Baku – APA. The Brussels Office of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) – TEAS Benelux – has organized a forum on Azerbaijan’s tourism potential at the Press Club Brussels Europe.
The forum took place following the Azerbaijani president’s order, dated March 2016, on the diversification of economy, and the presidential decision, dated September 2016, on the implementation of this order, TEAS told APA.
The order mentions development of tourism as one of the four priority sectors. This has paved the way for the foundation of the Tourism Council and determination of new airways, expansion of maritime and budget tourism and opening of education centers on tourism.
During the forum, it was noted that after the new regime “obtain a visa while entering the country” came into force, according to official figures, Azerbaijan has received more than 30,000 tourists from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in January-June 2016. An average expense of 700 US dollars for a week long holiday in Azerbaijan, especially in Baku, including the fare is a very real value and nothing diminishes quality. A total of 972,000 tourists came to the country in this period.
Addressing the event, Marc Verwilghen, Director, TEAS Benelux and former Belgian Economy Minister, said: “Even the Benelux countries, in which traveling is part of our lifestyle, are unaware of magnificent Azerbaijan, a country located in an important geographical region and at the junction of multiple roads—between Europe and Asia, the East and the West.”
Fuad Isgandarov, Head of the Azerbaijani Mission to the EU and Azerbaijani Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, said Azerbaijan is drawing closer to Europe and respects European values.
“I invite our friends from Belgium and other European countries to think over the tourism opportunities of my country. We’re working on signing a new agreement on cooperation with the European Union. This will open up new tourism opportunities. I invite every one present here to my country,” he added.
Farid Isayev, head of Legal Services at KPMG Azerbaijan and head of the tourism committee of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) said: “AmCham recommends that the list of countries included in the regime “obtain a visa while entering the country” must be expanded and it must cover European countries and the United States. We also underline the importance of carrying out “Open Skies” policy and increasing the number of air carries which will strengthen competitiveness and result in a reduction in ticket prices.”
Issa Smatti, Area Director, Nomade Aventure, and producer of a feature film on the beauty of Azerbaijan’s regions to be aired on French TV5 Monde soon, said he traveled to Khinaliq village, located 200 km of the north of Baku, to shoot the film.
“Residents of this village speak in a unique language and are proud of preserving their heritage. There is no hotel in the village and tourists stay at private houses, which are very comfortable. The villagers are extremely hospitable. They enjoy a variety of delicious samples of Azerbaijani cuisine. Azerbaijanis living in the northern part of Azerbaijan respect foreigners,” he added.
Robrecht Willaert, Professor at KU Leuven - University of Leuven, founder and editor-in-chief of Travel Journal, says Belgians have not enough information in Azerbaijan, stressing the importance of media promotion.
“Belgium is a specific market and the manufacturers usually regard it as a mini Europe to test products. Belgians love to gain experience in new places. It is important to achieve a promotion and campaign program through the opportunities of the current and new media. Azerbaijan should pay special attention to its unique cultural heritage distinguished from others. If a promotion is conducted in the Benelux countries, the number of tourists traveling from those countries will within five years surpass the number of tourists coming from other countries.
Elgun Mammadov, Gilan Hospitality Group CEO, recalled that over the past ten years, strangers came to Azerbaijan only for the purpose of business.
“Until 2014, tourists mainly traveled from the CIS countries, Turkey and Europe. However, since then, tourists basically came from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. There was a great development in tourism sector in 2012 when Azerbaijan hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. At that time, 50 million tourists visited the country within two weeks. Baku will continue to hold the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe in the next five years.
Among all Azerbaijani districts, Gabala has the best tourism infrastructure. Here, services, like ski resorts, oil treatment, nature tours are presented, and for amusement of children, “Gabaland” park is operating. Gilan Company has a number of high-quality hotels in Gabala, Baku and other districts of the country,” he said.
Azerbaijani journalist living in the US, author of book titled “Azerbaijan - Culture. Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture” Nikki Kazimova said that young tourists prefer to stay at homes in the districts.
“Thus, western tour operators should have local partners and they should pay attention to national traditions in this context. Hospitality is sacred in Azerbaijan and there are usually guestrooms at homes. ‘Be my guest’ is one of the most important expressions used in Azerbaijan. Tourism has impacts on the country that is very good. Misconceptions about my country, especially about the role of women and religion should be eliminated,” she added.