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 Saturday, September 10 2016 12:23
Tatevik Shahunyan

Armen Qefilyan: To develop tourism in Armenia, one should welcome each visitor as a dear guest

Armen Qefilyan: To develop tourism in Armenia, one should welcome each visitor as a dear guest

ArmInfo. The cozy and homelike Qefilyan guest house is located over the picturesque Debed River gorge, nor far from the Haghpat medieval Armenian monastery. At first sight, its only difference from similar local facilities is the beautiful stained-glass windows on the building façade that catch the eye from afar.        

The landlady, Lia by name, greeted me right at the entrance gate. It was a warm welcome, the kind that Armenian hostesses usually give their dear guests. She offered me a cup of coffee while the concierge was lifting our things to the room. At first it seemed to me that the landlady just took a shine to us, because at hotels it is usually the well-trained employees that welcome the visitors with a token smile. But having spent a few days there, I understood that Lia welcomes and sees all her guests off in the same warm and kind manner so that each of the visitors is eager to return to that picturesque and cozy place some day.           

Over our seven-day stay at that hotel, Lia gave us her warmth and exceptional attention, trying to find out our food preferences in order to surprise us with some new dishes for dinner or supper. We gradually made friends with the landlady and our conversations went beyond the cuisine topics. Yielding to the journalistic curiosity of mine, Lia told me the whole story of her family and the story of her business and success.

To be honest, before visiting the Qefilyan hotel, I did not even suspect that so many tourists travel to Armenia from various corners of the world. Every day over a hundred travelers from all over Europe and Israel had meals at the hotel restaurant. What amazed me most was that the travelers were Europeans, not Armenians from the Diaspora. Most of them would spend their night at the hotel to continue their journey further to Dilijan or Georgia, because the expensive air tickets or the lack of convenient flights make them visit Armenia in transit via Georgia.       

Lia told us that her family business founder is her husband Armen, whom I happened to see at the kitchen of the restaurant but did not suspect that the man skillfully handling the kitchen knives was the landlord. “Armen is a cook. In the daytime he works at the Flora Restaurant, which is on the road leading to Alaverdi. It is not our restaurant, we are just renting it. In the evening, he comes here. In addition, he is the chef at the Alaverdi copper-molybdenum combine,” Lia said. I have to admit that her story surprised me very much because we are accustomed to the fact that as a rule, the owners of restaurants, hotels and other facilities in Armenia are state officials, not ordinary workers, who start their business with a rent of a restaurant in a remote town, where the socio-economic situation is much worse than in Yerevan.

So, I decided to get acquainted with Armen in person and to learn his success formula. Armen proved to be a modest and at the same time sociable man. The impression was that he gave interviews quite often and even needed no suggestive questions (this is a quality that most of the Armenian officials and politicians lack). “You are very interesting to talk to. Would you like to run in the next local elections?” – I asked him. “Spending money on electoral campaign? I’d better spend the money on developing tourism, doing good to both the country and me,” he replied.       

Armen assured me that Armenia has a big potential to develop tourism. “What you see now is only a small part of our capacities. In case of an efficient policy, it would be possible to double and even triple the inflow of travelers to Armenia. Little is needed for that - it is necessary to improve the infrastructure and rehabilitate the roads,” he said. By the way, Armen himself built the road leading to his hotel from the highway.   

He noted that the inflow of travelers to Armenia has intensified since 1998. “At that time, I was only renting the Flora Restaurant. Initially, we received income from the local visitors only, but starting from 1998 foreign tourists, who arrived in Armenia to see Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries, visited us, too. Another interesting detail in those years was that the tourists visiting Armenia sought to enjoy the local color here rather than comfort, trying to become utterly absorbed in rural environment, tasting the local food under the trees or on the grass. They invited me to make barbeque and other traditional dishes right in the yards. This lasted for about 5-6 years until I decided to open my own guest house, because travelers had to pass dozens of kilometers to reach the nearest hotel. I needed financial means for that purpose. I was denied loans at the banks. Fortunately, one of the local entrepreneurs stood bond for me and I was provided with a loan. The risks were high and my wife was trying to discourage me, but I was sure of success. I was working hard, keeping my nose to the grindstone. Serious health problems arose but I did not give up even in the hardest minutes, because I realized the need to keep working,” Armen said.

“And still, there are a lot of hotels and restaurants in Armenia and in Lori Province in particular. How did you decide to run the risk and what is Armen Qefilyan’s success formula?” I asked. “The secret is quite simple – it is necessary to welcome each visitor as a dear guest, to make the meals for him/her personally, and to create a warm family atmosphere. The most important thing is that one should not work exclusively for the sake of money and profit. Believe it or not, but when launching my business, I was not even making serious calculations; I just wanted to fulfill my dream. I did it and my dream brought me success. Today, around 120 travelers daily have meals at my restaurant. Last year, their number totaled 6,500. Moreover, not only the number of tourists but also the geography of the countries they represent is growing. Earlier, the visitors were mostly from Europe, but now tourists come also from Arab countries, Japan, Israel, and Russia. So, if you are a truly competent person, if you believe in your success, you should go for it. Probably, you will see the results in 6-8 years, but you will see them by all means. Don’t be pessimists,” he said, noting that after he repays the loans in a few years, his business will bring him real income.

I was also surprised to see Armen’s attitude to loans. Usually borrowers are discontent and complain of loans, but what Armen said was: “One should not be afraid of loans. One should love them and ‘take care’ of them. In that case, they will yield fruit”.      

The meeting with these people inspired optimism about the future of Armenian provinces and the republic in general. It seems to the residents of the capital city that life in the provinces has stopped in tracks, whereas the example of Armen and his family proves the opposite. Due to his business, dozens of people from the remote rural communities of Haghpat, Shnogh, Akhtala, and Alaverdi have sustainable employment. In addition, the local villagers have received an opportunity to sell their food products, because the dishes of the restaurant are almost totally comprised of local food – sour cream, matsun, milk, eggs, meat, honey, etc. 

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