If you have ever dreamt of going to the forest just for listening to the silence, having dinner at reservoir shore, tasting the "wild" food of this or that region in the mountains and gorges, or sharing the daily life of mountain people, then next year you will have these opportunities in Tavush, Lori and Shirak.
At the beginning of 2022, a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between ONEArmenia and the EU " Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia” project. Within the framework of the latter, it was planned to develop through joint efforts experiential tourism in three northern provinces of Armenia. As a result of cooperation "Inside Armenia. Developing Tourism Experiences” program kicked off, within the scope of which 10 experiences have been selected.
Experiential tourism, unlike traditional tourism, involves all senses of the visitor, and in addition to classical tourist products, conveys the most important thing, i.e., the emotions.
Mediamax has talked about the project progress, expected experiences and experiential tourism with Narine Abgaryan, the coordinator of Inside Armenia program.
What is Inside Armenia?
Inside Armenia is a tourism experiences enhancement program. Its long-term objective is the development of experiential tourism in Armenia, since the country has great potential in this context. As we claim in ONEArmenia we want to make Armenia number one experiential tourism destination in Caucasus in the upcoming years.
We carry out Inside Armenia in cooperation with the EU4Business “Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia” Project implemented by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).
The aim of the project is to identify and promote exciting touristic experiences in three northern provinces of Armenia, namely in Lori, Tavush and Shirak. When we started accepting applications, we received many interesting projects that were still at conceptualization stage, so it was necessary to work on them from scratch. As a result, we decided to give these projects a chance and to undertake the responsibility, supporting them from the ground up and developing jointly the conceptual approach.
What Is Experiential Tourism
Experiential tourism is the most candid way of offering tourist products. It is one of the branches of experience economy. Both concepts are relatively new. Experiential tourism implies visitors’ engagement, i.e., the tourist, the visitor is not in the role of a passive observer or consumer, but is fully engaged in the environment that is created within the frame of the experience.
One of the most important features that distinguishes experiential tourism from traditional one is the authenticity. In case of experiential tourism, any falsity, staging, playacting is rejected: the environment, the host, everything should be exactly as it actually is in the given region. Today, working with ten selected experiences, we are still developing the skills of hosts, creating the narrative behind the experiences, but we never change its background. We just seek to give some tips on how to introduce properly what we have into the tourist market.
If in case of traditional tourism, more attention is paid to visitor's comfort as well as to functionality, then in case of experiences the main focus is on visitor's emotions, creation of impressions and memories. There are languages into which the term "experience" has not yet been translated and the concept of "tourism of impressions, memories" is used instead. Experiential tourism works with all senses of а visitor, giving an opportunity to penetrate, touch, see and experience the authentic environment and become part of it.
Listening to Pine-Cones Popping Open, Enjoying the Wildlife
When we made an advertisement about the launch of the project, we received about 200 different ideas from three regions. The selection phase was very demanding. Now I can say that we have really made the right choice, because the authors of ideas are highly professional and open to cooperate. This encourages us a lot, suggesting that the end result will exceed our expectations.
We have selected 10 experiences from three provinces, 5 of which are gastronomic experiences. I must say that all five are extremely different from one another and are mostly implemented in the open air, combining the natural and cultural landscapes. Food culture is also very different in the provinces. As I have already mentioned, preservation of authenticity is one of our fundamental ideas, and in this context, we have started to cooperate with the National Institute of Ethnography and Archaeology. We will be working with ethnographers, to have everything scientifically confirmed. Traditions of the region shall be studied, and only then it will be decided what dishes to introduce and in what form.
We have developed a new concept in ONEARMENIA- the “wild food adventures”, offering to taste local natural food in the open air with the help of mobile canteens.
In Shirak, for example, we have chosen two gastro-experiences: one will introduce rural, traditional lifestyle, the other one will be more innovative and will give an opportunity to taste signature dishes on the banks of Akhuryan Reservoir. We have a gastronomic experience in Odzun, which will introduce the flora and fauna of Lori.
We have an exciting experience in Berd region, Tavush province, where the visitor will learn about the lifestyle of local mountain people. Of course, it will be combined with comfort and organized in compliance with all international standards. There will be a thin line between comfort and real life.
We have several experiences in "wellness" tourism. This field of tourism is just starting to develop in Armenia, even though we have great potential here. There will be "cold therapy" with a combination of a warm sauna and cold river water in the forest adjacent to Vanadzor. We have another wellness experience- all about honey and beekeeping. In this case, the visitor will take part in the creation of a new product in Armenia - honey wine (mead).
We have another completely new wellness experience: "silent tourism". A natural site away from civilization will be chosen, where visitors will be offered comfortable armchairs, wine, plates with local snacks and an opportunity just to sit and "listen to the silence". We have already tested it ourselves and it is amazing that in silence and peace it is possible to hear even the sound of pine-cones popping open. It is an experience cleansing completely the mind and soul.
We will introduce another interesting experience in Tavush province, in cooperation with "Darman" tea. There will be meditation in local mountains, accompanied by an Armenian tea ceremony developed in cooperation with specialists.
We have still another experience which is new in Armenia: "urban exploration". This includes tours to abandoned factories, mines or other urban infrastructure. This approach allows to tap the "dormant" tourism potential of Armenia in full.
I think that the above-mentioned experiences will be available to visitors as early as next tourist season. We intend to use the autumn of 2022 as a pilot period and appear on the market next year.
Development of the Area Through Tourism
One of the cornerstones of experiential tourism is the background behind the experience. The visitor should realize what was special about this or that plant he tasted, why that particular place was chosen for the experience, how this or that tradition was shaped. So, along with the development of experiences, the most important task of ours is the storytelling, formation of a narrative. The story, indeed is built on reality, we just advise the host on what to make an emphasis on and how to present it properly.
Creating a story about each experience requires lot of research, which can be carried out through review of literature and study of other sources, as well as interviews with experts and locals.
Of high importance also is the ethics of presenting the cultural heritage. Before introducing the experience into the market, all our partners will undergo this training and we are very happy that the authors of the selected experiences espouse our ideas. They understand that they are not just starting a business, but they are responsible for representing the local history and traditions. They will be the bridge through which Armenian culture will connect with the world.
In general, the term cultural heritage is today most commonly used with reference to culture connotating the past. With our experiences, we rather seek to highlight the living, existing culture and also to create a new one: to enjoy nature leaving no footprints, to experience the culture handed down from the past applying new approaches.
We do not intend to promote tourism, but rather to use it for the development of particular area, culture. This is the approach that nowadays leads to success.
Traditional Tourism is Running Its Course
As much as theory is concerned, the experiential tourism is based on two main resources: experiences that the given country seeks to preserve and to show to the world.
For example, Canada develops experiences showing the life of indigenous people, Kenya and Australia focus on showing their wildlife.
This is important for Armenia as well, because experiential tourism will allow to preserve intangible cultural heritage and at the same time to show it to the world. We have lot of potential here; we just need to put it on the right track.
Traditional tourism is fading ever more over the years, since people's demands are changing. The visitor no longer seeks for conspicuous consumption, he needs to get emotional satisfaction. Tourist offers should be formed based on demand, and today people need impressions. Nowadays, people want to take emotions with them from their journeys.