Agritourism in Armenia: Monetizing a Culture of Hospitality

(A.W)—Armenia gained its independence from the Soviet Union 19 years ago this year. Since then, the country has made great strides in attracting tourists to the country, but the tourism industry still has room for growth. The World Travel and Tourism Council reports that the tourism industry represents 9.2 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and employs 235 million people. Given more investment and entrepreneurial insight, agritourism is one untapped opportunity within the industry in Armenia.

About half a million Diasporan Armenians visit Armenia each year, but the tourism products and services offered are largely limited to religious sites and destinations like Lake Sevan. Even native Armenians are leaving the country for their holidays. Armenia’s Ministry of Economy 2009 Report stated that 516,000 people traveled to other countries in 2008 for tourism, which is more than a 10 percent increase from a year earlier.

Most tourists to Armenia are basing their stays in Yerevan. An Armenian international visitor survey from September 2006-August 2007 found that Yerevan had the highest percentage of tourist nights at nearly 65 percent, followed by the Shirak region at 9.5 percent (repeat visits to the 1988 earthquake zone may account for that number). All other tourist locations had less than five percent each of the tourist night distribution, with Syunik region at the bottom of the list with just over one percent.

The agricultural industry around the world has changed markedly in the past few decades, challenged by constant restructuring, and Armenia is no exception to this trend. Global trade agreements and low priced imports make it difficult for small farmers to compete with specialty wholesale fruit, vegetables, maple syrup, and honey, as well as commodity crops, no matter the quality of the operation.

Consumer concerns about the safety of industrial food production disrupt other aspects of the global marketplace, while rising input costs threaten the sustainability of many farms. Livestock and avian diseases have caused a reduction in demand for meat and poultry exports. Meanwhile, rural people often have limited options for change and eroding small farm incomes.

Why agritourism?

Agritourism has been key to augmenting agricultural economies around the world. It has been an important part of rural development in Europe. Within the European Union’s 1992 and 1996 Common Agricultural Policy, agritourism was identified as a key strategy to diversify agricultural economies impacted by cost-price squeezes and was supported by structural adjustment funding.

The practice of agritourism was developed step by step in Taiwan. The first step was recognizing the de facto agritourism that existed at produce stands along main roads where invitations for farm visits were extended on an informal basis. The first pick-your-own policies were created in 1982 with the Pick-Your-Own (PYO) Farm Project, which included accreditation of PYO farms, along with subsidies from the government to invest in construction and maintenance of tourist facilities.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center in Iowa, the benefits of agritourism are varied and numerous. It helps to sustain a rural way of life, provides a way toward economic growth, offers additional income for farmers and local people, keeps family farmers on the farm, contributes to the tax base for local and national levels of government, and gives farmers an opportunity to sell their products directly to customers and make more profit. All of these have helped small European farms deal with falling prices for commodities for years.

Agritourism plays a role in the diversification of tourism activities, while contributing to the nation’s bottom line. A 2008 study from the Journal of Sustainable Tourism about food tourism in Cornwall, England, indicated “that 42% of tourists look for local specialties with ‘local identity’” and that nearly 70 percent of vacationers are prepared to spend more on products that have a local identity.

Neighbors and consumers of agritourism operations benefit from high-value local/regional foods, guest rooms and farm stays, job creation, and branded regions for wine, cheese, and fruit, and cuisine. Nearby tourism-related firms and amenities benefit from increased revenues, communities gain more income-based taxes, and the development of the agritourism sector slows urban sprawl by keeping families on the farm.

On the ground

After viewing a slideshow of photos from agritourism operations across the U.S., farmers in three Armenian villages were receptive to the notion of developing agritourism services, and saw potential for serving both internal and external tourists. Two farmers, both women, said with conviction, “We can do this. And we can do it better.”

There remain concerns about implementation. “We would need help with advertising,” one farmer said. “We can take care of our fields and manage our garden, but we don’t have the time or expertise to establish and manage links with the people who can bring tourist groups.” Farmers in Mayakovski were concerned about insufficient land and water, as well as their proximity to the main roads. But they saw opportunity to get better prices for their milk and cheese. At present, they sell their milk for three and a half times less than what it is sold for in stores.

Financing new ventures for most Armenians is more than a little challenging. Even if you qualify to borrow money, traditional bank loans hover around 20 percent for home mortgages. Business finance is more expensive, even through microfinance programs such as Kiva and FINCA. A large farm might have the leverage to take out lower-interest loans, but not those who farm on a subsistence or semi-subsistence level.

