Tijay Jeghelian


Tijay Jeghelian

“We choose anything that is innovative”

Regional Post met the head of EU/GIZ funded Tourism Innovation Academy to discuss what changes are needed in the industry to make Armenia more competitive on the world travelers’ map. 

Interview : Hasmik Barkhudaryan    Photo : Tourism Innovation Academy

Ms. Jeghelian, what brought you to this industry and to this project par?

My background is in the hospitality industry. I used to work in hotels back in Lebanon. So, when I repatriated to Armenia 14 years ago I thought – I’m going to make a big change here in Armenia in the tourism industry. First, I did my Masters at AUA specializing in marketing industry, worked at different events with Deem Communications, and got acquainted with the CBRD program which was the center for business and drool development at the time. One of our projects with CBRD was helping B&Bs in different regions of Armenia: I went there and helped people who were building their B&B houses. 


At the time tourism in Armenia was only making its first steps, wasn’t it?

Yes, but eventually it developed, the number of tourists grew, and global hotel brands began to enter. I worked in different hotels, specializing in marketing and the sales. And finally, three years ago, I joined Impact Hub as a program manager. When we heard we had an opportunity to work in a tourism related project, we knew I was going to be the best person to run this project. The project is founded by ITTD project within EU4Business initiative and implemented by GIZ Armenia. 


Tourism Innovation Academy was supposed to start in March of 2020, but then there was the pandemic, and the war…

At one point we weren’t even sure we would start it at all. To be certain, we actually went to the Northern regions to see if they were still interested in the program. We did that workshop in all three regions, and had a lot of people involved. We basically told them, “OK, this is great – the country is ready to work on the tourism industry. So, whoever has any idea or whoever has a startup or has done some research, or whoever has an existing business, please apply.” 


What kind of projects are you focused on? 

We chose anything that was innovative, related to the three main priority fields – wine tourism, adventure tourism, and winter tourism. A lot of people here have creative ideas but they are unable to implement them in the right way, because tourism here has always been like – “Whatever, we’ll have some “spyurkahay” guests anyway, let’s keep it the way it is,” and that’s it. Instead, we suggest that we focus on innovation. Let's do something innovative, people have so much creativity, let's help them take the idea and try to implement it. 


How does it work?

We validate the idea, we test it, and we tell the applicant if it is the right idea in the right region, after which we teach him or her how to actually put a business plan and how to write the proposal. It’s called an academy for a reason: we are teaching here. It's a two-year program supported by ITTD project within EU4Business Initiative.


How many projects are selected for incubation?

46 projects were selected out of dozens. Applicants have three months to do the incubation. There are workshops and trainings, where the trainer – individually matched for each project – works individually with all their projects and ideas, and guides them through the process. 


Who are these mentors?

We have both local and international mentors from tourism-related expertise, generally from the hospitality sphere. It’s amazing how involved they are! 


What about matching? How does it happen?

We do an assessment analysis, so I need to meet all 46 projects one by one. We discuss with the applicants what they have done so far, what is it that they want to do in these three months, then we match them with the mentor who is going to help them the most. Besides, there is another opportunity from EU4Business ITTD project: during these three months they are going to open a Grant scheme so these participants can apply. We are helping applicants to write the right proposal in the right way and get the support. 


In the global world of tourism, what is it that Armenia can really offer to the travelers?

Experience. Because, when you're coming to Armenia, ok, you have this beautiful, amazing scenery, the rich history with all these fantastic churches, but what is important is the experience itself. When you say we have amazing food, it is the experience of that food. Tourists need to experience and feel the authenticity of all this heritage. When they are going to the regions outside of Yerevan, they feel the authenticity of the people, their hospitality, and the simplicity of things. There they feel who we are and what the essence of Armenia is. Armenians have always been very hospitable, we always welcome guests in our houses, if we don’t have anything in the fridge, we can easily borrow something from the neighbors, just to be good hosts. But we need to understand that tourism is a bit different, it’s an industry. And a guest in this case is not just a friend, he is a client who wants service. When it is a business, it is a different mindset, and I want these people to just approach it in a different way.


So, can we say that TIA is more about outbound tourism?

No, we don’t specify, it’s the beneficiaries who choose their niche. Anyway, right now it’s more about domestic tourism as the borders are mostly still closed. It was really booming last year and uprising: Armenians finally started to value what they have in their own country. So, for our beneficiaries this is an opportunity to start a business and have some practice on the local travelers. Overall, I’m really proud of the amazing project we have in the academy! I’m sure, very soon we are going to have dozens of fantastic options for both foreigners and locals to feel and experience Armenia like never before!

Tourism Innovation Academy

Tourism Innovation Academy, supported by EU4Business initiative, has a goal of boosting early-stage tourism-related startups in their entrepreneurship journey. By nurturing innovative startup businesses, this project aims to support them in their pursuit of becoming scalable, profitable, sustainable and impactful enterprises. 
The Tourism Innovation Academy implemented by the Tourism Support Center Foundation and funded by the EU4Business “Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia” Project, in cooperation with Impact Hub Yerevan supports to drive innovation in the tourism sector and promote purpose-driven entrepreneurs by equipping them with relevant skills, knowledge, access to networks and increasing their capabilities to compete in national and global markets.

Related Articles