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The ‘Silk Road’ of Tourism | Long Read

// How can Caspian littoral states cooperate to accelerate tourism recovery


ourism has been going through a rough patch the last three years. Firstly, the sector collapsed completely due to the pandemic, suffering a 75-80% decline. Then, just when we started seeing the first spurts of recovery, the global geopolitical situation tensed, leaving communications in disruptions and sanctions instead of global cooperation. It seems as though the international processes have been deliberately acting against tourism these past three years. Can we find opportunities for developing tourism among these serious challenges? Experts AzVision talked to believe we can! 

The logic is quite simple actually: Modern tourism industry was one of the fruits of globalism. However, globalism as we know it is deforming. Global markets are giving way to localized and regional alternatives. Regionalization has become the latest trend in world economy, which means that restoration and eventual development of tourism should also go through regional cooperation first.

‘Russo Turisto’

Russia used to be one of the crucial players in the European tourism market. 
Five to ten million Russian tourists would have travelled to Europe, leaving 21 billion euros behind, if not for sanctions . The statistics say that an average Russian tourist spends 175 euros a day on a trip abroad.

Russian tourists are in search of new doors to replace those shut in their face Those potential tourists are now on the lookout for new directions . Southern neighbours Russia has good relations with such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan might become interesting destinations for thrill-seekers.

Summer season is all about beach tourism, which will turn the Caspian Sea into an attractive alternative. The idea becomes even more credible as domestic tourism at the Caspian Sea in both Russia and Kazakhstan is growing more popular. Preliminary estimates demonstrate that around one and a half million local tourists may visit Dagestan this year, which will break a historical record. Be that as it may, the infrastructure on the Black and Caspian Sea shores is not capable of handling the abrupt growth in domestic tourism in Russia . Therefore, they need the neighbouring countries to survive.

Tarlan Guliyev
, CEO at Sayahat Healthcare and Travel Group, tells in his interview to that Azerbaijan can attract these tourists through developing certain packages and in fact we are busy doing just so.
Tarlan Guliyev: ‘We can attract Russian tourists to Azerbaijan through certain package deals’

Head of Kazakh Tourism Daniel Serjanulin expects Kazakhstan to go through a 7-fold increase in tourist flow from Russia . He is sure the number will keep on growing. Russia has been holding presentations of Kazakhstan as a tourist destination in all major cities.

World Tourism Organisation 
has calculated that the price for an average international trip has gone up from 1000 USD in 2019 to 1,300 today . It is going to continue growing. Domestic tourism has not escaped this faith. When inflation and price growths enter the scene, traveling to distant countries is becoming less cost-effective .

At this stage 
Caspian countries could come up with interesting options to expand tourism cooperation with Russia . Hotels on the Caspian coast in Kazakhstan, for instance, have already started switching to all-inclusive packages, following Turkey’s example. This could be an interesting experience for Azerbaijan as well.

Caspian Cruise? Why not?

The most interesting project is organizing cruises in the Caspian Sea. 
Lydia Parkhomchik, expert on the Caspian Sea at the Kazakhstan Institute of World Economy and Politics shared with that the cruise project was and remains the most important direction for the joint development of tourism in the Caspian Sea. For this to happen, Caspian littoral countries need to coordinate their efforts. The idea of developing marine recreation, including the organization of cruise tourism in multiple variations, has been discussed in both multilateral and bilateral formats.

Lydia Parkhomchik: ‘We must convert the domestic tourism flow into the Caspian region into international tourism’

The central initiative revolves around the project proposed by Russia on building "Peter the Great", a river-sea cruise liner, designed for 300 passengers. Astrakhan shipyard is now completing the construction . They are planning to start the first sea trials of the liner come September. Astrakhan governor forecasts that the ship will have a capacity of serving 30 thousand tourists a year . They are also planning to bring the tourist infrastructure in the ports on route, Makhachkala, Baku, Turkmenbashi and Aktau, to shape.

‘Peter the Great’ might become the first cruise liner sailing into the Caspian ports

Marine tourism does not only imply ports that ships can sail into. It requires a complex of interdependent services. First of all, we must bring the quality of services offered at beach facilities up to the international level, expand the network of recreational zones and develop other infrastructure . All of these actions together will allow us to attract international tourists. If fact, the process is underway and the governments of all Caspian countries are keeping the development under special control. We can accelerate the process through coordinating our joint work. But for now, we have another mission ahead: We must mutually direct the rapidly growing domestic tourism flow to the neighbours.

