Official statistics released by Mekhak Apresian, head of a tourism department at the Armenian Ministry of Economy, show that the country received about 266,000 tourists in the first half of 2011, a year-on-year increase of 15 percent.
Apresian said his department expects full-year growth in tourism to reach about 20 percent. He said private tour operators are also reporting a rising influx of tourists, many of them Diaspora Armenians, into the country
“We keep in touch with our private sector partners and what they report is quite positive,” Apresian told journalists. “For them, growth in tourism is obvious.”
According to Apresian’s department, the growth rate made up about 8 percent in 2010.
The credibility of official tourism data has long been questioned by private tour operators and other tourism experts. They say that it takes account of all individuals entering the country, including scores of Armenians working abroad and spending holidays in their homeland.
Ara Vartanian, the chairman of the Armenian Trade and Industry Chamber, asserted last year that the number of foreigners staying in Armenian hotels is a far more objective indicator of tourism.
The National Statistical Service recorded 65,000 such visitors in 2009. By comparison, the Ministry of Economy claimed that some 575,000 tourists arrived in Armenia at the time.
Tourism experts acknowledge that that the number of tourists has been steadily rising. But they say a faster expansion of the domestic tourism industry continues to be hampered by disproportionately high costs of air travel and accommodation in the country.