While the region of Lori is most known for its lush green forests, picturesque views of canyons, mountains and rivers and ancient architectural monuments, there is one place in Lori that has captured the hearts of many local Armenians for generations, and that place is Gugark Camp. This enterprise applied to and participated in the Tourism Support Center’s Tourism Innovation Academy 3-month incubation program, and we were proud to learn and share their story.
Gugark Camp has a rich history that spans from the 1930s till today, and the fact that they are still standing has a lot to do with 3 major components, 1) the careful management of the camp as a family-run business, 2) the camp’s adaptiveness to changes in the times, 3) the loving support from the local community.
Gugark Summer Camp is located in Vahagnadzor in the region of Lori, Armenia. Traditionally, the railway station had always organized camps dating back to 1936. Lilit and Vahe Khanamiryan are responsible for the activities of the camp today, but the business has been in the family for generations. From 1958 till now, this space has been the home to Gugark Summer Camp, and the family has every intention of holding on to this tradition, as they made the move to privatize the camp in 2002.
“Almost all of our family members have been railway workers,” explained Lilit Khanamiryan, “for generations, even when my grandparents were still students!”
Children from all parts of Armenia and even neighboring countries like Georgia have been coming to Gugark Summer Camp for many years. It offers something unique, while at the same time providing children with knowledge, new experiences, and of course binding friendships.
“We know how to develop the camp so that it keeps up with the times so that it continues to match the needs and wants of children today,” said Lilit.
Vahe Khanamiryan added, “There is no point in trying to teach children the English language in 10 days. We offer them the kind of information that will help them in the future, including first aid, survival skills, evacuation skills, etc.” They intend to continue along this thread of thought, placing particular emphasis on sports and extreme sports. That is where they believe life lessons lie. “We want to encourage an active lifestyle and make it an integral part of their everyday lives.”
Over the years new components have been added to the camp. Slowly the camp grew, with a new cafeteria, a swimming pool, and a soccer field. And only in instances of force major did the camp put a hold on its activities. This happened, for example, as a result of the earthquake in Vanadzor, the First Artsakh War, and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The campgrounds underwent many renovations. “The community space and area are very important for us. We want to keep this place running smoothly, and develop it further,” said Lilit. She emphasized the unfortunate trend of children from the Lori region being forced to seek out entertainment and a good time outside of the region. Lilit believes that the service industry is still very weak in Lori and is in need of an upgrade. According to her, there are very few organizations that are genuinely client-oriented.
“We are very personalized and personable, and this has been true for generations. Because we are fortunate enough to have that experience. We know how to keep our customers happy.”
For her, upholding the standards of the camp translates into contributing to the overall development of the service sector in the region. Gugark Camp offers an area for fun, opening its doors to all kinds of guests and visitors. Their services include organizing barbecues and bonfires, movie screenings and paintball.
Now the family has long-term goals of diversifying their streams of income, again with the idea of staying relevant in mind. We’ll cover how the Tourism Innovation Academy played its part in their future plans in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned!