AriТes travel agency is not an ordinary agency: under its slogan "Affordable tourism in Armenia", AriTes helps persons with disabilities to travel around Armenia.
Despite the rich cultural and historical heritage of Armenia, many attractions and tourist places are inaccessible to persons with disabilities. This also applies to the infrastructure at restaurants, cafés, and hotels.
"Within the framework of the EU4Business project ‘Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia’, we are implementing a programme aimed at making Armenia accessible to tourists with musculoskeletal disorders," says Sona Gabrielyan, AriTes travel agency director. “We have received grants for implementing this programme in three marzer (provinces): Tavush, Shirak and Lori."
Sona Gabrielyan said that even in 2019, there was practically no services sector for tourists with disabilities in Armenia: "There were no vehicles, no information about which hotels and restaurants can take care of persons with special needs. We have purchased special equipment, in particular, lifts for cars to meet tourists at the airport and help them travel around the country." There are ramps in many places, but they can rarely be used because they do not meet the standards. This is why AriTes has purchased mobile ramps of different sizes.
To make travel comfortable, we are creating a map of Armenia's services sector where places with infrastructure for persons with disabilities are marked. It can be found at https://arites.am/.
Due to the COVID pandemic, the number of tourists in Armenia has dropped. The project's implementation has slowed down. "But right now we are starting to actively implement our project. There is a demand, we receive applications from tourists with special needs. In addition to foreigners, local tourists can also take advantage of the project," notes Sona Gabrielyan. “When we visit restaurants and hotels in regions, we see that people are interested in investing and creating conditions for tourists with disabilities. Before us, this issue was simply not raised by anyone."
Robert Torosyan, an ethnic Armenian living in Russia, comes to Armenia every year to take an advantage of medical services and, at the same time, to travel around. Due to health issues, Robert moves around in a wheelchair.
"I love to travel, but, for me, travel should be comfortable. I like to come to Armenia, but the infrastructure in many places is not designed for persons with disabilities. There are many kind people who do not wait to be asked to help and offer to help themselves, but due to the inconveniences of moving around the city, it is very difficult for me to travel to Yerevan on my own," says Robert, adding that he would like to see more inclusive cafés and museums in Armenia.
Robert Torosyan noted that a specially equipped vehicle allowed him to travel comfortably. "In my condition, I can't get into the car on my own, so such transport has helped a lot. Such services are very important, and this area of tourism needs to be actively developed," he says.
A study conducted by AriTes showed that at the beginning of September 2020, 23.7% of tourists with disabilities who visited Armenia came from the Russian Federation. They are followed by Germany and France, from where 25.2% of travellers came. The third largest number of tourists come from Iran, followed by the United States. According to the study, about 9 million people in these countries move in wheelchairs, with 70% of them having financial and physical opportunities to travel.
Tigran Martirosyan, the founder of the AriTes travel agency, believes in the importance of this project. He believes that persons who move in wheelchairs want to live an active life and travel, but Armenia is still taking only the first steps in developing the necessary infrastructure: "Unfortunately, this problem was not given due attention in our country. After the earthquake, some infrastructure improvements were made in Gyumri, but Yerevan and other cities are practically not adapted for persons with disabilities. In Yerevan, only large hotels and service centres are adapted for the movement of persons with disabilities."
Arman Amoyan also came as a tourist to Armenia from Russia, because he likes to travel. "It is very beautiful here, tourists are appreciated, but there are no opportunities for moving. A simple path becomes sometimes an insurmountable obstacle for a person with a disability," said Arman Avoyan. With the help of AriTes, he has visited cultural and historical monuments in Armenia – the Zvartnots fortress, Etchmiadzin, the sights of Yerevan. He says that it was not everywhere convenient to move. "Perhaps, only in the centre of Yerevan are cafés equipped for wheelchairs, but usually it is inconvenient to use ramps. For example, one of the famous museums in Etchmiadzin turned out to be inaccessible to us due to the lack of ramps," says Arman Amoyan.
The authors of the project really want Armenia's inclusive tourism trend be further developed, even after the EU funding ends.
The EU4Business project "Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia" is co-funded by the European Union and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany. The project was launched in November 2019 and will continue until April 2023.