Azerbaijan showcased at tourism event in Brussels
The former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan has been touted as the next great tourism destination at a showcase event held in Brussels.
The nation was placed in the tourism spotlight during the inaugural Azerbaijan Tourism Forum Brussels, aimed at industry professionals and hosted by the Benelux office of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS).
The forum came in the wake of the passing of a Presidential Decree on diversification of the economy in March 2016, which identified tourism as one of the eight priority sectors for development, and a Presidential Executive Order, passed in September 2016. The latter has paved the way for the foundation of a Tourism Council, the determination of new air routes, expansion of seaside and budget tourism and the development of tourism educational centres.
Following the introduction of a new ‘visa on arrival’ regime, official figures reveal that more than 30,000 tourists from the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) region visited Azerbaijan during January-June 2016. With an average spend of $700, including flights, for a week’s holiday, Azerbaijan – and Baku, in particular – represents excellent value for money.
The same six-month period saw an influx of 972,000 tourists to the country, and it is projected that more than 1.5 billion tourists per year will visit by 2020 following the signing of tourism co-operation agreements with 28 nations.
Keynote speaker Marc Verwilghen, director, TEAS Benelux and former Belgian Minister for Foreign Trade, said: “Even in the Benelux countries, where travelling is part of our lifestyle, we are unaware of the glories of Azerbaijan. The country lies on a crucial geographical location at the intersection of multiple crossroads – between Europe and Asia, and between East and West.”
H.E. Fuad Isgandarov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU said Azerbaijan was becoming more like the rest of Europe and starting to reflect European values. “I urge our friends from Belgium and other EU countries to think about the tourism possibilities of my country,” he said. “We are working towards the signing of an Association Agreement with the EU next year. This will facilitate new tourism opportunities.”
Farid Isayev, director, Head of Legal Services, KPMG Azerbaijan and Head of the Tourism Committee at the Azerbaijan–US Chamber-of-Commerce (AMCHAM), argued for an extension to the visa on arrival programme to further boost visitor numbers.
“AMCHAM has recommended that the list of countries qualified for the issuance of ‘visas upon arrival’ should be increased to include European countries and the US,” he said.
“We have also recommended that an ‘Open Skies’ policy should be implemented, enabling an enhanced range of air carriers to operate flights, thereby increasing competition and reducing prices.”
Elgun Mammadov, CEO of Gilan Hospitality Group, explained: “A decade ago, Azerbaijan only received business travellers. Until 2014, tourists were predominantly from the CIS countries, Turkey and Europe. However, since then, they have generally been from the GCC countries.
“Tourism really spiked when Azerbaijan hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, when over 50m tourists entered the country during a two-week period. The European Grand Prix will continue to be hosted in Baku over the next five years.
“Gabala has the best tourism infrastructure of all the Azerbaijani regions, offering holidays ranging from skiing to medicinal oil treatments, trekking and the Gabaland children’s amusement park. Gilan operates a number of top-quality hotels in Gabala, Baku and other parts of the country.”