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Welcome Neighbors, Again: Travel more expensive, but Iranians expected in Armenia for Persian New Year

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Nowruz-yerevanArmeniaNow  -- Hotels, restaurants, concert halls and night clubs in Yerevan are ready to receive about 25,000 Iranian tourists who are expected to visit Armenia and on March 21 to celebrate Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, marked at around the vernal equinox time.

Maria Rameza, 38, will stay in Armenia with her family for almost two weeks. This is her fourth visit to Armenia.

“We stay in Marriott Hotel, paying $300 per day [for 4 people together]. Many people [Iranians] come to Yerevan these days. This is a preferable country for us [Iranians] both for the quality of services and their prices. We enjoy concerts, attend night clubs and casinos, which we do not have in Iran,” Rameza says.

Nonetheless, unlike last year, when many Iranians visited Armenia, this year the number of Iranians in the streets of Yerevan is quite small.

Endris Tohin, director of a Yerevan-based travel agency, which deals only with bringing Iranian tourists to Armenia, says this year fewer Iranians will visit Armenia unlike last year. Only about 500 Iranians will come to Armenia with the help of his travel agency.

“The problem is economical, related to the political situation in Iran. The exchange rate is very high in Iran now, and people buy currency to get out of the country. One dollar costs 20,500 Iranian rials, whereas last December one dollar cost 11,500 rials,” Tohin says.

Head of the Armenian Economy Ministry’s Department of Tourism Mekhak Apresyan says that tourism is a very sensitive sector (of economy), and any event, both political and financial affects it.

Apresyan ties the lack of Iranian tourists this year with the recent heavy snow, which resulted in impassable roads; however, he has not denied the high exchange rate in Iran as a reason.

“We cannot settle this problem. If the exchange rate grows, people buy less currency. In this respect, we may have some fall in the number of the visitors. We hope that it will not have a very negative impact. Nonetheless, as our colleagues of the private sector [travel agencies] state, more Iranians will visit Armenia, because weather conditions have become better,” Apresyan says.

Armenia as a tourism market has been active for Iran since 2007. From year to year the number of tourists visiting Armenia from Iran is observed to grow depending on various factors.

“One tourist who leaves Armenia being satisfied will bring dozens of new tourists to Armenia, who will come here having their friends’ good impression about our country in their mind. One tourist who leaves Armenia being unsatisfied means that hundreds of people will have a negative attitude towards our country,” Apresyan says. “Besides, Armenia has many sufficient attractions with its historical-cultural values, wonderful nature, legendary hospitability and brilliant people.”

According to the data of the Armenian Economy Ministry’s Department of Tourism, as many as 20,000 Iranian citizens visited Armenia during the Nowruz period in 2010, their number in 2009 during the same period was 8,700, and some 25,000 spent their Nowruz in Armenia in 2011. This year it is expected that again some 25,000 Iranians will visit Armenia.

In 2010, a total of 120,000 citizens of Iran crossed the border into Armenia, and in 2011 – 134,000. They pay 3,000 drams (about $8) for the entrance visa (for 21 days).

Many Iranians, who visited Armenia say that Armenia is a cultural area free from restrictions they feel at home. Here they have opportunities to communicate freely and to drink alcoholic beverages.

“The peculiarity of this holiday is that most people come here with their families, they rent private houses and spend the holidays here. They visit concerts of Iranian singers who visit Armenia from the United States especially for Nowruz,” says 36-year-old Ibrahim Olipur.

Director of ArmMelody Company Saman Saeed says in pure Armenian that he has been working in Yerevan for several years, and he always organizes concerts of Iranian singers in Yerevan during Nowruz.

“The concerts are scheduled on March 21-25. The tickets cost 26,000-30,000 drams (about $66-$76). There is no such opportunity in Iran,” Saeed says.

According to Apresyan, one Iranian tourist spends $1,000 on average during a trip to Armenia.

Iranian tourists celebrate Nowruz in Georgia and Azerbaijan, too. Last year Georgia removed the visa regime with Iran, giving Iranians an opportunity to enter Georgia freely.

“Along with competition I also see a collaboration here. Very often tourists prefer leaving for this or that country with tourism regional packages. Last year five percent of the Iranian tourists who visited Armenia also left for Georgia enjoying those packages,” Apresyan says.

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