Armenia tourism broadens visitor base but faces border war barrier

 Thursday, December 1, 2022 

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Armenia continues to develop its tourist infrastructure and and plans to increase marketing spend, but how far it can go is limited by its ongoing border conflict with Azerbaijan and weak international air connectivity.

The Armenian government aims to attract 2.5 million visitors annually by 2026. The country received 870,000 foreign tourists in 2021

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To reach its target, the government’s marketing spending would jump fivefold from 200 million drams ($510,000) in 2022 to 1 billion drams ($2.5 million) in 2023.

Armenia tourism marketing mainly focuses on promoting the country as a cultural and historical destination, with its ancient heritage, said Intrepid Travel General Manager of Europe Kristijan Svajnzger.

In May, the Tourism Committee promoted Armenia under a new destination brand called Hidden Track that embodies Armenia’s ancient heritage, pristine nature and rugged landscapes, combined with an overwhelming hospitality and rich culinary scene all accessible at an affordable price.

Hitting the government’s 2.5 million goal will likely be harder due to the country’s ongoing border conflict with Azerbaijan.

The conflict started in May 2021, when the Azerbaijan military crossed the Armenia’s internationally recognized border and took territory in the provinces of Syunik and Gegharkuni.

Azerbaijan makes some claims to this turf.

There have been sporadic clashes and cease fires. The European Union is currently trying to facilitate peace negotiations between both sides.

The border clash is the most recent flare up of the on-again, off-again Nagorno-Karabakh War between the countries.

The bordering provinces and towns near the conflict zones have been targeted or caught in escalations between the Armenian and Azerbaijan militaries.

The last major clash was in September this year and lasted two days before both sides agreed to a ceasefire.

After one clash, local hotels and bed and breakfasts housed refugees fleeing the conflict in a neighbouring town.

Even though the conflict has been ongoing for over a year, travel continues to trickle in but the flow gets stalled every time clashes restart.

Funny enough, there still are some people who travel without following the warnings of their embassies, Asatrian-Azoyan said.

The U.S. State Department advises American citizens not to travel to the border region with Azerbaijan.

After this September 13 escalation, they had a lot of groups cancel and it had a major effect in Syunik, she said.

Within the last decade, Armenia diversified its visitor base, which totalled a record 1.9 million visitors in 2019, right before Covid hit.

In the past, the country mostly attracted visitors coming for religious and cultural pilgrimages.

It was just cultural tourism with stops in a lot of monasteries and churches, Asatrian-Azoyan said.

Now it’s more of an adventure, with a lot of backpackers and a lot of climbers who come to Armenia to climb some mountains.

Adventures and hikers gravitate to Dilijan National Park and see Alpine Lake Sevan and Ararat Mountain (located in Turkey but can be viewed from Armenia), according to Svajnzger.

The country also attracts so-called “dark tourism,” which is visitation to areas marked by decay, tragedy and death.

A big contributor to its expanded visitor base was the investment in visitor infrastructure.

In 2021 alone, the Armenia economic ministry spent 3 billion drams ($7.7 million) on 20 tourism clusters and 50 historical and cultural monuments, up from 1 billion drams ($2.6 million) invested in 2020.

The tourism sector also receives significant financial and technical support from nongovernmental agencies like the World Bank and UN Development Program.

Along with the restoration of the popular monasteries of Tatev, Echmiadzin and Geghard, there’s been new hotel development, bed and breakfasts, roads and local DMOs, said Svajnzger.

No doubt the upgrades in rest years likely helped Armenia earning the ranking of 79 in 2021 biennual World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, up from 61 in the 2019 report.

But the country also relies too much on its neighbour Georgia for international air connectivity, which very often makes it an add-on destination for trips to the region.

It’s international tourists who come to Georgia and through Georgia they also visit Armenia. It’s cheaper to fly to Georgia and then drive to Armenia, Asatrian-Azoyan said.


Zvartnots International Airport is Armenia’s main international airport.

The weak international air connectivity could be a reason why Armenia doesn’t have as many long stays as it could.

Very often tour operators include Armenia as a part of regional combo trips with less days spent in Armenia, Svajnzger said.

The situation could change as the government continues to work on it.

The government last year signed an agreement with the European Union to join the EU European Common Aviation Area, which enables direct flights from EU airports to Armenia.

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