In 2020 the world came to a stop as Covid-19 spread across the globe. Azerbaijan, like many other countries, is now more than ever promoting its tourism offer to regain the visitors it used to get before the pandemic.
1. Reforming tourism industry
Azerbaijan started working harder on promoting its touristic opportunities right before Covid hit. In 2017-2018, a governmental reform transformed how the country manages its tourism industry, creating, for the first time, a State Tourism Agency and a Tourism Board. The Agency coordinates the tourism development of the country, while the Board is promoting it for the international market.
Apart from establishing the new bodies, the government better regulated the tourism market and abolished tourism licences for hotels, travel agencies and touristic guides. We also simplified the visa system for 95 countries.Məhəmməd Muradov, Manager State Tourism Agency’s Department of Tourism Policy and Strategy
All of these reforms paid off, international arrivals reaching a peak in 2019 with 3.2 million tourists coming to Azerbaijan.
During the pandemic, Azerbaijan lost 75% of its tourism economy, 2020 being the hardest year, Məhəmməd Muradov, manager of the Tourism Agency’s Department of Tourism Policy and Strategy, told Travel Tomorrow. The following year, tourism started slowly recovering, thanks mostly to domestic trips, and in 2022 it reached about 50% of the 2019 level.
Removing the testing requirement before arrival played a big part in recovery, the number of tourists having doubled once they were no longer asked to present a negative test before entering the country.
3. Towards 2023
The tourism agency employs different strategies tailored for the key markets they are targeting. Although Europe is among these key markets, tourists from countries in geographical proximity, like the Middle East and Central Asia, are higher in the share of international arrivals.
The government strategy is to work with key source markets and one of these source markets is Europe, especially focusing on Germany.Məhəmməd Muradov, Manager State Tourism Agency’s Department of Tourism Policy and Strategy
Among the top performers are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kazakhstan, China and India. Russian tourists used to constitute a large part of the incoming visitors, but the war has changed that. “Lately, we have also noticed an increase in arrivals from Uzbekistan and Pakistan”, Muradov said.
The number of tourists from the UAE, for example, decreased by 27.2% in 2019 compared to 2018, due to the lack of variety and new products in the packages sold by travel agencies, as most of them are still only selling the most popular destinations like Baku and Gabala. Therefore, for them and the other big markets that have already got to know the country, the strategy for 2023 will focus on regional cities beyond the capital and on promoting new tourism products such as wellness, Silk Road tours, nature and culture.
For Europeans, on the other hand, the incoming visitors are not yet familiar with Azerbaijan as a destination, so the country is still promoted as a whole. Baku and the Absheron Peninsula are among the top preferences, with events that immerse tourists in the culture, gastronomy and wine making scenes of Azerbaijan. “We have a monolithic approach in branding the country for Europeans, but once they get here we propose various tourist products and experiences for them to choose from”, Muradov explained.