By Rashid Shirinov
Tourism in Azerbaijan is one of the fastest developing industries. In recent times tourism has become a very important element in the formation of the image of countries abroad.
Since 2011, when tourism was declared the sphere of the year in Azerbaijan, many millions of tourists visited the county, attracted by the rich historical heritage and beautiful nature of the Land of Fire.
Although tourism is a relatively young direction for Azerbaijan, its high development rate is visible to the naked eye, Nahid Bagirov, chairman of Azerbaijan Tourism Association (AzTA), has told Trend.
He noted that the active development of tourism in Azerbaijan began in 2006, and the successes achieved over the past years speak for themselves.
“2016 can be considered a turning point in this regard. Even foreign specialists note that no country in the world had such a sharp rise in the influx of tourists as Azerbaijan had in 2016,” Bagirov said.
He added that the influx of tourists from Arab countries increased tens of times in that year.
“If earlier most of the tourist flow was for business travel, now more and more tourists come to Azerbaijan exclusively for recreation,” Bagirov also said.
Touching upon the ongoing development of tourism in the country, he noted that the sector is on the right track.
“Even if today we are moving forward at a slow pace, the development is continuing, and we protect the tourism sector from possible risks. We are moving forward intelligently, taking into account all world problems, practices of our neighbors, and experience of the whole world tourism,” the chairman of AzTA said.
Bagirov noted that one of the main reasons for Azerbaijan’s tourism growth is the infrastructure created in the country on the instruction of President Ilham Aliyev.
“The decision of the head of state to simplify the visa regime, which explains the high growth of the tourist flow to Azerbaijan in 2016, became historic. It became a kind of start for increasing the tourist flow,” he mentioned.
Bagirov added that Azerbaijan has already developed relations with the Arab countries since 2012, and AzTA office was opened in the Persian Gulf countries.
“Moreover, the popularity of Azerbaijan increased due to such events as the Eurovision Song Contest, 1st European Games, Islamic Solidarity Games, as well as various forums,” he said.
Today, tourism in Azerbaijan is one of the most promising economic sectors. In 2016, there was an 11.7 percent growth in the number of tourists compared to 2015, and the figure hit 2,242,783 people.
The number of tourists from Arab countries increased significantly in that year. Thus, there were twice more tourists from Jordan, 3.2 times more from Kuwait, 5.5 times – from Qatar, 10 times – Saudi Arabia and Oman, 22 times – from UAE, and 30 times more tourists came from Iran compared to 2015. The growing interest to Azerbaijan has several reasons, such as short distance to Azerbaijan, opening of more direct flights, beautiful nature of the country, halal foods in restaurants, etc.
The number of foreign nationals who arrived in Azerbaijan last year increased by 449,215 people or 20 percent compared to 2016, hitting the figure of 2,691,998 people.
As for the tourism infrastructure, today Azerbaijan can accommodate about 40,000 tourists in its 575 hotels, which include a series of luxury ones – Excelsior, Hilton, Four Seasons, Fairmont, JW Marriott – as well as several budget hotels for cost-conscious travelers. Moreover, some 25 hostels and 92 apartments for tourists operate in Baku.
Rashid Shirinov is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @RashidShirinov
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