Azerbaijan to become a year-round tourist country

By Araz Azeri, AzerNEWS Staff Writer

As a result of huge investments in tourism, new hotels built all around Azerbaijan and especially the Eurovision song contest being held in Baku, the number of tourists has been on the rise. According to government officials, Azerbaijan is soon to become a year-round tourist country.

2.2 million tourists in 2011

Minister of Culture and Tourism Abulfaz Garayev shared some statistics with journalists last week. According to Garayev, in 2011 a total of 2,239,000 tourists visited Azerbaijan, which is almost twice over the previous year`s figure (1,280,000).

``The number of foreign citizens among tourists has increased by 14 percent compared to 2010,`` Garayev said.

The increasing number of tourists visiting the country has, in turn, led to a significant increase in the number of hotels. While in 2007 there were only 300 hotels in Azerbaijan, over the last five years more than 200 hotels have been built, 30 of which were commissioned last year.

Garayev also said that compared to recent years, the number of tourism sector employees has increased by more than 100 percent, resulting in 10,000 people working in various travel agencies and hotels.

Currently 178 travel agencies offer their services to the tourists. Starting from September 2012 the licensing of travel agencies and hotels is going to be carried out online, which promises a significant number of new agencies` entering the market.

Tourism services should still be improved

Meanwhile, First Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism Vagif Aliyev voiced his dissatisfaction with the overall state of the tourism sector. ``We still have problems with the quality of services and the hotel business. We are working on solving these problems and improving the level of services.``

Garayev noted that to improve the services offered by the domestic tourism sector, the ministry has laid down a condition to the hotels and tourism organizations to employ only qualified specialists in this field.

Where do foreigners prefer to rest?

Even without a large number of tourist facilities and high quality services, Azerbaijan has a lot to offer its visitors. Located on the Great Silk Road and linking western and eastern civilizations and cultures, Azerbaijan has a beautiful nature, various archaeological monuments dated back to 1,000-3,000 BCE, delicious cookery, beaches on the Caspian seashore and so much more.

Tourists who appreciate archaeological sites usually visit Yanardagh in the suburbs of Baku, which is considered to be a Zoroastrian temple with constant burning fire due to the vast amount of natural gas released right from under the ground.

Summertime is best for spending some time on the beaches, which are also located in the suburbs of Baku, but those who like to enjoy nature have to go further and visit Gabala, Gusar, Sheki, Shamakhi and other regions of Azerbaijan, well-known for their beautiful nature. Most of the tourist facilities are also located in these regions.

Mountain skiing facility

Although the tourism sector of Azerbaijan almost completely depends on tourists visiting in summer, it is all about to change by the end of this year. A new mountain skiing facility Shahdag, built in the northern Gusar region, will become available in December 2012 and with the artificial snow being used, it will be able to function all year round.

Four billion euros will be invested in the construction of the facility, which will have 5 five-star hotels and Swiss cottages on a 2,000 hectare area. Located on the peak of the same-name mountain Shahdag (2,500 meters) it will also have a sports facility that will allow athletes to train for winter sports.