Economy 15:21 06/07/2020 Armenia

Domestic tourism in Armenia 'on the brink of collapse', says travel agency head

The coronavirus pandemic has especially affected Armenia’s tourism industry, since outbound tours have been banned since March, while inbound tours have been allowed only since May 18 when the Armenian government decided to lift restrictions on different sectors of the economy.

Although domestic tourism has reopened, widespread calls to stay home and limit all forms of contacts continue to be an obstruction for travel agencies.

Speaking to, Ruben Baghdishyan, the head of Arshavner Akumb travel company, says it is very hard to work under such conditions.

“Even if we manage to work under such conditions, in many cases police forces are stationed near a monument and bar us from approaching it. For example, we offer tours to Saint Hovhannes church in Hartagyugh, but we have learned internally that there are police forces there banning the entry into the building, but there is no official statement that the church is closed,” he said “Yes, the government urges people not to take a tour ... but not encouraging or making an appeal is not banning yet. We called the Commandant’s Office to ask if the church was closed, they told us to contact the police. When we called the police, they said there were no closed roads in Armenia, telling us to contact the Commandant’s Office. Naturally, it is very difficult to work under these conditions; on the one hand we are told that we are allowed to work, and on the other hand the people are advised against travelling, in that case what is the point of allowing us to work?” he said.

The director states those travel agencies engaged in outbound tourism were bought into domestic tourism without any oversight over the sector, which may paralyze the work of domestic tour operators.

“If the government had provided right recommendations in time, domestic tourism would have survived. As a result of a wrong approach, domestic tourism is now on the brink of collapse. It is now operating under ‘the law of the jungle’ – every man for himself,” he said.

Also, Ruben Baghdishyan deplored the government’s coronavirus relief measures, adding the over 20 programs were short-term and failed to help handle the crisis.

"They had to take strategic steps, whereas in this case it was just a matter of distributing money, with the wrong targeting. In terms of tourism in particular, these measures had shortcomings and needed professional development. And the government failed at that very phase, when it elaborated hasty support measures, which were incomplete. However, I can't say that the government didn't provide any support at all,” he stated.

Referring to the steps that the authorities should take to save domestic tourism, Baghdishyan called for the State Tourism Committee to be dissolved and recomposed, decrying the inaction of the structure over the past few months.

"They may be doing something, but it is not tangible and visible. The key problems are not solved. The second step should be to change the charter of the State Tourism Committee. A framework of functions and responsibilities should be outlined, after which a new committee should be set up with a new staff,” he added.

He also highlighted the fact of recruiting volunteers, explaining the committee is understaffed.

In Ruben Baghdishyan’s words, if the government wants tourism to develop, it should pay attention to the Tourism Committee, as well as the professional skills of those involved in the sector. 

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