Championing the principles of responsible travel in Armenia’s tourism industry

Championing the principles of responsible travel in Armenia’s tourism industry

#Culture and lifestyle


Last summer, ONEArmenia made an announcement: after over a decade of organizing and fundraising for social impact projects in Armenia, we were directing our focus to building up the country’s travel industry. With new direct flights to and from countries across Europe, international buzz garnered from Eurovision stars Maléna and Rosa Linn, and endorsements as an underrated travel destination from the likes of Condé Nast Traveler, celebrity chef Rachel Ray, and Queen guitarist Brian May, Armenia is poised to finally take its place on the global travel radar. Armenia is 11,484 square miles of pure discovery and untapped potential in terms of what travel could do for the country and for the world. 


This isn’t our first foray into tourism. Back in 2017, we partnered with WineWorks and DZ Studio Shelter Construction to invest in grape growing families and develop wine tourism in Southern Amenia. With the financial support of our global community and GIZ, we helped a local family, Nver and Narine Ghazaryan, turn their budding wine project into the boutique brand Momik Wines. Since then, Momik has been a popular excursion for travelers coming from around the world.


There is also HIKEArmenia, the first and only project of its kind in Armenia to boost tourism Armenia by creating and maintaining hiking trails across the country while making them more accessible to travelers with a free app and website. In 2015, we raised almost 30,000 USD to fund the app’s creation and the marking of the first 5 trails. After HIKEArmenia’s initial success, the Hovnanian Foundation took full responsibility for funding and scaling, while we helped with promotion. Today, HIKEArmenia exists as its own non-profit organization building the necessary infrastructure to make Armenia’s nature accessible to locals and travelers alike while facilitating rural economic development and promoting sustainable ecotourism. 


Our mission has always been to raise the standard of living in Armenia by creating liveable, sustainable incomes for local people, but now we also want to emotionally connect travelers to Armenia’s vibrant soul in the process, and make Armenia the #1 destination in the South Caucasus. In service of the latter, we recently launched a for-profit organization and experiential travel brand, 2492, after spending a year conducting research on Armenia’s tourism sector and identifying areas in need of development. As for the former, we are incubating travel products that adhere to the principles of responsible travel.


Responsible travel is travel that minimizes negative social, economic, and environmental impacts, generates greater economic benefits for locals, and enhances the well-being of host communities. We also work with local partners to develop and manage travel products while promoting environmentally-friendly practices and ultimately creating more meaningful experiences for travelers. Furthermore, all profit generated from experiences booked on the 2492 platform is either reinvested into those products to increase their capacity or used to create brand new experiences with locals in other parts of the country. 


We keep a pulse on the impact of our products with the help of a detailed scorecard that rates each product’s potential for sustainability on a scale of 0 to 5, measuring a number of factors in the categories of social, economic, and environmental impact. If we find that an experience is scoring too low, we either make the necessary adjustments to make sure it makes the greatest positive impact possible, or we reconsider moving forward with the experience entirely. 


We have already launched a few products through 2492, including Wild Food Adventures, a series of interactive culinary experiences set in Armenia’s untouched natural landscapes, and Road Trips, which takes travelers on a self-drive adventure into the Armenian countryside with the help of 24/7 customer service, a 2017 Lada Niva, and the choice between a wine or Soviet-themed road trip itinerary. 


We want to help build up creative, sustainable travel experiences in as many parts of the country as possible, making sure that the profit gained from Armenia’s budding tourism industry goes to the local communities who call this place home. That’s why back in January, we launched the “Inside Armenia: Enhancing Tourism Experiences” project, co-funded by the European Union’s EU4Business “Innovative Tourism and Technology (ITTD)” initiative, and set out to identify and enhance travel experiences in the Tavush, Lori, and Shirak regions, with the aim of increasing their unique tourism appeal to drive tourist traffic and spending to rural communities.


After carefully considering nearly 200 applications, we chose 10 experience providers who we felt had great ideas, but would benefit from either financial assistance or greater access to capacity-building training sessions in areas like content marketing. Now, we are working closely with each partner to make these experiences a reality, supporting them in procuring equipment, building their brands, and organizing training sessions in customer service, the culinary arts, and social media advertising. 


One of these partners is Vigen Mnatsakanyan who, inspired by his childhood working at his grandfather’s bee farm, started a farm of his own in the hills of Alaverdi, Lori Province (originally called ArmBee, recently renamed Alaverdi Honey Farm & Meadery.) In a short time, he has grown his farm from 2 bee colonies to 160, and has begun producing honey wine in addition to honey. He envisions a bee-themed experience for travelers, who will get a short guided tour and introduction to beekeeping, try on the protective gear, and take a closer look at the life of these bees. They’ll see how honey wine is produced and bottled, and then get to try it for themselves, along with other honey-based foods and desserts like baklava.


We have been working with Vigen to procure the necessary equipment for wine-making, and Vigen’s wife Sona participated in a 10-day training session with Yeremyan Academy in practical culinary skills as well as a 3-day training session in hospitality and customer service. She is one of several experience providers who have attended this training under the “Inside Armenia: Enhancing Tourism Experiences” project. In addition to providing Alaverdi Honey Farm & Meadery with a logo and branding, we are also providing branding for their honey wine, called 21 days. The development of this experience not only supports Armenia’s bees and thus, the environment, but it also brings travelers to Alaverdi, a rural area, and encourages them to support the local economy.


Including Alaverdi Honey Farm & Meadery, we are currently developing 5 culinary experiences, 3 wellness experiences, and 2 adventure experiences. All of these will be available to book on a new 2492 online platform, making them accessible to any traveler coming to Armenia.


Increased traffic in the tourism sector won’t just bring more positive attention to Armenia, it will help stimulate an already growing economy. It’s up to us to make sure that stimulus benefits the local people who need it most.


Author: Roza Melkumyan

Published on June 29, 2023