By Amina Nazarli
Tourism is now one of the world’s largest industries and a major source of income for many countries. The sector is also regarded as a main instrument for regional development, as it stimulates new economic activities.
Azerbaijan, a unique land in the Caucasus, has appeared not so long ago on the tourism map of world. The country with its favorable geographical location, rich natural landscape and numerous objects of historical and cultural heritage is a good place for the development of tourism.
This filed is among the government’s priorities for the development of its non-oil sector. Azerbaijan makes everything possible to use its natural advantages to develop the tourism sector of the country, implementing various projects and programs for attracting tourists to the Land of Fire.
These efforts gave fruit and in a short period of time the country was able to raise the quality level of its tourism sector. Today, Azerbaijan is a favorite destination for over 2.5 million tourists visiting the country every year.
Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism Nazim Samedov highlights that Azerbaijan has all necessary conditions for the tourism development.
“During the years of independence a huge work has been done in this area. Tourist infrastructure recorded a significant transformation, as large hotels, winter resort "Shahdag" and "Tufandag" were built,” he told Day.az.
Following the recent devaluation of the national currency, the manat, Azerbaijan, as a tourist destination, has become much cheaper and more affordable for foreign tourists, according to the deputy minister.
Prices for many services almost not changed in manats, but significantly dropped given the devaluation, which in turn created some benefits for hotels and tourism companies engaged in tourism, he explained.
Currently 284 travel agencies and 535 hotels are operating in the country. The country can accommodate over 35,000 tourists in its 530 hotels, which include a series of luxury hotels, as well as many budget hotels for cost-conscious travelers. Prices for accommodation in the country start from $15 and increase depending on the hotel class and amenities provided.
The role of the major events in the development of tourism has long been on the focus of leading specialists and experts in the field of tourism.
Hosting a major sporting event can give many economic, social and cultural benefits. Indeed, large sports events not only attract visitors for a few days or weeks, they greatly contribute to the overall marketing of the destination by helping to create an image for the country.
Samedov recalled that Spain’s city Barcelona was “discovered” by tourists after the 1992 Summer Olympic Games.
The same, he said, can be said about Azerbaijan after the hosting of “Eurovision Song Contest” in 2012 and the inaugural European Games in 2015.
This summer Azerbaijan is preparing to welcome 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship, which according to many experts will increase the flow of tourists by 40 percent.
“We pin great hopes on the Baku stage of Formula 1, which will take place in the capital on June 17-19. Millions of fans around the world will see the broadcast of the competition. In addition, the route of the Baku stage race runs through the central part of the capital, so viewers will be able to enjoy not only the competition, but also the views of our beloved Baku. What is important, along with the athletes participating in the race, and the members of their teams, our country will be visited by a large number of fans and journalists, who in their articles will give attention to the country and the city, which will host the race,” he said.
Samedov also touched upon the opening of travel offices in Turkey and Russia, which he claims is a widely used way to promote tourism industry of a country.
The function of representation usually includes establishment of contacts between representatives of this country’s tourism industry, coordination of marketing activities to promote destinations, including the organization of relevant presentations, conducting info-tours for representatives of the media and more.
“Taking into account the fact that both Turkey and Russia are among the most important countries for our country's tourism market, it was decided to open offices in these countries,” the expert emphasized.
“While selecting the country, where the office can be opened, it’s necessary to take into account a variety of factors, such as geographical and cultural proximity, availability of direct flights, the tendency of the population to the country-specific travel, etc.,” he noted.
To promote the country’s tourism potential, Azerbaijan also opened several travel offices in Germany, and the UAE. In the future, such travel offices can be established in other European and Asian countries.