Tom Allen: "Our mission is to make Armenia the best place for hiking"

Том Аллен

Why Dilijan? The main reason we are here is the development of tourism and hiking in Armenia, and Dilijan happens to be a convenient place for that. I believe that comfortable hostels are a great way to encourage tourists to come to Armenia and, in particular, to Dilijan. We are also developing and building walking routes here.

If we start from the beginning, first of all I want to tell you how I met Danny. I'm from the UK. My story of moving to Armenia began about 14 years ago. In 2007, I decided to go around the world on a bicycle. I was 23 years old at the time, and I spent 8 months riding around Europe, Turkey and Georgia, and decided to come to Armenia. I met Tanny, who later became my wife, in Yerevan. She was a friend of my friend and studied here at the university. Tanny is an Iranian Armenian, "paskakhai", as they say here. I stayed in Armenia and made a lot of friends here, but we also spent a lot of time traveling — we managed to live in the UK for a couple of years, but in 2015 we decided to move to Armenia for good. At first we lived in Yerevan, as it is a city that we knew well, we also have a lot of friends here, we were comfortable here. And then I got carried away... or, let's say, Tanny and I had the idea to build a trail through Armenia to Georgia and call it the "Transcaucasian Trail". For the last 7 years I have been working on this idea – to lay a walking route from the Georgian border to the Iranian one – through the whole of Armenia, and the beginning was laid in Dilijan.

So, in 2017, I received funding from several organizations, including Hike Armenia, for the construction of a network of hiking trails in Dilijan National Park. We spent almost half a year in Dilijan – from April to October, laying tourist routes. We did it together with Tanny and our family, friends, and volunteers helped us. We went out into the forest every day and improved our routes, made markings on them, installed signs, made maps. There were already trails in the park, but they were in poor condition, it was difficult to walk on them — so we did everything to improve the quality of the routes. We wanted to bring the quality of the trails closer to international standards. In about a year, we laid about 80 km of trails in Dilijan National Park. This was the beginning of our global idea of the Transcaucasian trail, which we are working on. Now there is already a trail along the entire length of Armenia – from Meghri to Lake Arpi – which is used by hikers.

During the 6 months we spent in Dilijan in 2017, we fell in love with this place. After a while we decided to buy a house here and move from Yerevan to this quieter and greener city. We found and bought an old house in 2018, thought to renovate it, and then decided that it would be better to build ourselves a new one, and turn the old house into a new kind of tourist product for Armenia – Hiker's Hostel ("Hostel for Hikers"). In other countries where hiking is more popular, you will find a lot of this kind of housing – low-budget, with amenities, especially for hikers and tourists with a limited budget. In Armenia, especially in Dilijan, the culture of such hostels was not developed. By creating Hiker's Hostel, we tried to demonstrate what, in our opinion, the future of Armenian tourism might look like.

Том Аллен

Thus, we are not only building new hiking trails, but also providing hackers with a place where they can come and stay in Dilijan. We spent two and a half years on the construction of the hostel and renovation and opened in 2022, but since then there has hardly been a day that we have not had hikers. They come to us from all over the world: A guy from Scotland recently visited, John from the USA, there were also guests from Bahrain, the Netherlands, Belgium. They go hiking in the National Park, or all over Armenia, and then stop to rest in Dilijan. At the same time, we do not promote ourselves in any way. We are not on , at HostelWorld, we are not on any booking platforms, but we are found because we are the only place of this kind. It's like networking. Instagram, Facebook and Google Maps have us, and they find us through them. We do not compete with Tufenkian or any other hotels, we have our own clients and our own goals. This is an exceptional place that is suitable only for hackers or, for example, tourists on bicycles. Perhaps we will make a website for the Transcaucasian trail because people coming to hiking want to find information about it and most likely we will put information about our hostel there.

Our mission is to make Armenia the best place for hiking. You know, we can have one guest per day who will come and say: "I came for a day, but I would like to stay for two." We are not always crowded, but this is not our goal. We just want to set an example so that there are as many hostels like ours as possible.

If we talk about how much I feel like a "Dilijan", then technically I am registered in Yerevan, but for me Dilijan is in many ways a wonderful place to live. Nature, climate, places for hiking, developed transport network. But, of course, there is something to work on here. We see how tourism is actively developing in the city, but it does not seem to bring Dilijan such benefits as the development of public places and infrastructure would bring. For example, there is a complex "Old Dilijan", and a hundred meters from it there is a construction site that has existed for 20 years, and like a flooded part of the road, a canopy that sinks into the ground. Garbage everywhere, broken sidewalks, stray dogs. Dilijan is a popular destination, why not direct part of the income to make the city a better place to live and walk?

Dilijan has a long way to go to return to the former state of the popular Soviet resort, but we see improvements every year. Interest in the development of Dilijan is growing, which is great, because this is exactly what this place needs. Service and transport are improving here, and we already have supermarkets that didn't exist before. Finally, several roads have been restored.

Dilijan is the place where we live now. We don't know where we will live in a few years, but for now we are here. For us, home is a place where you feel comfortable. And wherever we go, we try to make some useful contribution, and it makes us feel better. It will be great if we can achieve a positive effect and even more.

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