Armenian farmers do not carry insurance to protect their investments against hail damage or early frosts. There was scarcely an apricot harvest this year because of late spring frosts. The government has at times provided property tax exemption or crop inputs in the event of a disaster, but these cases are rare and not consistent across the country.

Several families recognized that little if any investment would be necessary for a modest start to agritourism operations. The families in Khor Virap were quick to note that their village’s location on a main road—one that leads to major tourist destinations such as the Khor Virap monastery and Noravank—could work to their advantage. Yerevan-ites and tourists alike could stop at their farm to pick their own tomatoes from the family’s garden to make a fresh glass of juice en route to or from their southern destination. Even in the winter, they said, “we could offer homemade vodka tastings, cheese- and madzoun-making demonstrations, and dolma-cooking classes.” Another family said, “We can host people who would like to spend some time working in the village.”

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What does it take?

The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center reports factors that contribute to the success of agritourism businesses, including the authenticity of the experience, diversified on-site products and activities, high-quality customer service, provision of certain amenities, a safe and accessible environment, affordable liability insurance, core marketing and financial management competencies, and cooperative approaches to tourism corridors.

The obstacles that agritourism providers face in becoming successful include lack of business acumen, particularly in the area of customer service and marketing, high costs of good liability insurance, distance from a main road and major city, provision of amenities like parking, restrooms, and proper signage, compliance with the range of zoning, health and environmental regulations, and development of a diverse offering of products and services. Some of these obstacles will be more relevant in the Armenian context than others.

Both Nune Sarukhanyan, PhD, president of Green Lane NGO, and Anahit Ghazanchyan, MPH, PhD, country director of the Heifer Project International Armenian Branch office, emphasized that the number one problem in developing successful agritourism activities is the lack of proper toilets and consistent water supply. Ana Cristina Schirinian, the executive director of Fruitful Armenia, argues that the main hurdle to developing tourism is the high cost of airline flights. European tourists must pay at least $200 USD more in airfare than if they were to visit Greece, especially via the Russian-owned Armavia Airline.

Customer service is a common challenge for agritourism providers. “You can make me want to use an outhouse, if your customer service is great,” said Pam Karg, an instructor at the Agribusiness Teaching Center, a department of the Armenian Agrarian University set up by Texas A&M University and funded through the United States Department of Agriculture, operated under the International Center for Agribusiness, Research, and Education.

Sarukhanyan agrees that training of service providers and hosts would be necessary to provide customer service more in line with the expectations of Western tourists. Other training needs regard the lack of understanding of agritourism in general.

Schirinian notes that limited choices in lodging is also a problem. Lodging with families is an option, if you’re open to that and need to watch your budget. On the other end of the pricing range is the network of Tufenkian Heritage Hotels. Both ends of the spectrum are necessary to support healthy regional tourism, but there are limited choices for those who fall in the middle of the spectrum.

While telecommunications systems have improved dramatically over the past 10 years, there is still some doubt that telephone and internet connectivity is at the quality necessary to rapidly expand tourism outside of Yerevan. Similarly, the public transportation system is too limited and of insufficient quality to support major growth in internal tourism.

Naira Mkrtchyan at the Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development says it really boils down to having the right people. “If you don’t have the people, you don’t have the project. It doesn’t matter how clever the idea is,” speaking of prospective partners. “You can’t go into a poor, demoralized village and work miracles. The people need to own the project,” she emphasized.

Sarukhanyan and Ghazanchyan agreed that it is more effective to build on other successes. Current and previous clients of organizations like Green Lane, Heifer Project, and the Fuller Center for Housing have already overcome some difficulties and are better positioned to take a step like this than those who have not. Similarly, families that have been connected with foreign volunteers or visitors have the advantage of understanding better their expectations. In other words, success begets success.

Next steps

What would it take to make this kind of agritourism a success in Armenia? Well, the good news is that there is already some movement in the sector. Armenia’s Ministry of Economy included a section on new, competitive tourism destinations in its Armenia Economic Report 2009. Though focused primarily on the city of Jermuk and the Tatev area, the report’s stated assumptions regarding proper infrastructure development suggest an integrated policy initiative. Relatedly, the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia, a public-private partnership, is spearheading the Tatev Revival Project, which includes developing tourism products in the adjacent river gorge and villages, and a Cuisine Revival Project.

