Head of Armenia’s Tourism agency has said the number of visitors to the country is growing at the rate of 20-25% annually, even though a World Economic forum report indicated that Armenia seriously lags behind its neighbours in tourism competitiveness rating.
Armenia was ranked only 90th out of 139 countries in the report, falling behind Turkey (ranked 50th), Georgia (73rd), Azerbaijan (83rd).
“We’re no less competitive than our neighbours. We have up to 25% growth, which I would call an exceptional figure,” Mekhak Apresian, Tourism department head of the Ministry of Economy told a news conference on Tuesday. ”This means that our tourism has demand in the international market,” he added.
Data from National Statistical Service shows that 113 thousand tourists visited Armenia in January – March, 2011, which is up 22% from the same period last year (93 thousand).
Armenia reported 684 thousand tourists in 2010, up sharply from 575 thousand 281 figure in 2009.
Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian has said on one occasion, that the country is expecting up to 700 thousand tourists this year.
Travel experts have been questioning government’s tourism figures and calling them “grossly inflated.” They say the official figures take account of all individuals entering the country, including scores of Armenians working abroad and spending holidays in their homeland.
The cost of air travel to and accommodation in Armenia is still disproportionately high by international standards. Churches and mountain scenery are the main attractions, but the tourism infrastructure is still rather underdeveloped. From what I know, capital Yerevan can barely host 5,000 tourists daily and large cities like Gyumri and Vanadzor have difficulty accommodating more than 200 people at once.
Diaspora Armenians and Iranians are probably the two largest groups visiting Armenia for tourism purposes in recent years. This has resulted in quite expensive infrastructure, so much so, that locals cannot afford to spend holidays in the country and prefer to travel to neighbouring Georgia and even Turkey, for more affordable and high-quality recreation facilities.
On the other hand, the Armenian government is certainly interested in showing inflated figures and thus demonstrating, that they are doing a good job in encouraging tourism, which is considered an economic priority for Armenia. But frankly,making up figures alone will not help here.