Summers in Yerevan usually mean rushing out of work to meet family or friends visiting from abroad. Summers in the city mean restaurants and open-air cafes overflowing with locals and visitors, the sound of music and laughter wafting through the warm air. Walking down the street in the summer means bumping into acquaintances and hearing a variety of languages being spoken - from German to French, Arabic to Farsi, Spanish to Italian. Weekends in the summer usually mean taking day trips to one of Armenia’s countless tourist destinations, having barbecues, sitting by the shores of Lake Sevan trying not to get burned by the scorching sun, a typical occurrence when you’re at the mountain lake. It means being prepared at any given moment to receive a spontaneous phone call, “Hey, I just landed in Yerevan! When can we meet?”
Summers in Armenia mean destination weddings and baptisms, family reunions, endless festivals and parties and fireworks. It means reconnecting with the natural landscape and the stunning vistas of Lori marz or the ancient caves of Syunik. It means walking into centuries-old churches and monasteries and breathing in the cool air as the smell of incense transports you to another time and place. It means taking tourists through the long winding roads to get to Artsakh, where the green is deep and mesmerizing, the people tough as nails yet intensely and profoundly warm and welcoming.
As the last of winter would slip away and the trees and flowers would begin to bloom in the early days of spring, we would brace ourselves for the tourist season, oftentimes saying “See you in October” to our local friends because we knew we wouldn’t have a moment to breathe. For the past two decades, this is how our summers have been. Especially for those of us who continue to have deep connections to family and friends and communities that stretch from Buenos Aires to Sydney.
And then COVID-19 forced its way into our lives.
This year, there are no tourists, no airport pickups or tearful goodbyes, no late night phone calls or text messages asking where to find the best khorovats; there are no festivals or weddings we were so looking forward to; no more lazy morning breakfasts or nightcaps on our terrace with brothers and sisters and friends; there are no tour buses or groups of tourists asking for directions. There is no need to make reservations at restaurants, if you even dare to go out. When you order a taxi, you’re not left stranded because the companies are overloaded. In its place is an unfamiliar atmosphere and vibe.
In February of this year, the United Nations World Tourism Organization listed Armenia among the 20 fastest growing tourism destinations in the world.
In 2019, more than 1.9 million tourists visited Armenia, a record high for the country with a boom in tourism expected for 2020. Booking.com included Armenia on its list of “Top 10 Tourist Destinations” and it was featured in a number of travel publications. Tourism was expected to provide a much needed boost to Armenia’s economy this year.
According to the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the global tourism section is poised to lose at least $1.2 trillion in revenues. UNCTAD warns that the loss could rise to $2.2 trillion if the stall in international tourism lasts for more than eight months and the picture is even bleaker if the trend continues for longer than a year - a loss of $3.3 trillion or 4.2% of global GDP. With such numbers, it’s difficult to calculate the severe economic consequences that will be felt by almost every country on the planet, including Armenia.
With suspended flights and closed borders, and the pandemic continuing to dominate our lives and lifestyles, the summer of 2020 in Armenia is indeed a much different place.
All the fountains in Yerevan - from Republic Square to Aznavour Square - have been turned off. There is no water in Swan Lake or swans or crowds of tourists.
The city is still beautiful, people still go out for evening strolls, restaurants and cafes are open, but something is different. You’re not here.
Last Week's Editorial