Azerbaijan 2011 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Emin Hashimov, Director of the Shahdag Winter-Summer Toruism Complex, on the development of the project, the facilities on offer, and its significance for the sector.

Emin Hashimov
Since 1990 Emin Hashimov has worked as a Deputy Director of several enterprises. Between 2003 and 2008 he was Executive Director of Azerbaijan’s Central Chess Club. On May 19, 2008 by decree of the Cabinet of Ministers, Shahdag Winter-Summer Tourism Complex’s administration was established, and Emin Hashimov was appointed to the position of Director.

Can you tell us about the Shahdag project's background and why it was undertaken?

We've been planning the Shahdag Winter-Summer Tourism Complex in Kusar since 2006 and construction began in 2009. It's a Presidential project, run by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and is personally under the control of the President. Without the President's support, it never would have been realized. The aim was to create a world-class destination, and to do it correctly. We purchased the best equipment and materials for this project. Our organization has been around for three years, and our responsibility is to supervise its development.

What advantages does this region have for the construction of such a tourism complex?

It's a comfortable location, it is mountainous, and it has the right temperatures for skiing. It will work year round, including summer. Its height ranges from 1,300 meters to 3,200 meters above sea level. It can accommodate a huge spectrum of activities and will have something for everyone. It will be situated 32 kilometers from the regional center of Kusar, and the building site is in the territory of the Shahdag national park, which is known for its preserved ecological system and pristine flora and fauna. The central part of the tourist complex is situated on a natural plateau that is 1,640 meters above sea level. The total area of the complex will be 2,000 hectares.

What facilities will be on offer?

It will be a small city with a daily capacity of 10,000 people. There will be a welcome plaza, with all the information a visitor will need about the complex. There will be 32 hotels spread across the complex, and it will also include youth centers, clubs, a spa, nightclubs, bicycle paths, swimming pools, chalets, après-ski facilities, restaurants, shops, boutiques, handicraft workshops, bars, an ecological village, an aqua park, medical clinics, emergency services, sports, and extreme sports facilities. There will also be 14 or 15 ski lifts and 17 kilometers of ski slopes, all interconnected. Sure, it's not a lot compared to Tyrolia or the Alps, but for Azerbaijan it's extraordinary. Also, the car park will be left far enough from the hotel area to avoid noise and pollution.

How have you been able to attract investors?

It is a huge job. Facilities for 10,000 people must be built, as well as the right infrastructure for electricity, transport, water, sewage, internet, gas, and so forth. We are working with the Austrian and Swiss consulting firms ILF Consulting and Swiss Town Consult. Other investors and contractors include DIA Holding from Dubai, TechnoAlpin of Italy, which is providing artificial snowmaking technology, Doppelmayr Seilbahnen of Austria, which is providing ski lifts, and Pisten Bully, which is supplying snow groomers.

What are the next stages in constructing the complex?

Construction of the complex has been divided into four stages. The first stage has already been completed—with all electricity, water and gas, sewage, and communication lines having been installed. Also, bridges over mountain rivers have been built and the highway has been extended by 30 kilometers, which connects the complex to the regional center of Kusar. Engineering works to construct the lifts, ski slopes, artificial snowmaking machines, and hotels have also been realized. The next stage will include the construction of new ski slopes and the expansion of the residential zone. The slopes are designed to cater for all types of skiers, with varying degrees of complexity from children to professionals. We will also be constructing summer sports courts as well as facilities for horse riding and rock climbing.

How is the project split between government and private finance?

The government will finance construction of one four-star hotel, the building for employees and service personnel, as well as the lift base building. The construction of the other hotels, entertainment centers, and other commercial works will be realized by the private sector via open tender.

When will the doors first open to visitors?

We expect that the first visitors will begin to arrive in December 2011. We plan to accept 430 people. It is possible that tourist numbers will increase to 1,500 in summer 2012.

How will the complex be staffed?

We will have access to the best students from the Ministry of Tourism's hospitality school. We place a lot of importance on service. If we fail to provide good service, then this whole project will have been a failure.

How will the opening of the complex affect the development of the region as a whole?

The significance of the resort is very important and is not limited only by the economic component. By constructing the complex, we try to achieve the social goal of developing winter sports and tourism in Azerbaijan. We want to create the conditions for a high-quality relaxation destination for domestic and foreign tourists as well as provide new opportunities for work. The project will employ several thousand local residents as well as those from neighboring regions in providing services. Personnel will include hotel employees, lift operators, underground parking attendants, fire and search-and-rescue personnel, security services, skiing instructors, as well as general services associated with a complex of this size. But the complex will develop the appropriate infrastructure in the region. For example, the electricity and gas supply to adjoining villages will be improved, as will the quality of the highways. The region will also benefit from modern systems of processing and information transferring. The Shahdag complex is of great importance, not only for the development of northern Azerbaijan, but also for the whole country.