In 2015, 1.19 million foreign tourists visited Armenia. That is one per cent fewer than in 2014, as the country attracted fewer visitors from Russia, but almost ten per cent more than in 2013. The country is also one of the ten safest destinations in the world, according to the Global Terrorism Index 2015. International airlines such as Air France and LOT fly to Yerevan regularly and Qatar Airways will begin flights in mid-May, 2016.
Emerging Europe spoke to Taron Margaryan, Mayor of Yerevan — Armenia’s capital city — about the city’s tourist attractions and its development, as well as the foreign investors who are already operating in the country. We also discussed investors who are interested in doing business in Armenia in the future.
Emerging Europe recently spoke to the Mayor of Plovdiv, which — just like Yerevan — is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. At the beginning of this millennium, the city was transformed into virtually one large building site. How do you see the city’s development in the years to come?
Both pieces of information are important facts. Yerevan is the capital of Republic of Armenia and it is one of the oldest cities in the world. Actually, Yerevan and Plovdiv are both ancient cities, but it should be noted that Yerevan has twice the area that Plovdiv has and it is expanding rapidly.
When we talk about the city’s being a construction site, I must mention Alexander Tamanyan, a famous Armenian architect and the author of the general plan of the modern city of Yerevan. That plan was originally laid out in the 1920s and 1930s, however, and was designed for a city with a population of 150,000. Since that time, the area of the city has expanded five-fold and the population has multiplied seven-fold. Yerevan has experienced unprecedented growth over the last century and has become the largest economic, scientific and cultural centre in Armenia.
The government’s strategy in the recent years has mainly been aimed at growing the urban economy, at the sustainable development of urban infrastructure, at ensuring the diversity of the urban environment and the establishment of high standards for the quality of life of its citizens and businesses.
In order to ensure that the development of Yerevan is balanced and sustainable, we are taking all the necessary steps to provide an appropriate and modern urban environment that will face the challenges of a globalising world. Currently, things such as climate change, resource scarcity, population growth and improvement of the eco-environment are the most urgent problems for all cities, worldwide. We also attach great importance to this issue and it is not by chance, that Yerevan has joined a number of initiatives, such as the EU “Covenant of Mayors”, and that it has voluntarily committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, within the city, by at least 20 per cent by 2020.
When it comes to infrastructure, what are the city’s plans?
Speaking about the main priorities in the city’s development with regard to infrastructure, I should mention that we are currently working on a modernisation plan for the public transport service in Yerevan, so that it becomes a more comfortable and easy-to-use service. I know that this is a problem, which bothers every resident of the city.
At the same time we are in the process of building new highways in Yerevan to reduce traffic congestion in the city-centre. I mentioned current priorities for the city, but we also have more, much larger future-oriented developmental plans. We would like to become one of the most comfortable and attractive cities in the world and I believe we have all the opportunities to do that.
It seems that Yerevan and Armenia, as a whole, are increasingly popular tourist destinations. The Global Terrorism Index 2015 includes Armenia among the world’s top ten safest places. In 2014, over one million tourists arrived in Armenia; that’s ten per cent more than the year before. Airlines such as Air France and LOT (Poland) fly to Yerevan regularly and Qatar Airways is starting to fly there this year. How many tourists already come to the city?
Yes, you are right, Yerevan is becoming more and more beautiful, year after year and it attracts many tourists. According to the state statistics, about one million guests and tourists visited Yerevan last year. Most of them stayed at least several days or hours in Yerevan, even when their final destination was not Yerevan. The capital attracts tourists with its history, its modern places for relaxation and its climate. What is more, many tourists say that Yerevan is relatively affordable for them.
Unlike lots of European cities, here, the ordinary tourists can taste not only fast food but also healthy and delicious dishes from Armenian cuisine. Of course, those tourists who visit Armenia for a longer period also visit other places of interest in Armenia and get to know our culture and unique nature.
Let’s take a look at the entire country, now. In the latest Doing Business report, Armenia ranked 35th, ahead of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, or even Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg. The World Bank says Armenia has made dealing with construction permits easier by exempting lower risk projects from having to get approval of their architectural drawings from an independent expert and also from a technical supervision of the construction. Yerevan produces over 40 per cent of Armenia’s GDP, so how has the municipality made doing business easier?
I think that, as a developing city, Yerevan is more promising for and interesting to investors than cities in the European countries you mentioned. Historical, cultural, geographical and economic specifics have a strong impact on the development of the city. Opportunities and areas for investment are vast and the city government is trying, in turn, to create the best possible conditions for a business environment and for increasing those investment opportunities.
We have significantly reduced the time required for issuing building permits and documents. Of course, we take into consideration a number of specific points, such as the volume of objects, their significance, the importance and complexity, as well as safety for humans and the environment. Along with design permits, the necessary technical supervision can also be provided to the constructor for free by engineering services, as an integral part of the project.
In order to make the processes faster and more efficient we have introduced a “one-stop-shop” workflow system within the municipality, which ensures the transparency of workflows presented by both legal entities and individuals.
What about the human potential — Yerevan has 45 of Armenia’s 50 universities. How would you describe the pool of talent available to investors?
There are many inter-governmental, public and private universities and branches of foreign universities in Yerevan. Highly qualified Armenian specialists are in demand among international organisations and foreign companies operating in Armenia. I would like to mention that Armenian universities provide high quality education for our youth and perhaps it will be surprising for you to learn that foreign students are also interested in studying at Armenian universities (particularly in the domains of medicine and information technologies).
There are already student centres in Yerevan offering new learning environments, which are based on modern methodological and technological approaches that mean students can acquire all the necessary skills to be successful in the 21st century.
See full text of the interview at : http://emerging-europe.com/regions/armenia/armenia-yerevan-offer-safe-investment-and-tourism-to-a-growing-world/