By Raffi Kojian
This is a rough draft of some of the ideas for developing tourism in Armenia. These ideas have been brewing in my mind for years, or in the minds of others, and I want to put them in a public forum to foster discussion on this “plan”.
Armenia has great potential for many kinds of tourism, which currently focuses too narrowly on the obvious monasteries which dot the landscape. I will not discuss these ideas in detail here, merely present them in their basic form. Most of these ideas require a large investment, but some do not. All would contribute to making Armenia the tourist destination it deserves to be.
1. Signage – Armenia is a small country, which should be easy to navigate for everyone, but a lack of good signage is a big impediment to this. Armenian signs, with Latin (and possibly Cyrillic transliteration) are needed. These signs are needed for all the roads and towns, but short of that, at least for the actual tourist sites themselves.
2. Accomodations – Yerevan needs a few good clean budget accomodation options. The current capacity is inadequate. Outside of Yerevan there are a few decent options, the list constantly grows, but B&Bs across the country are needed. Some work has been done on this, but it is still not an easy, obvious choice for the casual visitor.
3. Information – The tourist information office is a great resource which still needs better signage in central Yerevan to inform visitors of its existence. Small maps of the city center placed at a few key intersections with a “You are here” on them as well as the information office on them would make a big difference. These signs could find commercial sponsors with their names on the bottom.
4. Colonial Williamsburg, Armenia style – Seeing a dozen or two monasteries can be interesting, but you basically are only exposed to shells, unused and out of historic context. Taking a big complex like Tatev, which was once a major hub and a wealthy monastery owning many villages, and recreating life there as it was in its heyday would provide a fascinating context for the monastic complex. A working mill, villagers dressed in the style of the time, and as monks, etc, as they perform daily routines as they would have would be educational for foreigners and locals alike.
5. Campgrounds – With no fences and great nature, dozens of rough campgrounds should be established across Armenia. Each ground could consist of a partial wind shelter, campfire pits, an outhouse and a water faucet.
6. Hiking Trails – A good compliment to campgrounds would be hiking trails. If simple trails were marked and kept clear across the country, with one major north to south rout, and maps, these would be attractions of their own. The new book coming out in 2004 will be a good step in this direction.
7. Biking – a few good routes, bike rentals and parts shops would be a good start. I have worked on some routes already at Bike Armenia Tour Route – but an annual trip covering the main route starting on June 1 would make it a good group activity.
8. Lake Sevan – Currently the recreational options are limited. Wind surfing, small sailboats, rowboats and other quiet, clean options should be made available. Development along the shores should be kept at a certain distance and kept tasteful.
9. Old Town Dilijan Restoration – The entire Sharambeyan street needs restoration and craftsmen to occupy the shops. Strict architectural codes need to be passed in order to preserve the traditional beautiful architecture of the town. An international artists colony would be ideal in this town. Shushi, Goris and Meghri would also benefit from codes to preserve and restore their traditional styles of architecture.
10. Jermuk Hot Springs – Develop normal baths of different tempratures, indoors and out at a few resorts. The Soviet “bathtub model” may be preserved in one place as a blast to the past, but European/Middle Eastern baths are more attractive models.
11. Ski Resorts – Armenia should be studied for the best places to build a couple of western ski resorts. Aragats, Jermuk, Sevan and other places seem attractive, but I am no expert.
12. Develop and open the caves – Armenia has a few cave systems, primarily near Yeghegnadzor. They should be monitored and opened to caving.
13. Petroglyphs – Armenia has petroglyphs in a few locations, but the richest area is Ughtasar mountain. Due to elevation, it is only accessible a few months of the year. A weekly excursion should be organized to ascend this mountain for a fee. Ashot the painter's annual trip up could be made into a real tourist attraction.
14. Old Town Yerevan – Yerevan's beautiful old architecture style has been completely obliverated. A small section near the Parajanov Museum was reconstructed in Soviet times, an effort that should be continued. An area should be built up in the old style with winding alleys full of interesting shops, restaurants, artisans and artists. The second floors could be guesthouses for tourists.
15. Highway “rest areas” with toilets, or mandatory toilets at petrol stations.
16. “Las Vegas” of the Caucasus. If there could be large casino/resorts, it would attract a lot of visitors, especially from Iran, since they can not have that kind of entertainment due to the Islamic nature of the country. But it would have to be family resorts like the Las Vegas of today, rather than the mob-driven Las Vegas of the 50s and 60s. I do not know of any place in the immediate vicinity that can compare to Las Vegas or Monte Carlo. Maybe Beirut, but it is in an unstable neighborhood.
17. “Urartu village” where people would have a feel of what it was like almost 3,000 years ago. It would be quite original, and it would highlight Armenia's ancient civilization as well. So people can dress like the people of Urartu and there can be dances, activities and festivals reminiscent of old antiquity. There could be battle scenes with people playing the role of ancient Assyrians, with horses and chariots. This would attract a lot of tourists as well.