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Tourism was among the spheres affected mostly by the consequences of the April war.

 That we would have certain challenges and that the number of foreign tourists may reduce in 2016 had been stated by the sphere’s officials much earlier, yet in the first months after the April war. They stated it, doing, at the same time, their utmost to avoid any significant decrease. As a result, the reduction in the number of tourists was slight. So, while the number of tourists in summer, the most active season of tourists’ inflow, reduced by 20%, compared to the last year, then the indexes for nine months turned to be more encouraging: we conceded in 2015, but not so much. The achievements and challenges in the sphere of tourism in 2016 was summarized by the NKR Deputy Minister of Economy, Sergey Shahverdyan.

- Mr. Shahverdyan, I congratulate you on the occasion of the holidays. I wish that in 2017 we have more tourists and less incidents on the contact-line. I suggest to begin the conversation not with 2016, but the preceding period. You had stated the possible reduction of the number of tourists yet before the April war - during the discussion of the next draft budget. Today, the decline is about 17%. How have your predictions come true, and what was the result of the April war?

- I made such a statement, referring to the funds allocated to the tourism sphere. It referred to the number of foreign tourists. And so it happened. The April war, in turn, strongly affected the statistics of visits, because tourism is a very sensitive area, and the fact of large-scale military actions could not but have their impact. It is hard to say which of these factors and to what extent contributed to this. But, it can be stated that the main reason of the decline recorded in 2016 was the April war.

- What was the statistics of visits by tourists per month? When was the most considerable decline fixed, and when did the situation begin to improve?

- Immediately after the April war, we recorded some 40-percent reduction in the number of foreign tourists. In summer, the decline made about 20%, and at the end of the year - 17%, compared to the previous year. This is a preliminary figure. I am confident that this percentage would be lower after additional calculations.

- You have mentioned that the overall reduction in the number of foreign tourists made approximately 17%. Does only simple arithmetic describe the general situation in the tourism sector of Artsakh for 2016?

- No. I'll tell you why. The decline related only the number of foreign tourists, while considerable increase in the number of tourists from Armenia was fixed. It is difficult to give concrete figures, as there is no counting mechanism. However, there are indirect evidences to this. Let me give just one example. In January - September 2015, the gross turnover of Artsakh's hotel industry amounted to 1 billion drams. During the same period in 2016 this figure increased by 6%. This is a positive trend. We have stated that we should try to compensate the reduction in the number of foreign tourists by increasing the inflow of Armenian tourists to Artsakh. And the efforts we took in 2016 gave their results. According to the reports, in January - September 2016, 28.000 people stayed in hotels. It was a bit more than in the same period of 2015.

- Is this increase the result of natural patriotic motives, following the April war, or did the authorized body in the tourism sphere play its role in this?

- Surely, the patriotic motives played their role. However, our efforts were also fruitful. For example, we have an agreement with the company Electrical Networks of Armenia, which regularly organizes tours for their employees to Artsakh. We hope that other companies will follow this example. And this is just one example.

- The realization of social packages program is underway? What are the figures for this direction?

- This program provides for the organization of recreation for state and civil servants of the RA. Artsakh was included in this program from the very beginning. In its frameworks, over 1,500 permits to Artsakh were sold in 2016.

- Has any change in the overnight duration taken place?

- As a result of the works carried out during the period between 2007 and 2016, the duration of overnights was doubled. However, it would be wrong to expect an annual growth here. Ultimately, it is a process requiring hard work and creation of corresponding conditions in Artsakh for a longer stay.

-In 2015, due to the visits of foreign tourists to Artsakh, our Republic gained about $6 million. What was the figure in 2016?

- During the first 9 months of 2016, the revenues made $5-5.5 million.

- Let's talk about the participation of Artsakh in international tourism exhibitions. What achievements were fixed in 2016 in this regard?

 - For various reasons, we almost did not take part in international exhibitions in 2015. In 2016, these works received new impetus, and we had certain achievements. Finally, we managed to ensure our participation in major exhibitions held in Moscow and Berlin. By their significance, they are exceptional events in the tourism sphere. Another achievement was the tourism exhibition on ‘Artsakh: a hidden treasure’ held in Brussels in cooperation with the office of Hay Dat and corresponding structures of Artsakh. Its uniqueness is that it was specially organized on the topic of Artsakh. Among the visitors were also MEPs and representatives of the local authorities.

- There are different views on the participation and non-participation in such exhibitions, and you know about it. Some period, as you have noted, we did not participate in them, later we started to do it.

- I know about these opinions. I guess what the basis for them is, because participation in international exhibitions is quite expensive. However, nothing else is invented yet: such exhibitions are the most effective form of presentation of our country's tourism potential. And we must do it.

- Let's recall the 2017 programs. Is the amount, allocated from the state budget, the same?

- In general, yes, and our programs in this area hasn’t changed either.

- There were also quite ambitious tourism programs in the private sector. At least, before the April war. What does the year of 2017 promise in this regard?

- Certainly, you mean the program of creating an eco-village adjacent to Noragyugh village. It is the largest program. The preparatory works started a few years ago and continued in 2016. The April war changed nothing. Merely, the program is quite large, and the expectations from it are correspondingly large. Naturally, the works will be preceded by long discussions and a preparatory stage.