The 777 Van Winery near Khor Virap currently offers some agritourism services by providing tours of their traditional winemaking facility and lunches in their wine tasting parlor. One obstacle for them is that it is a secondary source of income, and thus difficult to expand with limited resources for staffing and capital improvements. The construction of their tasting facility and bathrooms that would meet most any Westerner’s expectations was funded by the Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development (CARD), which is largely supported by the United States Department of Agriculture. The winery faces Mount Ararat, provides lavash-making demonstrations, and shows how traditional winemaking was done in large clay containers.

CARD has also supported the development of HAM herbal tea company’s tasting facility in the village of Odzun in the Lori region, where tourists can visit the flora of the high mountains and taste the 15 locally-produced herbal teas sold under the Ancient Herbals brand.

Shake Derderian, general manager of SIMA Tours, said that although the agritourism efforts to date have not been sophisticated, there have been simple attempts to incorporate the grape harvest and winemaking festival with tours, along with apricot picking. “They are baby steps to get the farmer and tourist on the same page,” she noted. Essentially, there is a chicken and egg effect right now. When there’s no demand, there are no services. When there are no services, there’s no demand. And travel agencies will only offer agritourism products if they have complete confidence in quality service delivery.

Understanding agritourism can be difficult simply because of different cultural expectations about what constitutes a vacation. Many Armenians’ concept of a holiday is to spend a week or two on the shore of the Black Sea, eating and drinking, without any particular activity. The development of a professional exchange program for aspiring agritourism operators would be ideal, agreed both Karg and Sarukhanyan.

Karg assisted one young woman from the south of Armenia to travel to the Midwest of the United States with the support of a scholarship to study agribusiness operations. While there, she visited pick-your-own farms, a dairy month breakfast, a winery and an Amish community. She returned to Armenia with a much greater understanding of how agritourism activities can and should be operated.

For those who are already established, the Cochran Fellowship offers U.S.-based agricultural training opportunities for senior and mid-level specialists and administrators from public and private sectors who are concerned with agricultural trade, agribusiness development, management, policy, and marketing. Priority training areas shift over time, and may not be relevant to agritourism operators. The priorities for 2011 were food safety and animal health.

Making it happen

Monetizing a culture of hospitality seems obscene to some Armenians. Farmers express doubt about charging people for hospitality they would normally provide for guests. For those who can get past that concern, there may be a good market for people who wish to invest some time, expertise, and financial resources in the development of agritourism.

Philanthropists and entrepreneurs alike could nurture entrepreneurial creativity by launching competitions for start-up financing of the most viable venture ideas. Critical to success is finding prospective operations near well-maintained main roads, developing diverse packages of services that can be offered year-round, and marketing. A good place to start is along the roads between Yerevan and any of the major destinations, like Noravank, Lake Sevan, Garni, Etchmiadzin, and Haghpat. Other entrepreneurs have built demand for activities along those routes through the construction of boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts. What remains is for people to build on those successes to creatively meet that demand.

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Originally from a family farm in North Dakota, Kristi Rendahl lived and worked in Armenia from 1997-2002 and visits the country regularly. She works with the Center for Victims of Torture as the organizational development advisor to 10 torture treatment centers around the world, and is pursuing a doctorate in public administration. Rendahl writes a monthly column for The Armenian Weekly. She resides in St. Paul, Minn.
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26 Comments

  1. Another gem by Ms. Rendahl:
     
    I love this woman (…figure of speech,….similar to Bill Clinton’s “…I love you man…”).
    Learn something new from her articles every time – which explore unusual topics others don’t:  get ideas of new, unusual  things to do to benefit  RoA and her people.
    She has a level of deep insight into Armenia and Armenians, that frankly many (ethnic) Armenians don’t.
     
    Kudos to ArmenianWeekly for giving her a forum.

  2. Kristi, excellent article and a lot to be learn.
    I am doing something new, and i invite you to review our website “Hyelandz.Com” – it will be ready and running within a week.
    I am retired Armenian-American, and i’d love to hear from you and your comments.
    I have started the preparation of Hyelandz four years ago, and i am hoping it will be ready running this spring! Thank you

