TBY talks to Abulfas Garayev, Minister of Culture and Tourism, on the year of tourism, visitor hotspots, and the role of FDI.
TBY President Ilham Aliyev announced 2011 to be the “Year of Tourism”. What activities have been planned to draw the attention of the international community to Azerbaijan?
ABULFAS GARAYEV The potential for tourism in Azerbaijan is quite rich. The state has taken important steps to enable the development of the sector. To encourage sustainable development in socio-economic and cultural fields, the President of Azerbaijan announced 2011 as the “Year of Tourism”. In the light of that, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has prepared and submitted an action plan to the government in the framework of the “Year of Tourism”. According to international practice, the realization of these plans will involve promoting the tourism potential of the country on a wider scale. Within this framework, improvements will be made to vocational training, with the idea to develop the tourism potential of the country through a systematic development of the sector. More effective use will be made of the existing and diverse historic and natural sites of beauty. This will turn tourism into one of the priority sectors of the economy. Furthermore, the organization of info-tours for foreign diplomatic missions to Azerbaijan, and the production of effective information materials in foreign languages, as well as the strengthening of marketing work carried out by foreign diplomatic missions and diaspora organizations are of high priority in our mission to draw foreign attention.
What is the scale of the foreign tourism market in Azerbaijan? What are the future targets for the Ministry?
We have achieved positive results in the foreign tourism field. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism works to implement foreign tourism policy in the framework of the establishment of bilateral and multilateral cooperation ties and their further expansion. One of the main conditions of bilateral cooperation is the availability of a legal-contractual framework between separate countries. Taking into account that the establishment and development of multilateral cooperation ties is one of the priority directions of tourism policy, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism continues its productive work geared towards the establishment of multilateral cooperation in the field of tourism with the UN, the World Tourism Organization, the Council of Europe, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the CIS, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC), the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the Conference for Mutual Activities and Confidence Measures in Asia, and with other international organizations. Presently, the government of Azerbaijan has signed treaties on cooperation in the field of tourism with the governments of 27 countries. Additionally, draft treaties in the field of tourism between Azerbaijan and the governments of 30 additional countries have been developed and submitted to the attention of our counterparts. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism mainly cooperates with Europe, the Islamic world, and CIS countries to develop bilateral cooperation in the field of tourism. The Ministry constantly takes part in international tourism exhibitions held in different countries to promote the tourism capacity of the country and to attract foreign tourists to the republic, as well as organizes information and press tours in the country for foreign tourism industry professionals to develop bilateral cooperation. Thus, information and press tours to our country were organized for the representatives of tourism and mass media organizations of Greece, Egypt, Morocco, and Germany in 2009, and for the representatives of Germany in 2010. Also, in April-May of 2011 we looked to organize press tours for mass media representatives from the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Germany, and France, as well as information tours for a delegation of tourism and mass media representatives from the Netherlands. In order to promote the tourism potential of Azerbaijan in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijan Tourism Association signed a contract with Atlantis, a Dubai-based company, on April 28, 2011.
What are the main specialties on offer to foreign tourists in Azerbaijan?
The location of the country, as well as its position in the contemporary world, has turned Azerbaijan into a very attractive place for tourists. The diverse fauna and flora of our country located in nine climatic zones provides extensive opportunities for the development of different types of tourism. Foreign tourists are attracted to the heritage of Azerbaijan. There are many places of historical interest, as well as superb architecture and workmanship, not to mention fabulous oral folk art and textiles. In addition, I would like to underline specifically the “Azerbaijan Wine Way” and “Alexander Duma in the Caucasus”, both international cultural tourism routes realized within the framework of the Council of Europe’s “Kiev Initiative”. Also, the “Great Silk Road” and “German Settlements in Azerbaijan” can be included as part of the national tourism routes we are developing.
What potential does Azerbaijan have to develop a MICE tourism sector?
MICE tourism is already a thriving sector in Azerbaijan, and it is one of the priorities of the Ministry. Many recently constructed five-star hotels include modern conference facilities, and this is paving the way for further development of this type of tourism. We are seeing the high-quality organization of various internal and external exhibitions, international forums and conferences, and this is a good signal of the potential Azerbaijan has for MICE tourism.
From what areas is Azerbaijan trying to attract tourists, and how is the Ministry working to promote the country as a destination?
Azerbaijan is mainly interested in attracting tourists from neighboring countries and Europe. However, along with those tourism markets, other potential targets are the Americas, South Asia, the Middle East, East Asia, and the Pacific. In order to promote the tourism potential of our country on a global scale, the Ministry participates in about 20 international exhibitions annually. Also, the Ministry prepared up to 50 advertising clips in nine languages and distributed them to the visitors of international tourism exhibitions. Advertising clips on the tourism potential of our country are constantly broadcast on the world’s most famous TV channels, including EuroNews, Travel Channel, CNN, National Geographic, BBC, and CNBC. Also, in April of each year, Baku hosts the Azerbaijan International Travel and Tourism Fair (AITF).
What are the trends of the internal tourism market in Azerbaijan?
Citizens on vacation in Azerbaijan prefer regions with beautiful nature and extensive tourism infrastructure, including the northern, northwestern, western, and southern regions, along with the Nakhchivan region, Baku, and the Absheron peninsula. Tourists enjoy Azerbaijan’s many fine beaches, cultural pursuits, rural activities, and many more recreational possibilities. Furthermore, in order to develop new types of winter tourism in Azerbaijan, a number of tailored works are being carried out. New infrastructure is being built in regions distinguished by their natural beauty and extensive tourism potential. One major example is the Shahdag Winter-Summer Tourism Complex. The total area of the complex, situated between 1,300 and 2,554 meters above sea level, amounts to more than 2,045 hectares. It is envisaged that the main focus in the construction of the complex will be directed to the development of winter sports, mainly the development of mountain skiing. In addition, the complex will include tennis and basketball courts, a golf course, a football pitch, indoor sports facilities, pools, entertainment and game complexes, and trails for hikers and horse riders. In terms of accommodation, three-, four-, and five-star hotels, in addition to small summerhouses, and cottages will be built. On top of that, trade centers, restaurants, and catering facilities will be present, altogether generating a daily capacity to host 5,000 tourists.
How does the Ministry of Culture and Tourism try to coordinate investment initiatives with the Ministry of Economic Development?
There is endless potential for investment in the tourism sector in Azerbaijan. To date, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has submitted eight investment projects on tourism. Toward that end the Ministry carries out works for the presentation of these projects. Thus, the Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Fund (AZPROMO), established by the Ministry of Economic Development of the Republic of Azerbaijan, together with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism organize the presentation of investment projects during events in foreign countries.
What levels of FDI is the sector seeing?
So far, no request has been recorded at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in respect of large-scale investment ideas. However, the Ministry has contacted several foreign finance organizations to establish tourism recreation zones. Five-star hotels currently under construction in Azerbaijan are mainly built at the expense of local investors. In parallel, there have been foreign investments together with local investments into existing hotel tourism. Azerbaijan is a safe country with extensive opportunities for foreign investments. As an example, investments amounting to $15.5 billion were made in Azerbaijan in 2010. Out of that, $8.2 billion and $7.3 billion were made by foreign and local investors, respectively. Although $6.2 billion was attracted to the oil sector, $9.3 billion went to the non-oil sector.
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