By Anna Saghabalian
The government remains on track to implement its tourism development program which aims to ensure a 20 percent year-on-year increase in the number of foreigners visiting Armenia, a senior official said on Thursday.
Ara Petrosian, the deputy minister of trade and economic development, told RFE/RL that 260,000 tourists, a record-high number, visited the country in the course of last year. “We expect to pass the 300,000 mark this year,” he said on the sidelines of an annual exhibition of Armenian companies involved in the tourism industry.
Foreign nationals of Armenian descent, mostly coming from the United States and Western Europe, continue to make up the vast majority of the tourists. But according to, Suzanna Azoyan, a marketing officer at the U.S.-funded Armenian Tourism Development Agency, the number foreign visitors without ethnic Armenian roots is also growing.
“Most of them come from European countries,” Azoyan said. “I would single out Germany, England, France. We have also had a drastic increase in the number of Japanese tourists this year.”
The growth is evidenced, among other things, by more frequent flights between Armenia and Europe carried out both by Armenian and Western airlines. Austrian Airlines, for example, began carrying out its Yerevan-Vienna flights on an almost daily basis this year.
Another major carrier, British Airways, is expected to follow suit this summer. In a further indication of increased travel between Armenia and the rest of the world, Germany’s Lufthansa carrier will launch a launch a regular flight service between Yerevan and Munich in June.
Azoyan said the more frequent flights are also slowly reducing the prices of air tickers which are rather high even by Western standards. But she admitted that the country’s tourism infrastructure still leaves much to be desired.
Travel agents operating outside Yerevan singled out the poor condition of most rural roads. “Our main problem is the roads,” said a representative of a tourism firm in Gyumri. “There are many beautiful sites in our region. But the roads leading to them are still in disrepair.”
The government plans to spend a meager $45,000 on the sector’s development this year. Officials therefore count on private investment and external assistance in their bid to ensure its further expansion.