LikeLocal: Armenian service offers 'family dinner' with locals to explore culture and traditions
Tourists explore Armenian culture during ‘family dinners’ in Armenia
Since January of this year, the LikeLocal project has been giving tourists the opportunity to get to know Armenia not only by visiting historical and cultural sights, but also by spending time with local people.
“The idea of this project appeared a long time ago. Having worked in the tourism industry for many years in a row, I have always tried to establish contact between local residents and tourists. As part of our tours, we always tried to organize lunch for tourists in the homes of local residents.
And no matter how wonderful sights, historical and cultural monuments we visited, at the end of the tour it turned out that most of all people remembered visiting an Armenian family”, says Gevorg Babayan, author of the LikeLocal project.
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“Real life begins behind the home doors”
Gevorg says that he finally decided to implement his idea in 2019, during the next family vacation:
“My wife and I went on a trip to Hungary. In the evening, closer to sunset, we wandered into a quarter on the outskirts of Budapest. It was a very beautiful area. The windows were open, and it was clear that the family was getting ready for dinner. My wife and I discussed the atmosphere in that house, what they had prepared, what they were talking about. They knew that this was real life. True culture is behind the front door to the house, and not what is presented to the tourist in the center of tourist cities in the form of a local feast”.
In 2020, the project had its first guests and families who agreed to host foreigners and treat them to traditional family dishes. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, and then the war in Karabakh, the program temporarily suspended its work. LikeLocal has been welcoming guests again since the early days of 2022.
By this time, the project had received co-financing from the European Union and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Now LikeLocal operates within the framework of the EU4Business grant program “Innovative tourism and technology development for Armenia”. 30 families in the capital and three in the northern regions of Armenia (Lori, Tavush and Shirak) have completed courses and are already receiving guests.
“People who are ready to let strangers into their daily lives join the project”, explains Gevorg.
He believes that LikeLocal creates valuable cross-cultural connections and a unique experience for everyone involved:
“Usually, tourists evaluate the tourist service according to standard criteria – location, cleanliness, staff qualifications. We have a different approach. We want our guests to appreciate the emotional side of the event. Were they pleased that they saw what new things they discovered for themselves in this environment, what feelings did they have? Impressions on an emotional level are better remembered and leave a deeper imprint on a person’s soul.
The goal of the project is to help travelers integrate in a foreign country in a short period of time and get to know the culture and environment that is new to them.
“The brightest memory of the country is the people”
Susanna Yeghiazaryan was one of the first to join the project. Moreover, she has her own guest house in Dilijan. And here, tourists are offered not only a family dinner, but also joint cooking.
“From the very beginning, LikeLocal seemed very unusual and interesting to me. I think this project will provide an opportunity not only for tourists, but also for us, those who receive guests, to get acquainted with the cuisine of different countries, cultural characteristics, traditions, family customs”, says Susanna.
And her Russian guests said that the family evening at Susanna’s house was very impressive.
“The whole family gathered, several generations of a large family, and we had a very pleasant time. I think this is a very interesting opportunity for tourists in an unfamiliar country, in an unfamiliar city, to have direct contact with its ordinary inhabitants directly, without an accompaniment of a tour guide.
It is very difficult for a tourist to just walk up to someone on the street and befriend them. This project provides such an opportunity, it is a great opportunity for live communication. For me, this project is not only about Armenian cuisine, but about contacts and acquaintances with Armenian families, thanks to which you get acquainted with the history of the city and the country”, said Victoria Bogataya.
According to Victoria, the main and most striking impression of the trip was the people:
“This time we can say that we did not visit the sights, but we met a lot of different people. We can say that this has become a new, more preferable way for us to get to know the country”.
Victoria is sure that this project brings a new color to the packages offered to tourists. She is going to advise it to her friends, if they are ever to visit Armenia, and tell them to take advantage of the unique opportunity to visit Armenian families.
“This will give them the opportunity to form the image of the country not according to the stories of the guides, but according to the personal stories of specific people. So the impressions and memories of the country will become brighter and warmer”, says Victoria.
“Bringing back memories and traditions”
Art critic Ani Harutyunyan-Dantser returned to Yerevan from Russia two months ago with her husband. During this time, she not only managed to get acquainted with LikeLocal, but also joined the project as a host family.
“My childhood was spent in a crowded and noisy house, where people of art always gathered in the evenings. In my childhood memories, we always had lunch and dinner as a family. I see symbolism in all this, an excellent opportunity, as I wanted, to bring back these memories and traditions within the framework of this project, inviting people who came to Armenia to my father’s house. If I can tell them about the Yerevan that I know, it could be my small contribution to the tourism industry in Armenia”.
Ani herself has traveled a lot and is convinced that the most important component of the tourist experience is communication with people:
“When we travel to other countries, we meet different people there and through them we get to know these countries. Very often, tourists coming to Armenia are traditionally taken to sights in Garni, Geghard, Lake Sevan, and people get a slightly different idea of Armenia. This is how they get acquainted with the architecture of the country, but not with the people.
Thanks to LikeLocal, tourists get acquainted not only with our cuisine. With this program, they learn about the culture and history of the people. After all, in our cuisine it is also very important how a dish of a particular region is prepared, what is the history of the dish itself and this region. And involuntarily, in the process of cooking, you begin to talk about all this”.
Ani considers it important that the project is being implemented in different settlements of Armenia, since all regions have different customs, each region of the country has its own flavor. And the author of LikeLocal plans to expand the geography of his project – not only in Armenia, but also abroad, and is already starting to work in Vietnam and Cambodia.