- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 2, 2003 

The Welcoming Business: "B&B" network being developed in regions

A sign points the way to a new kind of accommodation in Armenia.

It is past midnight and it turns out that the only hotel in Goris doesn't have hot water. Outside, the rain is pouring buckets, and no one is there to tell you where you can find a room for the night. Getting out of the car seems like a big mistake. Now, drenched and frozen, you only need a hot shower.

To your amazement, Goris happens not to be that bad, and your hunt for a hotel ends up with even a hot bath and fresh milk. Under a small sign, with the caption "B&B", a tiny unpaved road leads to the entrance of a three-floor building, where a man with a large smile opens the gate and closes it back and tells you, "Welcome!"

"Is it really a Bed and Breakfast?" you wonder and, while the man calls his wife to meet the guests, your attention is seized by two certificates framed on the wall, which attest that Karine and Khachik Mirakyan have attended B&B trainings and now run this business by themselves.

With their house as the only capital, Khachik, 40, a painter and a former University teacher, and his wife, Karine, 31, thought that rural tourism is an unexplored ground that they must try to profit from.

Shared by Khachik's parents and the Mirakyan's two children, their house is still big enough to receive guests.It has six rooms, four of which are designated for the B&B purpose, including an auto garage and garden. Before renting facilities to tourists, Khachik and Karine removed all of the unnecessary furniture from the rooms, made a modest renovation, installed a new TV set and bought new towels and bed sheets.

Khachik and Karine are open for business in Goris.

"I wanted for a long time to open my own business in tourism, but I didn't have money," says Khachik. "So, I decided to use the only assets I had: my house and the labor of my family."

When he said labor, Khachik meant his wife and himself. While Karine is doing the cleaning in the house, laundry and cooking, her husband manages their business, including the advertising, welcoming guests, negotiating prices, and making plans for the future.

And advertising a B&B in Armenia today is not like advertising, say, car wheels. It takes effort to explain what a Bed and Breakfast is. The Mirakyan couple says people reacted differently when they first saw the B&B plate. "Some even thought that Khachik's mother, who is an eye doctor, opened an eye care medical center and named it B&B," laughs Karine.

But it took a while for Khachik and Karine as well to get the picture of how Bed and Breakfast works. They both attended several B&B workshops organized by the Honorary Consul of Estonia in Armenia, with the financial help of the Academy of Educational Development. They also exchanged ideas with an American couple from the U.S. state of Maine that has run this type of business for more than 15 years.

"The most important thing we've learned about B&Bs is that we have to understand what our clients want and to make them feel at best."

In fact, what makes a B&B different from a hotel is the family-like surroundings that the tourists receive. As the Mirakyan couple puts it, "it makes you feel like home when you're away from home."

But the Mirakyan family is not the only one operating a B&B business in Armenia. Avetik Ghukasyan, Honorary Consul of Estonia in Armenia, is helping establish a whole B&B network. He himself attended trainings in Israel on development of rural business and got the idea that the greatest concern of any tourist is accommodation.

Fresh milk is part of the accommodation at the Mirakyan B&B.

"Knowing how beautiful Armenia is and how many tourists it may attract", he says, "I decided to invest in the B&B business and to do something for the farmers. My goal was to show them how to use their own assets, that is their houses."

Ghukasyan started this program in 2001 by a marketing study. He discovered that 70 pecent of tourists preferring the rural tourism are locals, and only the other 30 percent are foreigners, which lead him to the conclusion that his clients are not able to pay a lot of money for accommodation.

So, together with a consulting company from Yerevan he started to organize trainings and came up with 60 potential B&B operators. He bought a house in Sisian and made it a B&B model for his trainees.

Prices, which vary from $10 to $30 a night depending on the quality of service, include what B&B is all about: room, breakfast and safety.

Avetik, whose plan is to enter this season with 10 operating B&Bs, says that his dream is to have at least two B&Bs in every village.

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