By Amina Nazarli
Azerbaijan, one of the world’s sunny and profound travel treasures, attempts to become a more welcoming destination for foreign visitors as it prepares to advance its tourism sector.
The country with its favorable geographical location, rich natural landscape and numerous objects of historical and cultural heritage is a good place for the development of tourism.
The Land of Fire is a territory of 9 out of 11 of the world's climatic zones. Azerbaijan’s climate enables to organize summer and winter holidays. Very common are ecological tours, which include visits to nature reservations, trekking and climbing routes. Moreover, midday sandy beaches offer opportunities for diving, while swimming season here starts in May.
A recent decree endorsing “Strategic Road Map for the development of specialized tourism industry in Azerbaijan” signed by the president will allow to define the development goals and priorities and ensure timely implementation of set goals.
Under the decree, the government will create National Tourism Bureau to propaganda national tourism, and one of the main priorities in the field will be provision of a balanced development of tourism until 2025.
This approach will contribute to attraction of investment in the tourism sector both in Baku and the regions; further creating conditions for the expansion of international tourism in Azerbaijan and increase the share of tourism revenues in GDP.
The Bureau will mainly assist in attracting local and foreign tourists, and work to increase the frequency of their visits. The Bureau will also create a database, containing information about tourists arriving in Azerbaijan, and destinations they chose to explore the country.
Moreover, the state has identified four main priorities in the development of tourism sector until 2020.
The first priority is the full utilization of tourism potential of Baku, with more developed infrastructure, attracting the attention of a large number of foreign tourists.
The second purpose is to create a more favorable environment for the development of tourism in the country by creating tourist and recreational zones, development of tourist infrastructure in the regions of the country in order to eliminate seasonal factors, improve air links, as well as simplify visa procedures.
The third priority, according to the "Road Map" is the development of tourism through the implementation of regional tourism initiatives, which provides for investing in the development of wellness, winter, environmental and other types of tourism.
Another goal is to invest in educational programs in tourism and improvement of industry standardization and certification systems, to increase tourist satisfaction.
Creation of tourist packages is important in terms of attracting more tourists. To this end, the National Tourism Bureau, coordinating its work with international and local tour operators, on the eve of Novruz holiday will support creation of a package of tourist services, which will also include hotel rooms and airline tickets.
Moreover, through local tour operators' websites, foreign tourists will be able to create a special travel package themselves, choosing the direction they need, a place to rest, and any other service they want.
Experts forecast that a variety of tourist activities to be held in Baku will ensure GDP growth by 230 million manats ($131 million) until 2020, while improvement of tourism infrastructure in Baku (the development of hotels at affordable prices and attractive tourist destinations) - 70 million manats ($39 million).
The document says that achieving these goals will increase Azerbaijan’s GDP by 293 million manats ($167 million) directly and by 172 million manats ($98) indirectly, and will create 35,000 new jobs, some 25,000 of which will be created directly in the tourism sector.
Implementation of these objectives will require investments worth 350 million manats.
Along with this, in 2020 the number of low-budget tourists visiting Azerbaijan will reach 265,000 people, while the number of tourists visiting the country in the framework of the "Great Silk Road" and other cultural tourist routes will exceed 180,000 people.
The "Road Map" also features the five priority groups for attracting travelers; Turkey, Iran, Russia, Georgia and other neighboring countries; Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, UAE; CIS countries, including Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan; countries with developed mass tourism - Canada, China, EU, India, Japan, South Korea, the U.S.
Currently, the share of tourism in Azerbaijan's GDP is 4.5 percent, in employment 3.3 percent.