YEREVAN — Highlighting the economic importance of the tourism sector and the value of cross-border cooperation, U.S. Ambassador Richard M. Mills, Jr. joined members of the Turkish-Armenian Tour Operators Network (TATON) during a meeting in Yerevan on Wednesday, August 26, 2015.

TATON developed as a result of USAID’s “Bridges” project, an effort to develop economic activity on the cross-border region through tourism. The network’s membership includes the most active travel companies and tour operators in the region.

“The Turkish-Armenian Tour Operators Network and its members are working together to tackle the difficult task of cross-border cooperation,” Ambassador Mills said. “One of the most effective drivers of cooperation is common business interests. This association’s goal of promoting business and the business interests of the local Armenian and Turkish communities is very laudable.”

Armenian and Turkish tourism operators already offer cross-border tours. Turkish tour operators are part of an established tourism sector seeking to add extensions to traditional Turkish tour packages. Armenian operators seek to expand their offerings to include multi-country tours. TATON facilitates collaboration on such cross-border trips. Though TATON routinely operates through an online social network, occasional in-person gatherings allow tour operators from both sides to meet, share concerns, and formalize agreements on joint tours.

“Tourism plays an important role in economic development, and when local communities cooperate economically, they broaden their horizons and share the benefits,” Ambassador Mills said. “Cross-border tourism highlights the commonality of communities as much as it celebrates diversity. Armenia and Turkey share more than they sometimes realize: environment, history, and many aspects of culture.”

USAID has been working with the Armenian tourism sector since the early 2000s. Primarily, it has focused on improving service quality and building the capacity of Armenia’s tourism sector.

For the on-going “Bridges” project in Armenia, USAID partners with the AMAP (Armenian Monuments Awareness Project) Human Development NGO, best known for installing educational signage at some of Armenia’s most unique historic and cultural tourist spots.

Prior to the creation of TATON, the “Bridges” project helped local partners to develop the Black Sea Silk Road Corridor through Greece, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia.

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