Why experiential travel is the way forward for tourism in Armenia

Why experiential travel is the way forward for tourism in Armenia

#Culture and lifestyle



The picture painted for travelers coming to Armenia is often one of towering peaks, deep gorges, and medieval churches – a visual wonder waiting to be explored. But Armenia is more than just its mountains and monasteries. It is a warm and hospitable people, a land where members of the Armenian Diaspora converge, where layer upon layer of history and culture are interwoven, creating a cultural landscape as dynamic as the rocky, biodiverse terrain beneath it. It is a land of vibrant music, ancient traditions, rich handicrafts, and proud celebrations of life. 


This is the Armenia that travelers can and should experience. But even as tourism in the country gains speed, this Armenia seems at times impossible to access. The market is saturated with products like sightseeing tours of monasteries like Geghard and Tatev, or ancient sites like Garni temple. While such trips might offer travelers a slice of Armenian history and architecture, they don’t provide any real opportunity to interact and connect with local people. The closest one might find is a family-run gastroyard or winery outside of Yerevan, but such experiences are little advertised and difficult to extract from the myriad tours offered by traditional sightseeing companies.


For those of us who know and love Armenia deeply, who come here to spend time with family or visit friends or try our luck at making it our home, finding footholds in the Armenian community is not so difficult. Meaningful experiences are everywhere to be found, so long as you know where to look and have local connections to help you. But for many travelers who don’t have that existing network, connecting to Armenia and its people can be challenging.


How, then, can the tourism sector in Armenia better facilitate connection between travelers and the country they’re traveling to? Experiential travel.


Experiential travel is a form of tourism in which people focus on experiencing a particular place by actively and meaningfully engaging with its history, people, culture, food and environment. Armenia needs more travel products that connect travelers to the country, that get them excited to journey into the unknown. This is the entire idea behind 2492 Travel, a new experiential travel brand and platform created by ONEArmenia (1A), a nonprofit that incubates and accelerates responsible travel experiences. 


2492’s goals are twofold: connect travelers with Armenia’s vibrant soul while creating sustainable impact in local communities. Take the concept of road tripping, a favorite pastime popular in the U.S. and Europe that has all the potential to do well in Armenia. While there are existing local car rental companies, hitting the road in search of adventure can be difficult if travelers don’t know what places and experiences are out there and can’t communicate in Armenian. 


2492 Road Trips solves that problem, setting travelers up with a newly refurbished, yellow-painted 2017 Lada Niva and tools like 24/7 customer support that take the planning and logistics out of road tripping. With the choice between a highly curated, thoughtfully researched wine-themed or Soviet-themed itinerary that has information on the places they’ll go and recommendations for where to eat, visit, and stay overnight, travelers get to connect with local people, places, and history in less-traveled parts of Armenia while bringing attention and revenue to these communities. This, plus a snack box filled with locally produced goodies and a playlist of Armenian tunes, allows for travelers to immerse themselves more fully in Armenian culture. Additionally, 2492 has partnered My Forest Armenia to calculate the emissions released from each road trip and plant trees to neutralize its effect.


Like all original experiences developed by ONEArmenia and operated by 2492, Road Trips has great potential to scale, with a plan for the addition of more vehicles and themed itineraries to choose from, as well as audio guides to go along with the physical itineraries that bring Armenian stories to life. 


Another product developed in the vein of experiential travel is Wild Food Adventures, a series of interactive culinary experiences set in Armenia’s untouched natural landscapes. The idea was to team up with local experience providers in locations across the country that would take travelers to places of outstanding natural beauty where they would serve a 3-course meal made with native recipes and local, seasonal ingredients and share their stories. 


Together with an Armenian food historian, the team researched the history of food in each region and worked with those same experience providers and hosts to curate a menu that would feature native recipes and showcase local produce and ingredients. At the same time, culinary and hospitality training with Yeremyan Academy was organized for all hosts, and procurement of cooking items ensured they’d have the capacity to provide a truly unique and unforgettable experience.


The first of the three locations launched for bookings was Wild Food Adventures: Areni Cliffs, which is set at the top of Noravank Canyon in the Arpa Protected Landscape, known for its diversity of plants and wildlife, including the endangered bezoar goat. The hosts, husband and wife Anushavan and Mariam, have been working together at their family winery for some years and were excited to share the culture of their region and some of Mariam’s favorite Armenian dishes. A guide with extensive knowledge on the local culinary traditions and nature accompanies the travelers on this experience, helping them to connect more deeply with the people, the food, and the place. 


The more adventurous traveler can book Wild Food Adventures: Yeranos Mountains, where Dvin village local Davit takes them into the Martian-like mountains of Yeranos, stopping to admire the view of the Azat Reservoir below before grilling a 3-course meal. Davit has grown up in these mountains, and wants to share his passion for cooking and off-roading with travelers. Preparations are also currently underway to make this specific location available for the winter months, further diversifying Armenia’s offering of travel products and generating tourist traffic in the off-season.


Back when Wild Food Adventures was only an idea, ONEArmenia submitted the concept to the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) 3rd Global Gastronomy Tourism Startup Competition, which aims to accelerate gastronomy tourism initiatives to achieve sustainable development goals. At this time, 1A and Wild Food Adventures has been selected as a finalist, and the team will present the experience next year in Japan alongside entries from Italy, Colombia, Bulgaria, and Japan. All finalists were selected because they are exemplary in enacting local impact and sustainability while providing a creative, immersive experience to travelers. 


Should Wild Food Adventures be selected as winner, ONEArmenia and 2492 will receive funding opportunities, as well as global connections, that will help them create more Wild Food Adventures across Armenia. They don’t just want to see their own original experiences find success; they envision a market rich with unique, creative experiential travel products that bring travelers closer to the heart of Armenian life and culture.


Road Trips and Wild Food Adventures are just 2 of many experiences that ONEArmenia and 2492 are creating which, in a few months time, will be available to book on the 2492 online platform currently in development. Moving forward, those options will only multiply, with the principles of experiential travel and sustainability at their core, so that tourism starts benefiting both the travelers who visit and the local communities that call Armenia home. 


Authors: Roza Melkumyan, ONEArmenia, 2492 Travel

Published on June 29, 2023