This practical module is based on the theoretical module from the 3rd semester. At the beginning of the semester, the students organised themselves into a group of eight people with the aim to carry out a “Study Week Abroad 2019” in a destination of their choice.
After brainstorming and an open discussion it soon became clear that the group was interested in a destination where tourism is still in the involvement and development phase. As an overall theme Sustainable Tourism was chosen. Furthermore, the group showed interest in tourism fields such as Outdoor, Adventure, Local Food and Nature. This led to the choice for Armenia as a destination where the team wanted to analyse the sustainable tourism development and its future potential. The following are the research questions we established:
- What current sustainable touristic products exist in Culinary Tourism, Outdoor Tourism and Rural Tourism?
- What are the opportunities and challenges in the framework conditions of these products?
- What could be possible products and improvements for the future?
After defining the destination and the research question the period of preparation began. As soon as this part was concluded we had finally the pleasure of going to Armenia. On our first day in Armenia, we finally made it to the Getik homestay after an exhausting day traveling from Tbilisi to Armenia and visiting the beautiful city of Dilijan and meeting with the Dilijan College as the first business partner. Even though the tiredness was present among every team member, we had great fun discovering the homestay as well as meeting our hosts.The second stop on our route was the Old Bridge Winery in Yeghegnadzor. We tasted their delicious wines and once again had the pleasure of experiencing the famous Armenian hospitality with our hosts.
The following day, we drove to the Khosrov Forest State Reserve where we had the chance to meet Sunchild Tours and FPWC which are mainly taking care of flora and fauna in Armenia. As well we had the opportunity to stay at their chalet in the middle of the Caucausus Wildlife Refuge.
The next day, we traveled finally to Yerevan, the so-called pink city. However, before arriving in the city we visited the Fantan Farm to encounter the locals perspective about sustainable Tourism in Armenia. In the late afternoon, the team had a meeting with the NGOs WWF Armenia and Trails for Change. Both meetings were a fruitful exchange and helped the team build their knowledge further. On the second and last day in the capital Yerevan, we had the great honor to meet the ministries of Nature Protection and Tourism. Such meetings were really enriching for the group as we obtained a new perspective on our research question.
As we flew to Tbilisi and rented a van from there to drive through Armenia, we had to drive all the way back from Yerevan to Tbilisi on our last day, which was an exhausting journey, yet a very welcome time slot to lay back and reflect the whole studyweek and finish the research paper.
In general, the entire group was very satisfied with their study week in Armenia. Thanks to the varied itinerary which covered four different regions of Armenia, the group could experience the diversity and hospitality of the country and at the same time compare the touristic offers in terms of tourism development. The mixture of different accommodations was appreciated with the favorite one being the Ranger Campus in the Caucausus Wildlife Refuge where the group could spend a beautiful night in the mountains watching a clear sky with almost no light pollution.
Coming to the challenges of the week, one of the main concerns when organising the trip was the lack of English spoken in the country and the difficulty of finding business partners which could adequately communicate. However, in terms of the business partners this worry proved to be unfounded. All of the nine partners spoke sufficient English and it was never a real problem to get the needed critical insights into sustainable tourism which was expected from them. Moreover, all of the business partners were expecting the group and were happy to tell more about their products and projects.
As a result from the designed itinerary, the team had to travel many kilometers every day to meet each business partner which considerably affected the energy of the group. Sometimes it was very exhausting to still meet a business partner in the afternoon after having been on the road the whole morning. Nevertheless, the group preferred this way of travelling over staying in one place during the whole time period.
One of the main travel related issues was the difficult communication with the van driver. Even though the group had chosen Avis with the hope that as an internationally known rental company they would provide professional service there were some problems connected to the transportation. The driver did not speak any English which made it challenging to explain directions and locations where the group wanted to go.
Regarding the reflection and the content of the business meetings there was a steady improvement during the trip. As the trip went on, the reflections became more sturctured and more valuable. After each business encounter the team members had acquired more knowledge about sustainable tourism and the continuous learning progress allowed the members to ask more specific interview questions and also led to more in-depth discussions. Furthermore, as the trip went on the group dynamics improved and the relations and personal exchanges also became better between persons who had not known each other very well before. A very positive aspect was the enriching interaction with the accompanying lecturer Dr. Frieder Voll. Besides his valuable inputs regarding the research topic, his open and supportive attitude led to a positive atmosphere. At the end of the week, the group felt that each person had found his or her role and that a second trip would now run even smoother as a well-practised and experienced team.
Finally, it was very rewarding to see how much the business partners appreciated the meetings with the group and valued the gained inputs. It could be felt that the businesses in Armenia normally do not get a lot of international attention and that most business partners really wanted to hear the perspective of the study group on their projects. Furthermore, as Armenia is only in the developing phase the locals are still very open to suggestions and recommendations for improvement which in turn served as a motivation for the study group. The feeling of not only being welcomed but also being part of an ongoing change and making an impact was the best possible reward for the sometimes challenging trip. It showed that all the additional organisation which was needed because of the unconventional nature of the trip was worth it and paid off.
Lea Hürlimann, Tourismus-Studentin, war bei der Study Week für das Marketing verantwortlich.