IT as a tool for Armenian Tourism Industry
Tourism was declared a priority in Armenia in 2001 when the country was
celebrating the 1,700 anniversary of its proclaiming Christianity as a state
religion. In the following years the number of foreign visitors to Armenia
grew by 92%. In January 2001 the US and Armenian governments set up the
Armenian Tourism Development Agency (ATDA). In September 2001 sponsored by
the International Executive Service Corps, ATDA opened “ARMENIANInformation”
the first information center in the South Caucasus. Armenia possesses vast
cultural and historical treasures but they can hardly make the country a
tourist attraction unless given an appropriate information frame. Experts
say that to become a developed tourist country Armenia needs a strong
information backing. It’s here that Armenia’s second priority, information
technologies, come in helpful. ARMINFO’s correspondent has asked ATDA Deputy
Executive Director Angela Sax to specify how Information Technologies are
used in tourism.
AI: Could you please tell us about ATDA?
A.S.: Our key objective is to present Armenia abroad and to shape its image
of a developed tourist country. We work in three directions: first, to get
involved and to involve other tourism companies in international
exhibitions; second, to actively cooperate with foreign journalists and tour
operators; and third, to arrange various events, like the Kenats festival,
and to ensure their broad coverage in the foreign mass media. The number of
tourists visiting Armenia has doubled in the last three years. I am not
saying that this is our exclusive accomplishment but we have quite a big
share in it.
AI: What do you think about the role of IT in the development of tourism?
A.S.: Information Technologies are simply indispensable for Armenia, a
country almost unknown by the world, I mean on the tourism side. Internet
has long become a part of lifestyle abroad. People even grasp the
information easier when it is presented electronically. That’s why
internet-promotion is so important for shaping the country’s image.
Quite recently we opened a web-site complying with all the modern standards.
Of course, we had some on-line based information before but it was rather
scanty. The development of the new web-portal was
sponsored by USAID and with technical assistance by International Executive
Service Corps (IESC) and TIB, Armenian software development company.
The portal presents Armenia’s sights, cultural and historical values,
national parks, art galleries. All this content will make tours
unforgettable. The site has merged modern “high tech” interface with “high
art” aesthetics, utilizing both ancient and modern Armenian motives. From
interactive maps of cultural landmarks to a comprehensive and easily
accessible database of tour agents, hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and
so much more, the ATDA portal has become the web’s one-stop, on-line,
Armenian tourism venue. Much like the ATDA’s now famous ARMENIAInformation
visitor’s information center, at 3 Nalbandyan Street in the heart of
Yerevan, the new ATDA web-portal is a virtual, full service concierge
facility and an expansive compendium of useful information and resources –
whether that be for travelers and tourists or history lovers and the arts
literati. Sections are thoughtfully organized with easy access navigation
bars; graphics and photos are vibrant and compelling; maps are easy to read
and truly interactive, providing details on any given point in Armenia with
the click of a mouse. Background information and helpful travel hints are
available at every turn; shopping and recreation sites are explored side by
side with cultural centers, museums, concert halls and art galleries;
Armenia’s vast array of architectural monuments and sacred sites are finally
presented in such a way that travel planning is almost as fun as the actual
visit. The site also provides a thorough and constantly updated calendar of
weekly events, available either online or via e-mail subscription. With this
new site, the ATDA has really given both the interested traveler and the
tourism industry professional, no matter their point of origin, a place on
the web to fulfill, as well as provide for every type of Armenian tourism
and travel need.
Today we enjoy wide contacts abroad established mainly through international
exhibitions. The first question we are always asked is whether we have a
web-site. Quite natural as in five minutes we cannot tell everything about
ATDA and Armenia while those concerned want to know the most of the country
they are going to visit. Nowadays, Information Technologies are the most
effective and the cheapest way to disseminate information and to keep in
touch with people.
AI: What achievements have been made in Armenian tourism in the last years?
A.S.: We have already founded an association for coordinating tourist camps
all over Armenia. This is an opportunity for tourists not only to leave
Yerevan for the country-side but also to stay, shop and buy services outside
the capital city and thereby to boost the economic development of the
regions. Foreign tourists enjoy comfort and road restoration project by the
Lincy Foundation came in quite handy. One of our greatest accomplishments is
the recent amendment of article 34 of the law On VAT exempting from VAT home
tourism as well as the services provided by Armenian travel agencies abroad.
This change will make it cheaper for foreigners to come to Armenia. We hope
these changes will cover the hotel business as well.
AI: What can you say about the work of the local travel agencies?
A.S.: All our tour operators are professionals but some of them still keep
to the methods of the Soviet times when the key emphasis was laid on
historical and cultural values (pageant and Christian cathedrals). But after
visiting two-three churches a tourist begins to lose his/her interest in the
country. And so we need new approaches and technologies – ethnic tourism and
AI: Are there any projects to develop the so called “extreme” tourism in
A.S.: The country has all the natural conditions for developing the extreme
tourism. But this type of business needs an appropriate infrastructure –
hotels, restaurants, services – and this all needs considerable investment.
The construction of one ski route is not a way out of the situation. Here we
can only advise. The solution is to invest. There are many businessmen who
are ready to invest money in Armenia. Why not redirect this funding to
developing extreme tourism?
AI: Drawing parallels between the two Armenian priorities, IT and Tourism,
what can you say about the attention that the Government pays to these
A.S.: I would not separate these sectors as they complement each other. Both
of them have substantial problems with infrastructure which though very
slowly but are being solved.
Note: The web site was designed and developed by
TIB company on OpenSource technologies which provide robust services, stable
work and security. The system makes it possible for the administrator to
manage the content of the site quickly and easily. Few interactive sections
like Interactive Map of Armenia, Airline Map, and Virtual Tour are created
by joint use of Macromedia Flash, PHP and MySQL database server. The web
site has a search engine, which makes it possible to make a search within
the site as well as from Travel Agencies/Tour Operators’ web sites and other
Armenian tourism related resources. Developer company (TIB) also took care
about the mirror page which is located in the USA and automatically detects
the closest server to redirect users making the view of the web site as fast
as possible independent from the user’s location. The website was developed
in UNIX family OS (FreeBSD, Linux, etc.) using web server Apache 1.x and
higher. Dynamic pages were scripted in PHP with MySQL database back-end.
XHTML (also DHTML) was used as a markup language.
By Viacheslav Khachatryan, ARMINFO News Agency
In cooperation with Siliconarmenia.com
© SiliconArmenia 2001 – 2004