3D model of the first liner to cruise the Caspian

Hello, Neighbour!

Almost all Caspian countries are setting 
new records for domestic tourism . Deputy Minister of Culture and Sports of Kazakhstan Yerzhan Yerkinbayev pointed out that around 6.9 million people travelled domestically in the country last year alone. They are expecting the number to grow and the reason is quite obvious. After two years of lockdown, people want to satisfy their psychological need for travelling and relaxing. Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan have found themselves in a similar situation, which all 3 countries could mutually benefit from.

Kanan Guluzade , Advisor to the Chairman of Azerbaijan State Tourism Agency, said in his interview to that the tourism potential at the Caspian region has not yet been fully discovered and used: ‘The Caspian states are well aware of it and relevant institutions are hard at work. We believe there is a more efficient use for this potential.’

Kanan Guluzade: ‘The tourism potential in the Caspian region has not yet been fully discovered’

Guluzade is sure that we can offer new tourism products among the Caspian littoral countries, primarily within cooperation with Central Asian states . We are now developing new combo-tours to include the Silk Road route. We can also soon expect certain institutional steps.

There are more than 100 types of tourism in the world . Some of these require constant extensive development. Historical tourism is an example. You may have visited the historical sites in your own country, but will surely want to see new places the following year. The ancient city of Khiva, declared the 2024 tourism capital of the Islamic world, may as well become an interesting destination for historical tourism in Uzbekistan. Everything aside, would any Azerbaijani not want to see Khwarazm, represented by a beauty in the 4 th poem ( Seven Beauties) in Nizami Ganjavi’s Khamsa ?

Khiva announced the 2024 tourism capital of the Islamic world

Apart from the Caspian coast, Kazakhstan can also offer tourists legendary mountain lakes such as Alakol and Balkhash , and its ancient and more modern cities. A popular journalist in Azerbaijan, Shakir Eminbeyli , wrote about what else Kazakhstan could potentially offer our tourists in his travel notes for AzVision. These three countries have enough ‘white spots’ on their tourism maps for international travellers , which could really incite the tourists. After all, the goal of active tourism is to explore and get the hand of new places. The bliss of discovering new locations cannot be compared to anything else at times.

Kazakhstan has a lot of undiscovered ‘white spots’ in its tourism map

Our goal with this article is not to merely describe the tourism opportunities of various countries, but there is one thing we absolutely must mention. Azerbaijan has more innovations to offer now compared to its previously known tourism opportunities . Firstly, our liberated areas will soon be included in active tourism routes. These venues will become extremely exciting for tourists from whichever angle you look at it. We have an opportunity to develop a myriad of thematic tourism products . Secondly, Nakhchivan , which has previously been isolated from touristic routes for many years stuck in a geographic blockade, is now takings its place in the picture. And the ‘Small Land’ has a lot to show travellers…

Shusha will soon become an active destination on tourist routes of the region

So, What Are We Waiting For?

Unlocking all this unfulfilled potential requires certain institutional steps. The country is hard at it, but it would be nice to speed things up a bit. The Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Heritage of Uzbekistan and the State Tourism Agency of Azerbaijan signed a cooperation program in Tashkent on 20 June . The program envisaged steps the countries need to take in this area throughout 2022. Azerbaijan maintains similar contacts with Kazakhstan as well.

Head of Millennium Tourism & Congress DMC and chairman of Health & Thermal Tourism Support Association Ruslan Guliyev believes that restoring and developing tourism requires coordinating efforts. We need to create common digital platforms and grow services in this field to further promote our tourism potential. In addition to all of this, we must also consider transit tourism .

The closed land borders remain one of the main obstacles for foreign tourism. Safety comes first, but we can achieve certain mitigations through taking precautions. No one knows when the pandemic conditions will return to ‘zero count’. Tourism has no time to wait around anymore. In any case, this aspect does not play a direct role in our tourist exchange with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as Azerbaijan does not share a land border with them.

The upcoming 2 to 3 years will be crucial for tourism recovery. The World Tourism Organization reports that arrivals were 72% down in 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic 2019. They are prognosticating 50-63% share of what we had in 2019 for this year . Some experts optimistically expect the global tourism turnover to catch up with 2019 levels in 2024 and to even surpass them. However, they do not vouch for how ‘global’ it will be. It is already clear that they are talking about recovery of tourism market in regional frameworks. The Caspian littoral countries have to make the best of the opportunities created by regional cooperation in order not to fall behind in this process. 

  31 August 2022    Read: 3116    Can be read: 17 min.

17 min.