  3. I just  wrote my piece re above Ms. Rendahlh´s very informative post.Indeed it is very important .that  of Agritourism.But i wish ,with her permission to add my share to it.
    While a student in London England long ago,I knew  that  students who so wished would go to extend their help as FARM hands,spenind a 2 weeks or so in the country.While it was healthy,to work hard  and eat good farm food there,they also thus helped the farmers.
    But indeed my below is another suggestion,as  Ms. Kristis,not same as above,but somehow related.Thus.-
    Since 5 yrs been working hard to get Spiritual Tourism going in RA/Artsakh,while atending many a symposium ion politicla econimcal related in Yerevan.My Projection is  the following.-Spiritual Tourism, which i tried hard with Tour info , historian that keeps very well showing on T.V. the unfortunate stance  of some of these monasteries  around Yerevan and further away..these need  REPAIRS.Gaytzag, me that  is, has thought to have  3 DAY Kermez-FAIR, DONAVAJAR around each of these.While sending  our reps. of Touristic Agencies to get  the Villagers around such monasteries  to prepare for the sadi 3 DAY event brining  their FAR,handicrafts and traditional foods fruits etc., to seel, there.The Ground to be  flattened  or readied  for Tent/Camping for  Armenian  youthe FRO  US,Canda Argentian france  else plus regular tourists from anywhere to attend.How? by all more  3 ozen touristic agencies  in yerevan to adevertise  , in their booklets  before  hand and St. Etch miadzinb to send for theFIRST DAY ONLY  a pries to conduct mass, ETC., .vILLAGERS/FARMERS TO CONTRIBUTE  SOME pARTICIPATION fee FOR THEIR STANDS ALSO OTHER WHO WISH TO HAVE STAND  AT THE fairs,THUS WITH PROCEEDS THE COMMITTEE THAT WILL BE SET UP TO HAELP PREPARE ,REPAIR AND BUILD LAVATORIES  ADJACENT TO SUCH MONASTERIES FOR THE VISITORS ETC.,Then the Stand that  repressent Ms. krisits  Agritourism thereat can attract the young for same year or next to participate as FARM hadn  at given FARms  that wish to have  theses young come ,learn help and be healthy eatinc good farm food  there…
    Spiritual Tourism  can help REPAIR  those  monateries ,while enhancing Tourism  of Agricultural one etc., ewt., etc.,
    i shall if  get time write in this respect to her.I already have two ladies  in armenian associated with the Spiritual head(s) of _Regions  there  thinking  of same and ONE Tourist Agency recently in contact  with me.
    Thanks to Ms. Kristi again for good insight  and hard work

  4. Thanks for your comment, Ananoon. There can be a fine line between leveraging the long-standing traditions of hospitality and “selling out.” Call me crazy, but I believe that Armenians can maintain the authenticity of their hospitality while also improving their economic situation. Of course the notion of agritourism is not a panacea, but one opportunity for diversification. It is especially important for rural areas, which are facing increased out-migration and left with primarily aging populations. This becomes an even more critical issue when we consider depopulation in the border regions.

  5. Thanks, Antoine. You are a model for the Armenian World in launching these very kinds of projects. Apres and keep up the good work!

  6. Kristi,
    What an exciting, opportunity-filled article! It is an opportunity to help the struggling small farmer in our country; to get to know the rural districts that are off the main roads; to experience the solitude and peace and simplicity of a rural holiday. An opportunity to get away from life in the fast lane, the computer, the tv, the cell, the constant din of traffic, to  recoup in clean air eating simple, clean food, while at the same time helping our small farmers and their families.
    I have never been able to find a site where I can make a microloan to an Armenian farm woman. As you no doubt know, the ability to own a cow, or even to have a share in one, to buy bees to start a hive, chickens to farm eggs, a goat, some sheep, changes lives. I have at times been given as a Christmas gift, a card saying that a microloan had been made in my name to a woman who needed help with her farming. Sometimes it was to buy an animal, at times to buy hand tools. This is such an exciting, rewarding thing to be able to do. Just think; to help buy 2 sheep means that a woman can shear them and spin yarn and dye it with the local vegetation and then knit articles to sell! Who would not want to own such a hat or mittens or sweater? And why would you not pay her  top dollar for them, knowing that the money would help her to expand her little business. It takes so little to help her buy those sheep. She can milk her sheep and make cheese to sell. I am not surprised that you wrote “Two farmers, both women, said with conviction, “We can do this. And we can do it better.” These women can make changes in the lives of their families. It also gives them a sense of self-esteem and pride, and improved status within the home, to be able to help provide for the family. I do not agree with Ananoon. I think we should be more than willing to pay top prices, and more, and not go with inflated western expectations of hotel service, but rather, to go with humility and hope that we can help them better their lives.
    Do you know of a site for microloans for rural Armenian women?

