By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s nascent tourist industry continued to grow last year with the number of foreign visitors rising by 21 percent to over 318,000, a senior official said on Tuesday.
The figure reported by Deputy Minister of Trade and Economic Development Ara Petrosian represents a new post-Soviet record for the small South Caucasus country. Its government has declared development of tourism a high economic priority.
Petrosian said foreign nationals of Armenian descent, most of them from Western Europe and the United States, continue to make up the overwhelming majority of the visitors. But he said the share of tourist with no Armenian roots has been steadily rising, estimating it at about 35 percent in 2005.
“The average length of a tourist visit to Armenia is five to six days and a typical tourist spends between $800 and $1,000, including the cost of air tickets, during that time,” Petrosian told reporters.
Government officials and local travel agents admit that the sum does not make Armenia particularly attractive for budget travelers and hampers a more rapid growth of its tourism sector. Armenian travel costs have hardly decreased in recent years despite the emergence of new hotels and more frequent flights between Europe and Armenia.
According to Petrosian, the government’s key objective is to promote the construction of inexpensive hotels affordable for average Westerners. He said five new hotels with a combined 500 beds were built in Yerevan and other parts of the country last year.