Armenia has recorded some impressive gains over the course of the past decade as its tourism industry begins to recognize its full potential. Heading into 2020, Armenia was emerging as a popular tourist destination. However, COVID-19 reduced tourism in Armenia, with the country registering an 80 percent decline in 2020. Preliminary 2021 reports have shown a slight recovery in the sector as the number of foreign tourists are expected to reach one-third of 2019 totals.
As Armenia begins to command greater attention on the world stage, thanks in part to a peaceful revolution in 2018 that drew positive press, the country is attracting a new profile of tourists. In the past, Armenia had relied heavily on drawing visitors from the diaspora to see family and friends, and, to a lesser extent, business travelers. Over the greater part of a decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of arrivals in Armenia for holiday and leisure purposes. International arrivals to Armenia totaled nearly 1.9 million in 2019, a substantial gain over arrivals of less than 600,000 roughly a decade previously. Arrivals grew by 14.7 percent in 2019 over 2018.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s 2020 annual research on Armenia, travel and tourism contributed 11.8 percent to Armenia’s gross domestic product in 2019, providing 12.5 percent of total employment. International visitors contributed over $1.2 billion to the local economy through their spending in 2019, representing more than 20 percent of Armenia’s export receipts.
The government’s official tourism authority, the Tourism Committee, was established in 2016. The Tourism Committee has a policy function and has adopted a strategy for tourism promotion which highlights the different areas of tourism within Armenia including recreational, rural, spiritual, and cultural. More focused government policy interventions have helped grow Armenia’s tourism sector, and the government is keen to increase sector jobs and revenues.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, Armenia ranked 79 out of 140 countries, improving five positions over the previous year’s report. The report gave generally good marks to Armenia in terms of most enabling environment factors for tourism in Armenia but found shortcomings and room for improvement according to several other metrics, including infrastructure.
Limited international flight connections impede the development of the tourism industry. However, the government’s civil aviation reforms, undertaken several years ago, have resulted in the arrival of several new low-cost carriers in 2019 and 2020 that operate flights between Armenia and major European destinations.
Tourism patterns in Armenia tend to be highly seasonal, with the late spring, summer, and early fall months seeing strong inflows of tourists.
Armenia provides opportunities for many kinds of tourism, including: cultural, religious, ecological, agricultural, recreational, culinary, nature, adventure, and genealogical.
The country features a variety of cultural, natural, and historical sites, including six UNESCO World Heritage sites, medieval monasteries, churches, and fortresses. Thousands of hospitality companies operate in Armenia, including hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, transportation companies, tour operators, and travel agencies. Armenia’s key markets for international tourists include France, Germany, Russia, Iran, and the United States.
Yerevan serves as the main gateway to Armenia for most tourists. Armenia’s capital offers a continuously evolving restaurant, café, and wine bar scene with traditional and international fare. Lodging options continue to expand and the city has many museums, festivals, concerts, movie theaters, and green spaces. Many culturally, historically, and religiously significant sites are also located in Yerevan.
Tsaghkadzor is a ski resort town located a one-hour drive from Yerevan. It brings a significant number of international and domestic tourists, particularly in the winter. The town is served by a Marriott property. Dilijan is another popular retreat from Yerevan, with smaller hospitality establishments. Dilijan National Park, containing dozens of recently improved hiking trails, is nearby.
Lake Sevan, one of the largest high-altitude freshwater lakes in Eurasia, is a popular summer destination for international and domestic tourists. It offers opportunities for outdoor diversions and recreation, as well as places of cultural and religious significance. Vayots Dzor province is Armenia’s wine country. The region also offers cultural and religious destinations, as well as hiking trails. Jermuk is a leading health resort noted for its mineral waters and sanatoria.
Since 2015, USAID and the Smithsonian Institution have partnered to implement an innovative project to enhance cultural tourism in Armenia. The project aims to contribute to the development of the tourism industry in Armenia and ensures that the benefits of that growth are widely distributed across the country by promoting tourism in regions outside Yerevan. Under this partnership, the Smithsonian Institution ran an Armenia-focused program as part of the 2018 Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., which offered a U.S. audience a glimpse of Armenia’s rich culture and heritage. Festivals have become increasingly prominent in Armenia as well, with various events celebrating Armenian points of national pride such as wine, barbecue, and other dishes.
A number of other initiatives have taken place with the goal of restoring and preserving notable landmarks. One notable example of this is the Tatev Revival Project, a public-private partnership between the government and a private foundation that restored a major monastery complex in Armenia’s south and organized the construction of the longest reversible cableway in the world.
Armenia still has several regions with high quality tourist potential that still lack up-to-date accommodations, restaurants, and services. International partners have focused recommendations on the need to develop regionally located hotels and guesthouses up to a sufficient standard for attracting and hosting international tourists. The government has developed investment master plans around strategic corridors. Of particular interest may be the scenic but underdeveloped southern regions of Syunik and Vayots Dzor, as well as Gyumri and Dilijan, in Armenia’s north.
A number of international partners, including the World Bank and United Nations Development Program, have invested in supporting the development of Armenia’s tourism sector through market analyses. Various projects have examined questions such as infrastructure investment, skills development, product development, investment potential, and access to human capital as key considerations in selecting possible sites for tourism development and the creation of tourism corridors or circuits.
There are continuing opportunities for investment and commercial expansion in Armenia to support the steady increase of tourists. Well-known U.S. franchises, particularly restaurants, are in demand in Yerevan and the sector is showing signs of growth. Additionally, major U.S. hotel chains have entered Armenia or expanded their operations in the Armenian market.
- Ministry of Economy
- Armenia Official Tourist Website
- Armenian National Interests Fund (ANIF)
- Enterprise Armenia
- Statistical Committee of the Republic of Armenia
- UNCTAD Investment Policy Review of Armenia
- WTO Trade Policy Review: Armenia 2018
- World Travel & Tourism Council
- American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia
- Spyur Information System