Responsible tourism in Armenia

Since Armenia regained independence, many rural areas have limited employment opportunities available. Tourism can provide an important source of jobs and income for young people especially, and one that is helping to keep communities together and old traditions alive. Income from tourism also helps substantially with the preservation of ancient churches and monasteries around the country, and the conservation of ecosystems in places such as Dilijan National Park and Arpi Lake National Park.
As the country continues to grow in popularity as a destination for cultural and religious tourism, responsible tourism in Armenia can help the proceeds of growth be spread equitably, and hopefully ensure that tourism does not have a negative effect on the communities and environments that it depends on.

People & culture in Armenia

Rising from obscurity

Thorny relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, and a collapse in industry after the Soviet Union split, have led to problems with unemployment and poverty that especially affect more rural areas of Armenia. The chance of better employment prospects abroad has led to significant levels of emigration and a ‘brain drain’ among younger generations.
What you can do
Supporting local businesses, especially outside the most popular resorts, can help deter migration to the cities, or further afield. That goes from staying in family run accommodations to buying your snacks from roadside stalls, such as the barbecued corn on the cob you’ll often see outside monasteries.

The beauty of Armenia is that it’s not a well known destination. While you can expect warm hospitality everywhere you go, outside major destinations such as Yerevan, Jermuk and Lake Sevan the tourism infrastructure is barely developed. A lot of the time you will be staying in small, family run guesthouses in locations where there is not a great deal to do by night. But that’s the joy of traveling in Armenia – you’re blazing a trail in a country that’s still relatively unknown.
Natalie Fordham, from our supplier Wild Frontiers:

“I think responsible travel in Armenia is just showing an interest, and traveling with an open mind. Armenian people are very aware that their history is not well known, and they just want to be acknowledged and understood. They remain so friendly and calm even when sharing their very sensitive history. Spend your money responsibly, visit different shops and restaurants to spread it around.”

Wildlife & environment in Armenia

Beach bummer

The only beaches to be found in landlocked Armenia are those of Lake Sevan. Unfortunately, many of the prime sandy spots have been taken into private hands over the years and are now only accessible to hotel guests, leaving fewer options for local residents. Lake Sevan has other issues too, including habitat loss and illegal fishing.
What you can do
If you’re at a local restaurant, it’s not easy to know whether the fish you’re eating is sustainably caught or not, but if you see khramulya on the menu, give it a miss, as that’s the species in the worst shape at the moment.
Other ways you can make a positive difference at Lake Sevan are to ensure you carry your litter away, eat at independent restaurants, and wear eco friendly sun screen if bathing in the lake.

Armenia responsible tourism tips

Eat local. Actually, in Armenia you’ll usually be eating local every day with no effort required on your own part. Most meals, especially in rural parts, will use seasonal produce drawn from the local area, often small-scale farms. Your food miles are more likely to be food metres in Armenia, and many people here would be amazed that ‘farm to table’ is a marketing concept in some countries, rather than a way of life. Like many countries, Armenia has issues with waste disposal and recycling. Tap water is clean and safe to drink, so bring along your own reusable bottle and your guides will be happy to help you refill it. In Yerevan there are also freshwater springs called pulpulak out on the streets – this is potable, too. Armenia has so many cultural hotspots and UNESCO sites: Geghard Monastery, the Genocide Memorial at Yerevan, 7th Century ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral, mediaeval monuments at Sanahin or Haghpat, just to name a few. The entrance fees ensure that these sites are protected for future generations to enjoy. Beachwear should stay on the beach. Unless you’re sunning yourself around Lake Sevan or taking a dip in the mineral waters of Jermuk, you should dress modestly in Armenia. That especially applies of course when visiting monasteries and churches where respect for religion is taken very seriously. The 1915 genocide, and the ongoing dispute with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region are not especially controversial subjects, but you should still exercise sensitivity when discussing them.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: ReflectedSerendipity] [Dilijan National Park: H-dayan] [Local bread seller: Rita Willaert] [Lake Sevan: Cschopp] [Eating local: tomasz przechlewski]