By Nigar Orujova
Azerbaijan expects an increase of 70 to 80 percent in the tourist flow in the next five to six years, Culture and Tourism Minister Abulfaz Garayev said at the opening of the "Tourism and Travel" exhibition on Thursday.
The Azerbaijan International Exhibition Tourism and Travel (AITF 2013), which opened in the capital Baku and is to last until Saturday, is organized by Iteca Caspian and İTE Group PLC.
According to Garayev, some 2.5 million foreign tourists visited Azerbaijan in 2012, and the indicator will grow further in the future.
"The e-visa issuing procedure which has been applied in Azerbaijan since March 2013 will also increase the tourism inflow," Garayev stressed.
Speaking to the media, Garayev noted that up to 30 travel agencies have been given the opportunity to carry out the procedure of issuing e-visas for foreign nationals online.
"The visa issuing procedure via the Internet has already started. We have chosen up to 30 companies which are now licensed and arranged special courses for them," Garayev said.
Thus, tourists seeking to visit Azerbaijan may submit their visa documents and pay the fees online.
Garayev also said Azerbaijan intends to solve the problem of the lack of three-star hotels in the capital ahead of the first European Olympic Games in 2015.
"Several projects have been launched and one will see the construction of up to six three-star hotels in Baku by the middle of next year," he said. "They will open on the eve of the Games."
Garayev said the tourism ministry continues working in this area.
"We are creating the legal framework, issuing recommendations and rendering the necessary assistance," he said.
Currently, 514 hotels and hotel-type facilities operate in Azerbaijan. The country with a location linking the Western and Eastern civilizations and cultures, beautiful nature, ancient history, delicious cookery, and adorable beaches on the Caspian seashore could turn into a favored destination for tourists in the near future.
According to the exhibition manager Khayal Aliyeva, the exhibition was joined by 251 companies from 35 countries.
Tour operators from Montenegro, Thailand, Tunisia, Canada, Morocco and Monaco are attending the exhibition for the first time, while Turkey, Georgia, the Czech Republic and the UAE are among the traditional participants.
The exhibition will present a wide range of tourist services over three days. The main sections of the exhibition include airlines, tour operators and travel agencies, hotels and resorts. The novelty of the exhibition is the "Property abroad" section.
A large regional presentation will also be made, promoting Azerbaijan's tourism potential and showcasing regions of the country such as Khachmaz, Gusar, Guba, Gabala, Sheki, Ismayilli, Lankaran, Oguz and Naftalan. The exhibition will once again feature presentations, seminars and various travel lotteries and sweepstakes at the stands of exhibitors.
The exhibitors will also conduct workshops, presentations and various raffles. Greece's Aegean Airlines will present a Baku-Athens direct flight, which is planned to be opened on May 28. The Azerbaijani national airline AZAL will introduce a new air route to Bulgaria.
On April 4-6, the seventh Caucasus international exhibition "Everything for Restaurants and Supermarkets" also takes place in Baku with some 30 companies participating.
AITF 2013 has been actively supported by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan since its inception, and the event is also officially supported by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).