In the great game of European politics, there are few more hotly contested forums than that of the Eurovision Song Contest. Voting blocs rise and fall, while nations compete at the highest level of their apparent exuberance all in an effort to win the coveted prize and the international attention it brings, and avoid hearing the dreaded “nul points” spoken by distant voices spread across Europe’s capitals. However, in 2011, Azerbaijan finally took its place among the winners. Claiming 220 points, Azerbaijan beat out 24 rival acts to take the Eurovision crown in the 2011 Song Contest. Considering Azerbaijan’s first appearance in Eurovision was as late as 2008, the achievement seems even more remarkable.
Representing the country on stage were Nigar Jamal and Eldar Gasimov (also known as Ell & Nikki), and the live performance of their classic pop ballad “Running Scared” was watched by 36,000 live spectators and 120 million people around the world from the Esprit Arena in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Until now known mainly as an energy exporter on the edge of Europe, hopes are that success at the Eurovision Song Contest will put Azerbaijan on the map, and allow the country to take advantage of the international spotlight as time builds to the 2012 contest. Due to be held at a yet-to-be-announced (or built) arena in Baku, a short-term boost in tourism is expected, with the successful hosting of Eurovision expected to benefit the tourism industry over the long term.
Returning to Azerbaijan following their success in Düsseldorf, Nigar and Eldar were greeted by hundreds of flag-waving well wishers with expectations far beyond just that one night in Germany. In a year that was designated the “Year of Tourism”, Eurovision was the cherry on the cake for a country with an ambitious tourism potential and a desire to up its international exposure.
By the end of 2011, Baku will have seen the opening of six new luxury hotels, and construction is expected to be well underway on the 15,000-25,000-seat arena the government is set to tender. “50,000-60,000 tourists are expected to arrive in Azerbaijan for the 57th Eurovision Song Contest”, Abulfaz Garayev, Minister of Culture and Tourism told the press. He also outlined plans for the construction of affordable three-star hotels and motels in order to support the influx, and sustain a long-term growth pattern toward the annual 3 million visitors and $1 billion in revenue the government is targeting from the tourism sector. Furthermore, the head of the Azerbaijan Tourism Association, Nahid Bagirov, has announced that guests will be housed in hotels or apartments, with proprietors unable to raise rates over the duration of the contest.
Commenting on the country’s victory, President Ilham Aliyev told TBY that, “We have no doubt that our organization of the contest will be at the highest level and work to attract even more tourists.”
The contest will take place on May 26, 2012, with the first semi-final set to be on May 22, and the second semi-final on May 24. Some changes will be introduced to the 2012 contest, with televoting set to return to its pre-2010 format, whereby votes will only be cast once all songs have been performed. However, the new tradition of a 50/50 split between televoting and the national jury system will remain.
© The Business Year