Unique, EU4Business-supported mountain biking project in Armenia aims to bring more tourists to the region
A blank space on the world mountain-biking map has been filled in – by the Boo Mountain Bike Park in the Armenian city of Vanadzor, in the country’s northern, mountainous Lori region.
The new biking hub, which includes a pump track-a cycling playground combined jumps, corners, berms, rollers, as well as mountain bike trails, is the result of years of work by 30-year-old entrepreneur Emma Petrosyan.
Petrosyan, who has a bachelor’s degree in tourism, is passionate about nature, biking and yoga, and long nurtured the idea of creating one biking hub outside Armenia’s capital Yerevan.
So in 2017, she joined forces with her husband Vaghinak Karapetyan, an adventure lover, to develop outdoor tourism in Armenia – specifically in Lori province – and to promote the sport of mountain biking as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Say ‘boo,’ in Armenian
“Since mountain biking and nature are my hobbies, I’d long had the idea of living outside of Yerevan, far from urbanization,” says Petrosyan.
The Lori region has great tourism potential, a rich cultural heritage, and beautiful natural landscapes. The region also has a rich diversity of flora and fauna: In short – everything necessary for ecotourism and adventure tourism. Vanadzor, Lori, was thus the “natural” choice, according to Petrosyan.
And why the unusual name for the biking park, “Boo?” That too has a link to nature, as Petrosyan explains.
“’Boo’ means ‘owl’ in Armenian, and this region is home to the Eurasian eagle owl, which as far as I know has been on the list of threatened species since 2010,” she says.
Before the latest idea of building a pump track emerged, over a period of four years Petrosyan and Karapetyan explored the area, laying out and building mountain biking and hiking trails, and creating a Vanadzor bicycle tour. They also set up the Bike Centre and the Bike Café at the Boo Mountain Bike Park.
Then, in 2020, some of their activities had to be put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic and the military conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan. The two entrepreneurs focused on planning the next round of the expansion of the business.
“Our partner in Switzerland – Velosolutions – supported us at the early stage of building the new pump track – the formation of the idea and the realization of the process plan. But it was only when we learned about the EU4Business initiative and applied for funding (that we could go ahead with the idea),” Petrosyan says of the most recent addition to the park.
The two entrepreneurs applied for a grant from the EU4Business “Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia (ITTD)” project in 2021, and were awarded EUR 32,000 to construct the pump track from scratch.
Due to the lack of experts in pump track construction in Armenia, they brought in some international experts from Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and South Africa. They also hired 10 young people from Vanadzor to help in the construction process, giving them the chance to learn new skills and have some temporary employment.
Meanwhile, the EU4Business “Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia (ITTD)” project continues in Armenia. Its overall objective is to ensure there is shared, balanced and inclusive growth in tourism and innovative industries. The project works with innovative tourism ventures in the northern regions of Armenia, providing support to hi-tech and innovative entrepreneurs, organizing international knowledge exchanges for hi-tech researchers, and establishing networks to foster a business culture among students and the general public.
More than 150 ventures have already received support under the ITTD project, which has helped sustain or generate 400 jobs, and provided training for over 1,000 individuals.
The pump track at the Boo biking park was constructed from June to September 2022, and Boo officially opened it on 1 October. Rather than dirt, the circuit has asphalted tracks (so it can be used by skateboarders and scooter riders too), and it is already a hotspot for all kinds of riders seeking a fun and action-filled sports experience. It also offers training facilities for bikers, skateboarders, or scooter riders of all skill levels.
“We operate on weekends only,” Petrosyan says. “Usually, we host about 50 guests each weekend, who ride on the pump track and enjoy it very much. We also offer bike rental, and bike cleaning and repair services, so anyone who comes to us can enjoy the wilderness, fresh air, and an adrenaline rush from all the experiences we can offer over the weekend.”
“Vanadzor is on the pump track map of the world now!” Petrosyan says proudly.
“Infrastructure like this promotes both domestic and foreign tourism. We’ve already hosted small groups from Georgia – people who come to enjoy the mountains in Armenia for two days in addition to doing a tour of Georgia. I reckon there will be a flow of tourists of a completely different nature to Armenia, thanks to our Boo bike park!”
Biking is quite dangerous on the roads in Armenia, so the park project also encourages safe biking, and makes it accessible to both adults and children throughout the country. The park offers activities tailored for children and adults, bikers and hikers, or for those who just want to go to the mountains to enjoy the breath-taking views.
Petrosyan is also confident the park will also act as a catalyst for the development of the local economy in Vanadzor, giving a boost to not just the city, but the entire region.
“We also envision Boo becoming a top place to host cycling races and sports festivals in Armenia – not to mention attracting cycling enthusiasts from abroad,” says Petrosyan.