Two Innovative Female Founders Pivot in Times of Uncertainty

Despite this year’s onslaught of events, a certain sister duo has found the strength and ingenuity to persevere through it all.

ASF is pleased to introduce to you Marianna and Gayane Malishenko, founders and owners of the travel agency, Star Tours Armenia. Marianna is the executive Director and Gayane is the Chinese linguist expert, each with their respective careers in the tourism industry.

Individually operating within their fields of tourism since 2008, sisters Marianna and Gayane came together as a dynamic pair in 2017 to establish Star Tours. Star Tours has served Armenia as a premier travel agency catered towards the Chinese audience. Each of these sisters’ unique expertise has allowed them to enter such a niche marketplace and service inbound tourism for years. Marianna is a tourism specialist by education and Gayane is a linguist that was educated in China as well as having studied the Chinese language. Together the sisters decided to combine their knowledge and years of experience to facilitate the exposure of all the beauty and richness Armenia and its culture has to offer.

However, Marianna and Gayane’s work is not so one-sided. For as much as this pair does to cater to Chinese tourists coming into Armenia they also extend and generate business for various businesses and services within the country. They cooperate with a number of hotels and restaurants outside Yerevan, but unfortunately due to the pandemic they had to cancel all their bookings with multiple hotels and restaurants, thus depriving a large number of people of their expected income.

Although 2020 has taken Star Tours on a crazy ride, these two women have proven themselves to be resilient. In previous years Star Tours worked only with China, but this year it has innovatively pivoted in order to expand the business. Star Tours already has a contract in place with a Russian tourist organization that will start sending Russian tourists to Armenia as soon as the borders are open.

But the dynamic duo did not stop there...

Separate from Star Tours, these sisters have continued to show their ingenuity by establishing a third venture. This new and radically different project from Star Tours includes Marianna and Gayane’s third sister. Together they are working towards the development of an eco-village in the Vahagn community of the Lori region that will allow visitors to live in conditions detached from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Essentially, they will provide a space for anyone to “live as our ancestors did.” In an effort to provide an authentic experience, as well as a sustainable business, they have chosen to use all-natural materials, such as wood and local stones which have a very special color to them. These sisters are already hard at work; thus far a location has been chosen, an agreement has been made with the village head, a meeting with the head architect has taken place, and they continue to move forward with the project.

The Armenia Support Fund Small Business Grant received by Star Tours, and this tight-knit team of sisters, did not only aid individuals, but provided for the curation, education, and exposure of the Armenian culture, and further towards the validation and support of other businesses trying to survive in Armenia.

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