  7. Kristi, the article was really very nice and informative.
    Thank you. I’ll keep you informed as soon as our website is ready.
    We hope you could visit Hyelandz one day and share your impressions with us.
    Thank you.

  8. DEAAR kRISTI ET AL,
    Firstly, I wish to apologize for bad erroneous writing.You see -secondly- I´m old near 80,months left to complete..but my request to you was to find out if my ¨suggestions¨as rgds having YOUTH and even Young men ,Young women going to Armenia/Artsakh be guided to go to WORK ON FARMS , for short stunts  of 2 weeks or so.If  you believe  it is not a good idea  then be it.Otherwise,please let me know,since I also wrote to you  at the e-mail address  you had  furnished  us with in this rgd.
    Thanks  in advance,
    G.P.

  9. Thanks so much, Perouz. There are a couple of interesting programs (at least) that speak to your interest of assisting rural women. You can look into providing loans through Kiva’s operations in Armenia. Also, you might consider donating to Heifer Armenia. Those are just two off the top of my head.

  10. Dear Gaytzag,
    I wholeheartedly agree that farm stays would be a wonderful way to learn about rural Armenian culture. Some of the farmers I spoke with were very interested in the prospect of hosting people, and even letting them work on the farm or in their gardens. As you likely know, it is a major concession for an Armenian to let a guest work in their home! At present, I think it’s possible to arrange through creative tour agencies or other contacts, but it’s not common. If more people ask for it, though, I believe the tour agencies and villagers will respond!

  11. Dear Kristi,
    Just discovered you and I am delighted to have done so…..read all your past entries too, and find them most moving….I too love Armenia, and an anxious to see success stories as you have written…..I look forward to reading more about your experiences…
    If you are ever in the NYC area, please let me know….I would love to meet you and have you make a presentation at our Church in White Plains.
    Sirov,
    George

  12. Thank you again Kristi for opening up this discussion and providing such good replies to the issues raised.
    There are many things that can be done by the readers of the AW to help in the win/win efforts of promoting tourism in Armenia (whether eco, agro, rural, spiritual…). Ideas are great, but contacts and a promotion effort are essential. Local Armenian tour operators and travel agencies cannot do it alone.
    The volunteering initiatives can very well coalesce with rural tourism. Kristi has already created “Habitat For Humanity – Armenia” which, in my perspective, is a successful hybrid between generous people volunteering to work on building someone’s house and these same people enjoying some rural tourism. Israel has very successfully attracted (non-Jewish) volunteers to work on kibbutzs. I have sent several young tourists to participate for a day or two in the grape harvest in our ‘Areni’ region. This initiative could be improved if the volunteer grape pickers could (like Kibbutz volunteers) come for the complete harvest season and then have the pleasure to participate in a better organised social function at the end e.g. a dance-filled ‘wine festival’ (they are too tired at the end of a hard working day to do much), see for example the photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aterjanian/sets/72157600803341470/
    The Kiva micro-loans idea is also good. Kiva ‘could’ give loans for rural dwellers to improve at least one room and their bathroom facilities, so more of our people can offer rooms with acceptable western standards to tourists and at the same time improve their own standard of living. We have given such loans to our neighbours and they are now very happy to welcome tourists. Incidentally this also answers the concern expressed by “Ananoon”, the tourist can make the payment directly towards paying back the loan.
    Most important, let us all get involved and follow Kristi’s example.
    AST

  13. Dear George,
    Thanks so much for writing. I’d be delighted to speak at your church sometime. And it’s easy to convince me to visit NYC.
    Mets sirov,
    Kristi

  14. Dear  Kristi,
    Thanks for your kind  and prompt reply. I shall let  you know  when and if  ONE Tour Agency,in particular  agrees to cooperation,such as continually advertising  in their Brochures re STUDENT programme  to go to work on Famrs  in RA/Artsakh.
    The other party  ,that  of the spiritual Tour  ladies  are there waiting my/our decision to go.
    Kind  rgds,
    G.P:

  15. The fine article on “Agritourism in Armenia” by Kristi Rendahl was thought provoking!  For me it was also mind wandering of memories of volunteer farm work during World War !!  Able bodied farm workers were being drafted for military service stranding marginal farms of labor. 

