Active period of tourism
Along with the expectations for activity, there are also some concerns about how the escalation of tensions on the Line of Contact and especially the April war can impact the sphere’s work. Following is an interview with NKR Deputy Minister of Economy Sergey Shakhverdyan:
- During the past few years, specifically between 2007 and 2015, the number of tourists arriving in Artsakh increased by 3,5 times. What is this increase conditioned by?
- I should note two important factors: creation of a favorable image of the country abroad, as well as development and improvement of the tourism infrastructures within the country. We worked in both directions. We used up-to-date information opportunities, participated in international authoritative exhibitions, also providing new opportunities inside the country by improving the roads, increasing the number of hotels, opening new tourism sites. I consider the increase in the number of tourists as the result of these works and, first of all, as manifestation of trust towards the Republic of Artsakh.
- Increase in the number of tourists was also fixed in the first quarter of 2016 – by about 10%, compared to the same period of 2015. The April war urged to revise the situation and expectations in almost all the spheres. What is the situation in the tourism sphere?
- We can describe the consequences of the four-day war already in numbers. In April and May, we had a 40-percent decline in the number of international tourists. To illustrate its effect on the economy, just let me note that last year, international tourists spent about three billion AMD in our country. And now, this amount is reduced by 40 percent.
- That we’ll have a decline in the number of foreign tourists after the April events is predictable and natural. What ways and options do you see for improving the situation?
- Naturally, there is a way out of any situation. We are developing a comprehensive plan for getting out of this situation. First of all, we should restore the tourism image of our country. We’ll start working with new target groups. Rather, they are not new, but we have not worked with them actively so far. We mean our compatriots living in the RA and the near Diaspora - the Russian Federation.
- We have already an initiative this year. It is Artak Beglaryan's call «Come to Artsakh».
- This is another evidence that the development of tourism isn't the task of only one department or one structure. Surely, there should be a structure, which will coordinate the activity, offer different options, and others. But, particularly in the case of Artsakh, we all have something to do and we can be helpful. Artak has proved this with his work. And we'll do our best that his initiative is expanded and distributed.
- Last year, there were projects in the same direction, in a somewhat different format, when Artsakh Patriotic Union called upon our compatriots for spending part of their vacation in the homeland. Is this initiative still in force?
- They are not single projects. Even if Artsakh Patriotic Union does not come up with that initiative this year too, anyway, most of those, who arrived last year in Artsakh on its call, will definitely come here again.
- Now, about our opportunities to receive guests. What changed during the last year?
- Last year in Amaras, the underground section of bishop Grigoris' mausoleum was opened. The renowned palace in Togh village started to work as a tourism destination. By the way, it becomes famous also thanks to the Wine Festival in Togh, which will be held this year too, as its positive role is obvious. The number of hotels also increased - two new hotels were built.
- Accommodation has increased from 2 to 4 for the recent years. Do you consider it the maximum for Artsakh or should we intensify the propaganda works?
- It is rather the first. Finally, the accommodation increase from 2 to 4 was achieved not by the propaganda, but thanks to expanding the tourism potential, opening new destinations, and providing new routes. To see all this, tourists 'have to' prolong their stay in Artsakh.
- Now, let's speak about what we have not either at all or in the scale we wish. First of all, we no Artsakh as a separate tourism destination. In many cases, it makes just part of Armenia's destinations, often depending on the intention of the Armenian tour operators. Is it really so or am I exaggerating?
- Frankly speaking, it is true. And as long as our airport does not work or we have no open border with other countries, it will stay so. On the other hand, I do not see anything bad in this. Yes, Artsakh, also as a tourism destination, can be considered part of Armenia’s tourism destinations, with its unique traditions and attractions. And in many cases, tourists themselves require that the tour operators include Artsakh in their trips.
- We have no professional organization or even team for working with tourists and for whom this will be the essential job and source of income.
- We do have employees and specialists. But, unfortunately, I have to admit that we haven’t yet a common approach and willingness to work with tourists. I notice this even in the establishments, such as hotels or restaurants, for which receiving tourists should be one of the essential sources of income.
- We haven't yet a real opportunity to calculate the number of tourists, as a result of which sometimes people are skeptical about figures, in particular, that tourists spent at least $ 6 million in Artsakh last year.
- Frankly, we are also skeptical about this figure, but from the opposite viewpoint. This amount was paid just by foreign tourists for getting entrance visas for Artsakh. Those coming from the Republic of Armenia and those having Armenian passports are not registered. They are registered, and there are no reasons to be skeptical about this. Do not count on the newcomers and those who have Armenian passports. Naturally, if we take this into account, then the last year income from tourism in Artsakh shouldn't make 3 billion AMD, but much more.
- As we started speaking about money, I'd like to ask a question in that regard. Last year, while discussing the state budget in the National Assembly, you stated that we hadn't participated in international tourism exhibitions. This year, we have started to participate again.
- This year, we have participated in an exhibition in Berlin and Moscow. Both of them were promising and important. It is also thanks to our participation in international exhibitions that we have achieved considerable development of tourism in Artsakh for the recent years. So, we'll continue working in this direction.