By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s tourism industry continued its steady growth in the first half of this year, with the number of foreign visitors rising by 11.6 percent to over 122,500, a senior government official said on Tuesday.
Mekhak Apresian, head of the tourism department at the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development, told the Regnum news agency that the figure is expected to total at least 350,000 by the end of the year. The peak period of travel to Armenia usually starts in August and ends in October.
According to official statistics, the country already had a record-high 318,000 tourists last year. Most of them are believed to be ethnic Armenians from Europe and the United States. Government officials and industry executives in Yerevan say the share of non-Armenian visitors has been steadily growing in recent years.
The reported further growth of the tourism sector is supported by anecdotal evidence, with virtually all hotels in central Yerevan fully booked at the moment. Flying there is also not an easy task despite the increased frequency of flights to the Armenian capital carried out by several major European airlines.
President Robert Kocharian reiterated last week that the sector’s development is a top economic priority for the Armenian government. Kocharian said the country should be able to attract 500,000 tourists a year in the near future. He also promised more government investments in the still underdeveloped tourism infrastructure in regions outside Yerevan.
Local travel agencies say the sector’s more rapid expansion is also hampered by the relatively high cost of travel and accommodation in Armenia. Ara Petrosian, deputy minister of trade and economic development, estimated earlier this year that the average foreigner has to spend approximately $1,000 on a one-week stay in the country.