    The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture came up with a scheme to use volunteer youth age 16 to 18 to work on labor short farms.  It was called “Victory Farm Volunteers” and taken up by many youth groups, the Boy Scouts being one of them.  Haig Bogossian, of Brooklyn, NY,  was one of them who volunteered and upon returning to our Scout Troop,  told  stories of the healthy lifestyle working on a dairy farm far up in Vermont complete with great photos. 

    So, I too volunteered and worked on a dairy farm which was still milking cows by hand having been electrified in 1942 and that only the barn and barn yard!  Water was from a piped spring and toilet was the familiar out house.

    This is what I imagine many of the Armenian farms to be from the stories I have read in this newspaper.  Young people travel to Armenia and take part in many worth while projects.  Perhaps volunteering to work on remote country farms is feasible, not only helping the farm family but gaining an insight of the hardship underwhich they live to feed the many visitors to Armenia. 

  16. Seems to be a nice idea, but I personally think that there are a number of obstacles to overcome –
    1. The high airplane tickets make travels to Armenia quite expensive for foreigners, so the only realistic market is the Armenian Diaspora who periodically return home. The latter, however, have enough friends and relatives at villages, so the need for agritourism is minimal. I think there is no sense to make efforts in this direction until the transportation problem is there, so this becomes a political rather than economic issue.
    2. Why all those NGOs mentioned above make effort to develop agritourism? Just because they catch European and American grant money and try to launder them through the system making a beautiful impression that they are doing that great philanthropic work. Believe me that most of the NGOs mentioned above are gradually becoming commercially oriented and more and more often they become just simple businesses involved in import and/or trade of goods. Take CARD for example, it imports to Armenia the John Deer super-expensive machinery and makes its members buy them though its leasing organization. It is just an importer and retailer, rather than supportive organization. Why won’t it import cheaper machinery from Europe, Ukraine, or even China, huh? Then it imports all the German organic cosmetics and chocolate instead of supporting local producers. So it creates forced competition to local produce. Take even Green Lane, it sells its “organic” products to foreign clients, so it is directly involved in commercial activities, leaving under a huge question the source of that “organic”, and just putting a few nice pictures of hard working farmers on its website. Therefore none of those NGOs actually bring any sustainability to Armenia, UNFORTUNATELY!
    3. The initiative should come from villagers themselves. What they need? Just simple consulting and a bit training and leading. May be a few trips to Europe and the US as an encouragement, then this will be sustainable. And you can throw away all those supportive NGOs, Organizations, Associations, together with their multi-member staff members, fancy cars, and sweet promises.
    4. At this stage even if agritourism can work in Armenia, only to a very low level and certain extent, which will not make any positive impact on the farmers’ income.

  17. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Armen. You’re quite right that the cost of transportation remains a problem for any type of tourism in Armenia; that also came up in interviews, as noted in the article. As for the role of NGOs in this field and others, I think it’s good to view many things with a healthy degree of skepticism, but I’m loathe to dismiss them as completely ineffective and mal-intentioned.
    I fully agree that agritourism should stem from the farmers/villagers themselves. What is impeding that at present is simply insight on the types of activities that would be marketable, the awareness that such a market exists, and the necessary connections between themselves/their services and that market. After I simply presented some examples of agritourism to farmers, they quickly adapted the concepts to their own environment and articulated how they could make it happen with little to no investment. It’s certainly not a panacea, but it’s a tool to be considered within a larger strategic framework for rural development.

  18. Mr. Kemkemian:
    Every drop counts!
    A lot of the criticism you voice is well founded. On the other hand, Armenia and its tourism industry have made giant leaps since the dark ages of the 90’s.
    Yes, airtickets are relatively expensive, but how do you explain the steady growth in tourism since 2000? Not all of the tourists/volunteers came from neighboring countries or from Europe.
    Yes, NGO’s can be inefficient and have considerable unnecessary expenses and overhead, but some of them do achieve something, and have contributed in someway to the recent advance. But if this overhead bothers you, perhaps, when you are ready to do it, you could finance your own projects with “zero overhead” like I have been doing.
    I do appreciate the recommendations and the criticism you provide, and if you are not yet personally involved, in the field, I hope you will join. You ARE needed.

  19. Nice article!

    I was glad to read that so many people from so many NGOs are enthusiastic about development of agritourism in Armenia. However, I have an impression that most of the people interviewed confuse terms “trip/visit, tourism, rural tourism, agritourism, etc”. So, introduction of clarity into those concepts and common understanding of what is what, can do real steps towards development of rural visits/trips, rural tourism, agritourism, and mass tourism in Armenia.

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