- Tourism has suffered severely from the coronavirus pandemic. Can we finally say that it has started recovering?
‘I regret to say that the coronavirus pandemic damaged tourism seriously around the globe. The countries had to stop all trade relations and lock borders. As quite a delicate sector, tourism was hit the hardest. Cross-border platforms, air traffic and many other areas operated on restricted terms. Tourist traffic dropped to zero during lockdown.
As soon as the restrictions began to relax, tourism immediately responded. Despite the constraints on interregional relations during the pandemic, we were able to renew our projects aimed at developing domestic tourism as the limits lifted to a certain extent. As the air frontiers opened and air traffic between countries started operating again, tourists can now travel to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, even certain European cities. However, it is still too early to think about achieving the pre-pandemic 2019 numbers. At the same time, the trends allow us to say that if we do not have another pandemic wave and consequent lockdowns and restrictions, tourism will be able to recover fully within a short period of time.’
- The ongoing processes in the world have broken bonds among countries and resulted in price hikes in tourism. Such cases usually bring regionalization trends in most areas of the economy to the foreground. How would you asses the prospects for developing regional tourism routes in this regard?
‘Although the region around us is suffering from the breakdown of geopolitical and geoeconomics relations, the war has caused myriads of challenges for global tourism, we can still turn the situation into an opportunity. As Russia came face-to-face with sanctions, Russian citizens can no longer easily travel to Turkey and other touristic zones. This has also led to price hikes. If we are talking about developing regional tourism, we can easily take advantage of the situation and charm those tourists into Azerbaijan through certain package deals. It is one of the most urgent areas for us and we have been hard at work. Azerbaijan has become an accessible region for many countries, especially our close neighbours. We are also quite an attractive destination tourism and tariff-wise. We have started working on areas such as traditional, mountain, cultural and health-recreation tourism and have already been successful at attracting a certain tourist traffic from neighbouring countries. But we certainly need to multiply our efforts and pay more attention to promotion and marketing in various areas.’
- What kind of opportunities do we have to expand tourism cooperation among the Caspian countries? Are there any mutual interests?
‘We have been voicing our opinions in this regard for several years. In fact, we have even discussed operating cruise tours to the islands in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian outside cooperation with neighbouring countries. In international practice cruise companies usually organize tours that allow travellers to experience several countries and cities at once. If we consider the common interest of the Caspian littoral states, we could also start cruise tours in the Caspian Sea. This could become an excellent opportunity for regional tourism. Cruise companies usually offer short trips to the cities they sail into during the day, organizing excursions to historical and cultural monuments. If Caspian states get more serious about the idea and start determining a route in the Caspian Sea, all countries would benefit in terms of tourism development and larger tourist traffic.’
- Which areas of tourism in Azerbaijan are more attractive for the region?
‘There are more than a hundred types of tourism, such as mountain, traditional, cultural, extreme, health, religious and so on. Azerbaijan can create, develop and offer them all to tourists from all over the world. Azerbaijan has various fields to explore, and we have already been working on products in this direction. The country hosted the 2022 HESTOUREX World Health Tourism Fair for three days in June. Over 465 representatives travelled to Azerbaijan, which means we are already becoming a valid tourism destination.
Azerbaijan has hosted major international sports events, such as the 2015 European Games and Formula 1, which has both promoted us as a sports country and attracted more tourists.
We recognize the need to study the tourism potential in Azerbaijan more extensively and deeply. Acting from this, the State Tourism Agency is carrying out various projects and developing different routes and programs. At the same time, tourism agencies and structures involved have started participating more closely and seriously.’
- Most countries are mainly focusing on their domestic tourism opportunities in times of crises and limited interstate relations. Can we say that domestic tourism in Azerbaijan is on a satisfactory level?
‘Domestic tourism is probably the core of developing overall tourism in the region. Every country has always considered domestic products a priority. For example, specialized tourism regions in Azerbaijan are Yardimli, Guba, Gusar, Gabala, Ismayilli and Sheki. Several other regions are being actively developed. I strongly believe that Azerbaijanis, especially the urban population, must firstly visit the regions in the country. Nakhchivan is becoming an interesting destination in this regard. It has been in a blockade for years and thus a closed venue for tourists. But travellers can finally start discovering the historical and cultural monuments there, enjoy treatment in Duzdag complex and explore many other opportunities Nakhchivan has to offer.
I would say the domestic tourism is on a satisfactory level in Azerbaijan. However, we still need to build new infrastructure, more tourism and catering facilities in order to maintain our competitive ability and develop it further. I also think we need to develop more cultural routes.’
- What does the tourism potential of our liberated territories promise the country?
‘Karabakh region has a lot to offer. The geography, climate, natural and cultural resources allow the region to become an amazing tourist hub. Unfortunately, after years of occupation Armenians destroyed most of the tourism and historical monuments in the region, which will delay the introduction of tourism packages for a while. We are talking about maintaining security. Only then, can we start building infrastructure, increase the number of hotels and organize historical and cultural routes. The country is hard at work. There are state projects to develop tourism potential in Karabakh. Many other organizations are taking an active part. The World Bank is interested in the region in terms of new investments. Karabakh Revival Fund is fulfilling various projects. Although we can now organize one-day trips to Shusha, making it a massive event will still require some time. As soon as we achieve complete safety in the region, we can finally start organizing mass tourist events in Karabakh.