Azerbaijan 2012 | TOURISM & SPORTS | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Serhat Bash, General Manager of C Hotels & Resorts, on the luxury hotels business, building a city brand, and Eurovision 2012.

Serhat Bash
Serhat Bash was born in Istanbul in 1975, and graduated from Istanbul University’s Faculty of Communications. He is currently the General Manager of C Hotels & Resorts, with previous positions including Editor-in-Chief at FD Royal Dutch Jaarbeurs Exhibition between 1996 and 1998, Coordinator and Editor-in-Chief between 1998 and 2010 at Aysberg Publishing, Advertising Co. and the Eko Exhibition Group of Companies.

What is the background story to C Group Hotels?

C Hotels & Resorts is a company operating in two main areas in Azerbaijan: tourism and construction. Established in 2001, we first started in the hospitality sector, developing a modern and contemporary hotel in Baku, because one of our main missions since the early days has been to be pioneers in our field. I can proudly say that C Group Hotels has positively contributed to the development of both the service and tourism sectors with our hotels and food and beverage businesses.

What is your evaluation of the booming luxury hotel market in Azerbaijan?

This is a very lively and rapidly developing market at the moment, with international hotel chains investing in it and a great potential in the short to medium term. Such a trend also attracts many foreign companies from the tourist sector, as well as other fields of the economy. Along with luxury tourism, Azerbaijan is experiencing very important growth in the business segment, which is also fuelled by four-star hotels; facilities that are playing a significant role in the development of the sector. Business tourists tend to select short-term accommodation, emphasizing location. C Hotels & Resorts sees this need and we are implementing strategies to take the leading role in the sector.

The President of Azerbaijan declared 2011 the “Year of Tourism." What do you think needs to be done to improve Azerbaijan's tourism offering?

It was definitely a year of very important developments in the sector. Such a declaration was the starting point of a long journey. It is important to start building a city brand like Paris, London, Barcelona, Rome, New York, Moscow, or Brussels. Baku is getting an increasing international reputation thanks to the oil and gas sector, its beautiful building architecture, heritage, and old traditions. Baku is implementing many different large-scale projects that will make the city even more beautiful to the eyes of tourists visiting it, including new parks, shopping malls, boutiques, corniches, entertainment venues, luxury hotels, restaurants, cafes, and much more. Such factors are important in the race to build a city brand. It is vital to keep promoting the city through brochures, billboards, music and promotional films, marketing campaigns, and other means such as international exhibitions, fairs, and events such as, hopefully, the Summer Olympics 2020.

How do you think Eurovision 2012 will contribute to further promoting Azerbaijan as an international tourist destination?

The Eurovision Song Contest is an important worldwide opportunity for the promotion of Azerbaijan. Work is underway both commercially and politically, and the event on its own will bring cultural advantages; Azerbaijan will show off its traditional hospitality and rich heritage. A wide range of different income, age, and occupational groups will come, and we are already working, both at the hotel and restaurant level, on strategies to target such a variety of customers. The broad experience we have gained over the years in the sector will enable us to provide an innovative approach to our strategies, something that will make a difference at the end of the day. We expect a very vibrant and productive year for the Azerbaijani tourism industry, and we are seeing increasing efforts to improve customer service quality, which adds value to the companies in the medium to long term, providing greater benefits.