By Aygul Salmanova
Do you want to make the most amazing trip to the very heart of the Caucasus, where all the best - the richest history reflected in archeological and architectural monuments, the picturesque nature with a wonderful climate, is collected? If yes, then pack up and visit Azerbaijan!
Sitting at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan occupies a unique position mixing the best of both sides. Although a small country, it is one of the most visited countries in the region. Tourists coming to see the country can witness unique nature, rich history and historical monuments, UNESCO Heritage Sites, diverse traditions and customs, different nationalities, delicious cuisine, and amazing climate.
Muzaffar Agakarimov, the adviser of the Chairman of the Azerbaijani Tourism Association, told Azernews that a number of steps are taken towards the development of the tourism sector.
“Recently, incoming tourism is becoming more popular in Azerbaijan. While after the dissolution of USSR and creation of the new state people preferred to go abroad, now the incoming and local tourism are the main directions of this sector. It should be noted that incoming tourism is the most important part of the overall tourism sector as it brings foreign currency and creates new workplaces for local people,” Agakarimov noted.
The main factor affecting the tourist inflow to the country is the fact that Azerbaijan is a stable country. Another factor is the tolerant and hospitable atmosphere existing in the country. In addition, opportune infrastructure, new types of tourism also significantly contribute to this trend.
Agakarimov touched upon the new types of tourism that have been developed in the country. The most notable among them was snow and mountain tourism: best examples of this type of tourism in Azerbaijan were Tufandag in Gabala and Shahdag in Gusar, he said.
Furthermore, Azerbaijan Health and Thermal Tourism Support Association was established in the country, which had done significant to develop the tourism sector, he said. The association carried out a number of activities to push forward the tourism potential of Naftalan and Duzdag located in Nakhchivan.
He noted that an executive order approving an action plan on the development of beach tourism for 2017-2020 by President Ilham Aliyev was one of these steps. Additionally Agakarimov said that numerous events were organized by the government annually.
Among different programs the Great Silk Way played a special role. This program will stimulate further development of the country’s tourism sector, he said.
The adviser noted that the development of the railway tourism in Azerbaijan created new ground for the improvement of the overall tourism sector of the country. “Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is also a significant factor that contributes to the improvement of the tourism potential of the country. In the near future, not only BTK but also Baku-Astara railway will assume an important role,” he said.
The favorable infrastructure system created by the government also played substantial role in attracting tourists to the country, according to Agakarimov: “Before it was very difficult to get to some regions of Azerbaijan, while now roads, electric energy supply, and water supply - all are opportune for tourist influx.”
He also noted that foreign tourists mainly prefer to visit Absheron peninsula, especially Baku: “Furthermore, they also travel to northwestern regions of Azerbaijan, namely Shamakhi, Gabala, Sheki; northeastern regions, that is, Guba, Gusar, Khachmaz; and Lankaran, Lerik, Masalli - the southern regions of the country.”
Agakarimov mentioned that the foreigners mainly tend to choose cultural tourism: they visit historical monuments, and join various excursions. Many tourists, especially those coming from Russia and Kazakhstan, come to Azerbaijan to improve their health. They prefer to go to Naftalan or to Duzdag.
An increase in the number of tourists traveling to Azerbaijan was expected in the subsequent years, according to the adviser: “More than 1,700 tourism companies operate in Azerbaijan, for which elimination of licenses had created favorable conditions. A number of new hotels, especially budget hotels, are planned to be constructed in the near future.”
Agakarimov also gave some recommendations to tourists visiting Azerbaijan.
“Firstly, I would recommend the tourists traveling to our country to visit ancient historical monuments of Baku, to come and see Icherisheher. They should also pay a visit to our regions. Azerbaijan is a country with rich history, great monuments and museums. For instance, I advise them to visit Art, Literature, and History museums. By visiting these museums, tourists will get detailed information on the history, art and traditions of Azerbaijan,” he said.
He also encouraged the tourists to visit the regions and enjoy the beautiful nature of the country. Tourists coming to Azerbaijan are recommended to visit the Ramana and Mardakan fortresses situated at Absheron peninsula, he said.
“Our guests should definitely taste the delicious, palatable Azerbaijani cuisine. You feel hungry even when its name comes to your mind. Kufte-bozbash, piti, pilafs, different varieties of dolma, tea sets, sweets, national wines of the country are among the best representatives of Azerbaijani cuisine,” he stressed.
What else to do?
He noted that some regions yet need to develop.
“There is no way for marking time and making no headway in the tourism sector. It requires looking ahead and making plans for the further steps to be taken. There are regions that need to improve the tourism sector. For example, the tourism potential of the beautiful Lerik and Yardimli is not fully used. Regions such as Zagatala, Balaken, Gakh are wonderful regions where both winter and summer are fine.”
Agakarimov also noted that tourist routes to ancient Azerbaijani cities such as Barda and Ganja should be compiled. “These routes should be designed specifically depending on the home country of our guests as a person living in Russia has different psychology and preferences from the one living in Japan,” he said.
As many as 2,276,604 foreign citizens visited Azerbaijan in January to October of this year. The number of incoming tourists increased by 20 percent in 2017.
For instance, 727,577 people came from Russia, 439,305 from Georgia, and 320,904 from Iran.
In this period, 81,742 tourists travelled from the United Arab Emirates, 54,242 tourists from Iraq, 49,449 tourists from Ukraine and 31,821 tourists from Saudi Arabia.
The state pays much attention to tourism sector and “Strategic Roadmap for the Development of the Tourism Industry” approved in 2016 stipulates a number of measures for achieving great steps in this area.
A number of tourist facilities have been built in the regions, and cultural and historical reserves have been set up or restored.
Thanks to all these, the country has improved its tourism performance in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 released by experts of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The country is placed 71st among the most improved economies in 2017, rising 13 spots in the global ranking.
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