The Highway to Sustainable Regional Development
FLORIDA — On June 28-30, 2013, ATA Fellows (American, Turkish, and Armenian Fellows), which is a partnership of academics from the University of Florida, U.S.A., Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey, and Armenian State University of Economics, Armenia, as well as industry practitioners from each country, organized a conference on tourism and hospitality: “The Highway to Sustainable Regional Development.”
The conference was attended by CRRC-Armenia Junior Research Fellows Tigran Sukiasyan and Ani Karapetyan and brought together academics, researchers, NGO representatives, industry practitioners and scholars of different disciplines to focus on the knowledge development and implementation in the field of tourism and hospitality.
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John A. Heffern gave the opening statement, emphasizing the importance of the ATA Fellows Project. In turn, Dr. Artak Manukyan, Armenian Director of the project, made a presentation on the prospects of the opening Armenia-Turkey borders, where detailed analysis from different angles were presented.
The three-day conference integrated separate sessions focusing on the theoretical, empirical and sustainable development opportunities. The discussions of the first session were dedicated to Peace and Tourism, Tourism and Sustainable Development, as well as Tourism Management and Corporate Responsibility. Dr. Mahmood Khan, a professor from Virginia Tech, talked about tourism and peace, stressing that governments should not intervene in the process of tourism development; indeed, people should do the job. In that way, only tourism will lead to peace facilitation process, he stated. Another interesting presentation was made by Dr. Kaye Chon, a professor from the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He talked about innovative approaches to tourism and hospitality, and how they would lead to better quality and outcomes.
The second session of the conference was devoted to the Sustainable Tourism Issues and Capacity Building as a Prerequisite for Sustainable Development. During this session, several interesting comments were made by Armin Zerunyan, Country General Manager, Hilton Worldwide, Turkey, referring to the tourism development in Armenia. According to Mr. Zerunyan, high prices of flights to Armenia create a serious obstacle to the tourism development. Also, he pointed the importance of Armenian Diaspora for attracting more tourists to Armenia, bringing an example of Eastern Europe countries, which used their diaspora connections to create a well-developed tourism infrastructure. Lastly, Mr. Zerunyan marked out the importance of winter tourism for Armenia. As a supporting example, he noted that in winter, significant number of Turkish people travel to Bulgaria, where winter tourism is highly developed; indeed, by developing its own infrastructure, Armenia could be a strong competitor in that field. In addition, Dr. Muzaffer Uysal, Professor of Tourism at Virginia Tech, mentioned Italy with its free skiing and snowboarding schools having a huge positive impact on the tourism development, and suggested to implement similar projects in Armenia.
The last day of the conference summed up with a brainstorming session related to the further development of the ATA fellows project. The participants were divided into three groups: Research, Product Development, and Policy Making. In the Product Development part leading role of marketing and training for the actors providing tourism services, and investment opportunities for tourism development were emphasized, also stressing the fact that Armenia is the first Christian country (similar examples in other countries, where the religion played an important role for tourism development, were brought by Dr. Kaye Chon). More specific research in the region and cross border collaborations were proposed in the Research part, where CRRC Fellow Tigran Sukiasyan made a speech related to the project idea, which may contribute to the knowledge development and its implementation within the framework of the ATA fellows program. Database creation and analysis of the tourism trends in the Caucasus Region, cooperation with universities, NGOs, public and private institutions concluded the last Policy Making part of the brainstorming session.