Azerbaijan Tourism Board (ATB) developed several sustainable tourism projects by highlighting the existing assets of the destination.
With overall 790 000 visitors in 2021, Azerbaijan was a popular destination among travellers from Russia, Turkey and Middle.
2021 has been quite a successful year for Azerbaijan’s tourism industry despite the long pause caused by the pandemic.
ATB has proved to be effective in developing immersive experiences in accordance with emerging travel demands and has attracted an increased number of travellers to Azerbaijan since the gradual opening of borders. Benefiting from the strategy of reinforcing the country’s existing assets instead of creating something from zero, the national promotion body has developed sustainable tourism offerings well-suited to the expectations of today’s travellers.
For example, there are now 16 new hiking trails across the northern and north-western routes of Azerbaijan, passing through remote mountain villages. The signs installed at the starting point of these trails include a route map, GPS coordinates, difficulty level and total distance of the route as well as some interesting information about the fauna and flora of the region. The team is currently working on Khinalig-Laza cross-mountain trekking route, which another exciting activity for nature lovers.
Another interesting experience that is now available in the country is Slow Food Travel. The concept has been developed within an EU-funded project and jointly implemented by ATB and Slow Food International to foster economic regeneration and the well-being of rural communities. The Slow Food Travel routes developed in the north-west of the country is now expanding to the South of Azerbaijan which provides a perfect combination of rice, citrus fruits and team. This experience will allow tourists to be a part of local production of very rare ingredients while finding out more about local gastronomic traditions.
Azerbaijan is also becoming an attractive birdwatching destination thanks to its mixed landscapes, from wetlands in the subtropical south to the mountain villages in the north, where birdwatchers can find millions of interesting bird species.
2021 also saw the timely project of the Mud Volcanoes Tourism Complex which will be launched in 2022, allowing its visitors to enjoy multiple experiences from quad biking and zip lining to workshops for children along with a trip to a moon-like landscape home to an enormous collection of mud volcanoes.
In October of 2021, Azerbaijan also celebrated the opening of Fuzuli International Airport in the Karabakh region, with 2 more under construction. With continuous restoration work, Karabakh is a promising destination with so many natural assets as well rich heritage deeply rooted in culture and history of Azerbaijan, increasing the number of travel experiences across outdoor activities, health and wellness and other directions.
“There are so many tangible and intangible assets available in Azerbaijan, from UNESCO Heritage Sites and natural wonders to its cultural and historical heritage. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our strategy has been to develop these assets into immersive and sustainable tourism experiences”, said Florian Sengstschmid, Chief Executive Officer of Azerbaijan Tourism Board.
Another initiative was developed to increase the efficiency of hotels – the National Hotel Classification System, which was recently launched, and 17 hotels were presented with quality certificates following an inspection of international standards. Another important milestone was the establishment of the Tourist Guides Certification Organisation which will provide training and certification of local tour guides to ensure the highest level of services for travellers. There have also been continuous restoration works and infrastructure improvement in the mountain village of Khinalig and arts and crafts settlements of Basgal and Lahij along with other historical locations.
The end of the year of 2021 also highlighted the draft law on tourism, passed by the National Assembly of the Azerbaijan Republic, to stimulate the industry by supporting entrepreneurship, improve the quality of tourism services provided in the country and ensure tourist satisfaction through various mechanisms.
ATB also joined the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative developed within the framework of the Sustainable Tourism Programme of the One Planet network, led by the United Nations Environment Programme and World Tourism Organization. By joining this collective initiative, the aim is to contribute to addressing the root causes of plastic pollution together with local and international stakeholders.
In 2021, ATB has restarted its physical attendance at international travel exhibitions too. Starting with the ATM Dubai in May, it actively promoted Azerbaijan’s rich travel experiences at the ACE of M.I.C.E. Exhibition by Turkish Airlines in Turkey, OTDYKH Leisure and EXPOTRAVEL 2021 in Russia, Expo 2020 Dubai, as well as the Qatar Travel Mart for the first time.
In the autumn of 2021, the country was awarded several high-level awards, including Best Crossborder Wine Tourism Product at the Phoenicians’ Route – Iter Vitis Awards 2021. Azerbaijan was also the winner of the 28th Annual World Travel Awards in two categories – Europe's Leading Cultural Destination and Europe's Leading Excursion Destination. Following these, the capital city Baku was voted World’s Leading City Tourism Destination at the 11th annual Uzakrota Travel Awards.
Statistics show that Azerbaijan has been regaining its popularity among its source markets since the gradual opening of international borders. According to the arrival figures, the country has seen a steady increase in the number of travellers with overall 790 thousand arrivals in 2021. This is only a 1% decrease compared to 2020, and it is due to the large number of arrivals in January and February right before the lockdown – 2021 indeed shows promising figures in separate months, especially from Russia, Turkey and the Middle East countries.
Azerbaijan is now open to 68 countries by air travel. With restored connection via multiple international airlines and easy e-visa procedures, passengers aged 18 and over can now fly to Azerbaijan by submitting both a COVID passport (an official document issued by the relevant country on complete vaccination or recovery from COVID-19) and a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before the flight, while for minors only the latter needs to be provided within the indicated period of time.