RED CARPET TREATMENT

Azerbaijan 2013 | TOURISM & SPORTS | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mete Atakuman, General Manager of Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel, on the luxury tourism industry, the development of Baku, and the investment climate.

Mete Atakuman
BIOGRAPHY
Mete Atakuman has over 20 years of luxury hospitality experience in a number of senior roles with high-profile city and resort hotel chains including Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts, and Hilton International. He became the General Manager of Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel, the first international luxury city resort hotel in Azerbaijan, in May 2011.

How does the Jumeirah in Baku differentiate itself in light of increased competition from other international hotel chains?

We are the only luxury international city resort in Baku and Azerbaijan, which gives us an advantage to successfully position the Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel in local and international markets. During our opening year in 2012, we hosted a number of cultural and trendsetting events in our unique outdoor venues and state-of-the-art conference facilities. The aim for the future is to continue to deliver on our brand promise of “Stay Different," and ensure memorable experiences for all of our guests. The variety we have to offer for both the leisure and business traveler will definitely differentiate us from the competition. Most importantly, our continued investment in the training and development of our colleagues will ensure that the highest level of service is always on display—as expected from any Jumeirah Hotel around the world.

How would you characterize the five-star sector in Baku?

The five-star hotel sector has definitely flourished over the last 18 months, with all the major hotel companies coming into Baku. I would say this is a testament to Azerbaijan and Baku for the progress being made in all different areas of the economy, and for being a leading destination in both business and leisure travel in the region. Now, all the five-star international hotels need to keep this positive momentum going forward and add more value to this unique city. Baku is not only a business destination, but also a city with a fascinating history, vibrant arts, and a cultural hub, as well as enhancing the beautiful architecture and embracing its ideal of being a city of the future with many landmark developments approaching completion. I think each of the five-star hotels must work harder, smarter, and also combine their marketing efforts together so that we all are able to assist Baku in fulfilling is potential. At Jumeirah, we consider it both a privilege and an opportunity to be in Baku in such exciting times.

Who is the main target for your hotel?

The leisure guest is our dominant market. Local guests from Azerbaijan, neighboring CIS countries, and Russia, along with affluent travelers from both the Middle East and Europe, who are looking for an adventurous getaway and cultural expedition will definitely value what Baku and Azerbaijan has to offer. We are also targeting business groups for MICE tourism, and in this regard we are receiving many requests from Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia, and local businesses that would like to hold their team-building activities away from the city and on the beautiful shores of the Caspian Sea.

Are there any other regions where you are looking to expand the Jumeirah brand?

Jumeirah's enviable portfolio now consists of 20 luxury hotels and residences globally. Obviously, the Middle East is an important region for us with Jumeirah's origins in Dubai, and there are further plans for Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, and Egypt. Asia Pacific will also see growth for Jumeirah with a number of properties scheduled for China plus projects announced in Bali, Indonesia, and India. We see Baku as a key gateway city to the CIS and Russia and the success of Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel.

How would you describe the current investment climate within the Azerbaijani tourism sector?

Azerbaijan is recognized for its rich energy resources and all the business opportunities related to the oil and gas industry. It is very encouraging to see the world coming to Azerbaijan for different purposes, hence the progress and development within the tourism sector. Obviously, because of Azerbaijan's many pure nature reserves, parks, and genuine hospitality culture in the regions, we are seeing more and more investment in regional areas, which is a very promising sign for everybody involved. A few years ago, who would have thought of coming to Azerbaijan for a skiing holiday? Now this is possible. If the positive economic climate continues, then investor confidence in the tourism sector will grow. Investment in tourism means opportunities in many different sectors. The food, agriculture, construction, transportation, telecommunications, and manufacturing industries are all beneficiaries of the tourism sector, and it provides employment opportunities to many young Azerbaijanis. Continued investment in tourism brings continued growth in many different fields, which develops the diversification of the overall economy.

It is the 10-year anniversary of President Ilham Aliyev administration in 2013. What developments have you noticed in the country over the past decade?

I was fortunate enough to first come to Azerbaijan in mid-2005, and back then I would think to myself that this country was definitely going places. You could feel the energy of a young, dynamic population trying to achieve its potential. Today, after witnessing most of the projects and developments being completed, the commencement of more projects, and after hosting world-class events and organizations in all areas, Azerbaijan is becoming a leader in its region. The vision to do more and continuously improve is the most significant development I can name. I believe that under the vision, leadership, and strategic direction of President Aliyev, there will be continued success and higher levels of prosperity in the future, and we have seen evidence of this over the last 10 years.