Remarks at Launch of “My Armenia”

Your Excellency Prime Minister Abrahamyan, Minister of Economy Chshmaritian, Minister Poghosyan, Deputy Minister of Economy Avetisyan, Ms. Butvin from the Smithsonian Institution, Embassy colleagues, and distinguished guests,

Your presence here today is a testament to the value and importance that the Government of Armenia places on the ground-breaking cultural tourism initiative that we have the pleasure of launching today: “My Armenia.”

The purpose and goal of our “My Armenia” project is to put Armenia on the map as a world-class tourist destination. Anyone who has had the good fortune to visit Armenia knows what I do: that Armenia’s rich cultural heritage, stunning landscapes and beautiful natural environment, unique and delicious cuisine, and welcoming people make it a natural destination for the global tourism market, which is constantly growing and seeking out new places to explore.

The “My Armenia” project is a $5 million, four-year partnership between USAID and the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution that harnesses the range of expertise within both organizations to maximize their project’s impact and success. As I’m sure most of you know, the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex.  This project brings Smithsonian’s innovative approaches to scholarship, community-based research, curation, and interpretation to strengthen Armenian cultural heritage.

This flagship cultural heritage tourism activity will combine Armenia’s existing historical and cultural sites with the Smithsonian’s ability to craft a tourism story that will appeal to a broad international market.  By working with Armenians to tell “Armenia’s story,” the project will help to captivate the imagination of travelers and encourage and inspire them to visit.

And of course, increased tourism will bring enormous benefits to the Armenian economy. Tourism can directly generate employment through hotels, restaurants, taxis and souvenir sales while also indirectly generating employment through the provision of goods and services needed by tourism-related businesses.  This has the potential to redound to the benefit of other key industries, including everything from agriculture to jewelry production.

Presently, Armenia’s tourism market is relatively narrow and the economic benefits of tourism are concentrated in the capital city and a few outlying areas.  Most tourists who visit Armenia tend to stay in Yerevan and venture outside the capital for day trips only.  Our “My Armenia” project will ensure that the economic benefits that come with increased tourism are widely distributed throughout the country. First of all, USAID and the Smithsonian will work with Armenians working in the tourism sector to identify anchor tourism sites outside of Yerevan and link them together in a tourism circuit that spans the length and breadth of the country. The project will then provide technical assistance to develop tourism products and experiences along the circuit that will encourage visitors to travel outside of Yerevan and spend more time and money in the regions.

The “My Armenia” project is one of many initiatives and programs implemented by the U.S. Government over the past two decades to support rural economic development, and underscores the U.S. Embassy’s strong and enduring commitment to partner with the Armenian government and people in growing Armenia’s economy.

USAID and the Smithsonian will closely coordinate with the Government of Armenia, including the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Culture, as well as the Development Foundation of Armenia’s Tourism Department, to ensure the “My Armenia” project will last beyond the duration of this four-year partnership and investment.

USAID and the Smithsonian will also coordinate with current and future donors in the tourism sector, including the World Bank, whose 55 million dollar “Local Economy and Tourism Infrastructure Development Project” will build infrastructure necessary to support cultural tourism.

Finally, I know that many people within the global Armenian diaspora are searching for ways to preserve and disseminate Armenian culture and give back to the mother country. We hope that the Smithsonian brand, with its international reputation for quality scholarship, research and museum curation, coupled with USAID’s reputation for effective, transparent project management, will help encourage private sector and diaspora contributions to Armenia’s tourism sector.

Let me close by reiterating how proud and happy I am to launch the “My Armenia” project, which I think is an incredible opportunity for Armenia, and an outstanding example of what can be achieved when the U.S. and Armenia work together in partnership.  I wish you all every success, and look forward to hearing about the project’s many achievements over the next four years.

Thank you.