The Business Year

HE Abulfas Garayev

AZERBAIJAN - Tourism

Destination Baku

Minister, Culture and Tourism

Bio

Educated at the University of Foreign Languages and Pedagoic in Baku, HE Abulfas Garayev received his PhD in Philosophy and Culture from the Academy of Social Sciences in Moscow in 1992. After extensive work, including for the Department of Culture and Improtex Commerce Company, he joined the Ministry of Youth and Sport in 1994 and became the Minister of Youth, Sport and Tourism in 2001. He has been the Minister of Culture and Tourism since 2006. He has also been the Chair of the Organizing Committee of the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue since 2011.

TBY talks to HE Abulfas Garayev, Minister of Culture and Tourism, on the inaugural European Games, collaboration with foreign ministries, and the development of tourism infrastructure.

The first European Games have already created a great deal of external interest in Azerbaijan. What have been some of the major opportunities and challenges that the Games have provided?

We strongly believe that these games, which are the first European Games in history, will provide a brilliant opportunity for us to show Azerbaijan from a different angle. It will bring the main features, traditions, attractions, sport facilities, safety, and perfect organization of our country into the spotlight. With the successful organization of previous tourism events held in Azerbaijan, we have already proven that the country can host any kind of event, large or small. The importance of this event should be especially emphasized. On the one hand for Azerbaijan’s tourism industry, this event will be beneficial for long-term investment of the country’s image as an emerging tourist destination that is capable of facilitating various tastes and expectations to the highest standards. We expect this event to attract tourists from all over Europe and other countries. Preparations for the European Games are on schedule with the event set to deliver world-class venues, sporting action, and innovation and new standards of athlete accommodation. The government is striving to provide the best possible venues for the finest athletes of Europe, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has implemented different actions aimed at the success of this event along with the Organizing Committee.

The increase of foreign interest in Azerbaijan has increased the demand for high quality services. How would you assess the standard of business services in the hotel industry?

The flow of tourists is increasing every year, and in the capital and other tourist areas, there is a growing number of world class hotels. Among the most popular hotels in the capital are chains of brand hotels such as Four Seasons Hotel Baku, Hyatt Regency, JW Marriott Absheron Baku Hotel, Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel, Fairmont, Grand Hotel Europe, Hilton Baku, Kempinski Hotel Badamdar, and others. We are positive about these world-known brands, as they bring the highest standards and international practices, staff development opportunities, and management systems. It will be a great benefit to the entire tourism industry, as other players will have to improve their quality and service standards to be able to compete. The Ministry is monitoring the activities of the hotels operating in Azerbaijan periodically in order to check whether their activities comply with the state’s standards. We will ensure that the hotels and travel agencies offer high-level services during the Games in June 2015.

Which foreign ministries do you collaborate with, and what opportunities does this provide for mutual tourism?

As a Ministry of Culture and Tourism, we collaborate with the foreign ministries in different countries, exchanging information and best practice. We should emphasize our close collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey. Thanks to this successful cooperation, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey is organizing continuous training courses for members of the Tourism Industry in Azerbaijan every year. These courses in areas such as hotel management, front-desk management, and housekeeping have brought great opportunities for the members of the Tourism industry in Azerbaijan to upgrade competence in their fields. Different projects are constantly organized between the two ministries on different spheres of tourism. We should also not forget our cooperation with Ministries responsible for tourism in the framework of international organizations such as UNWTO, COMCEC, and BSEC.

What developments can be made to further improve the infrastructure of tourism in Azerbaijan?

All segments of tourism need to be worked on in terms of the development and improvement of infrastructure. In some segments, however, we have already improved, and this can be seen as the first steps of this long-term process. Shah-Dag skiing resort was built in the northern part of Azerbaijan, which plans to be the largest skiing facility in Europe with the capability to receive 5,000 people, and Tufandag ski center, which opened in Gabala in 2014, are perfect examples of this. The list can go on with other winter or summer infrastructure samples. We have also established fruitful cooperation with Azerbaijan Investment & Export Promotion Agency (AZPROMO) with several projects developed jointly and promoted via various organized events in order to increase foreign investment in the hospitality sector. In addition, we have held active negotiations with several potential investors who have interest in the Azerbaijani tourist market. With them, we discuss concrete projects, help them to understand the business and legislative environments, identify opportunities, potential challenges, and propose solutions to overcome these. This is done in order to further improve the tourism infrastructure in Azerbaijan. It should be highlighted that tourism is one of three non-petroleum economic sectors identified as a priority in the national economic development plans of Azerbaijan. Consequently, the industry has received strong support from the state leadership and personally from President HE Ilham Aliyev. Such a high level of commitment contributes significantly to the development of tourism and associated infrastructure, elaboration of new policies and standards, international cooperation programs, development of dialogue between the public and private sector, and the attraction of domestic and international investments.

In which areas is there the greatest potential for growth in the tourism sector in Azerbaijan over the coming years?

Current tourism statistics reveals the fact that the number of sun and beach tourists, as well as the number of winter tourists coming to Azerbaijan, are increasing year by year. One of the main missions of our tourism development strategy is the diversification of tourism products. We are creating every opportunity to bring the most exciting programs and entertainment to everyone visiting Azerbaijan, and we are exploring new types of tourism activities. Due to the unique characteristics of the all-year round destination, we can incorporate almost every type of tourism in our country. Much has been done to promote Azerbaijan as both a summer and winter tourism destination. We have active promotions of summer and winter tourism in Azerbaijan via world mass media, such as advertising on CNN, Euronews, and many other international channels. MICE tourism is also in our focus, as this industry is one of the most developing ones all over the world as well as in Azerbaijan. As a partnership between the public and private sectors, the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau represents the Alliance of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan and industry members operating in the market. We should not forget the importance of cultural tourism as the rich historical and cultural heritage of the country attracts visitors from all over the world. Despite the size of the country, the culture and heritage of Azerbaijan is diverse and colorful. Azerbaijan has great potential for health tourism, which is becoming more popular as we have a unique element for this type of tourism. In fact, Naftalan resort, located 320km west of Baku, has gained worldwide fame thanks to the healing Naftalan oil. The healing properties and the effectiveness of Naftalan oil for different diseases have been proven by the results of thousands of scientific works and monographs. Taking these into consideration, we are doing our best to regain the past popularity of this resort and type of tourism in Azerbaijan, and we will definitely succeed.

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