980s when it was receiving scores of tourists from Armenia and other parts of the Communist bloc and hosted a major training base of Soviet national Olympic teams.
Tsaghkadzor is now again struggling to cope with an influx of visitors attracted by its fresh air, mountain scenery and famous ski resort. Local authorities say the service sector provides jobs to 80 percent of the town's 5,000 or so residents -- one of the highest employment rates in the country.
Nestled in a picturesque wooded gorge, Tsaghkadzor has become a prime destination for middle class holidaymakers from the capital Yerevan, a one-hour drive to the south. Thousands of them flocked to the area during New Year's and Christmas holidays. Finding accommodation was a serious problem.
Having only about 3,500 hotel beds, the town could not meet the demand. "What we have is no longer enough," says its mayor Garun Mirzoyan. "If we had an additional 1,000 or 1,500 places they would all be filled."
At least four new hotels have been built in Tsaghkadzor in the last two years, and there are now more restaurants and other places of entertainment catering to the increasing clientele. The authorities have also refurbished a local cable car leading to the nearby ski resort which again attracts large numbers of visitors, among them President Robert Kocharian.
"This is a good place for taking some rest from the city hassle," said one holidaymaker from Yerevan. "All the conditions are in place."
But Mirzoyan admits that the local tourism industry needs further expansion in order to keep up with the growing demand. He says the town lacks not only enough accommodation but also rental services for mountain skiers.