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    Azerbaijan is ready with a plethora of new offerings for the Indian traveler

    Azerbaijan Tourism Board (ATB) has long been working on developing sustainable tourism experiences that are well-suited to the expectations of today’s travellers, while at the same time prioritising its mission of preserving and reinforcing the existing resources of the country. Bahruz Asgarov, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Azerbaijan Tourism Board (ATB), in an exclusive interview with TTJ, shares some in-depth details of new offerings in Azerbaijan, a country that blends the best of East and West.

    – Prashant Nayak

    Set on the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is widely considered a part of both Europe and Asia. Azerbaijan is known as the Land of Fire and includes ancient historical empires intertwined with the modernity of a nation undergoing rapid transformation.

    After welcoming over 790,000 visitors in 2021, Azerbaijan is prepared to welcome tourists in 2022 with safe, sustainable, and immersive experiences, with the anticipation that India will soon be among the top source countries, as it was before the pandemic. Azerbaijan is ready to conquer the Indian hearts once again.

    “India remains an important market for us, and we are set to restart our activities to attract travellers from this beautiful country,” says Bahruz. ATB aims to reconnect with industry partners and media representatives in India after quite a long pause and convey the novelties in Azerbaijan, where recovery from the pandemic is going according to plan.

    Baku, the capital city, is the gateway to Azerbaijan. Baku provides an eclectic mixture of architectural phenomena from the likes of Paris and Dubai, and is rapidly changing. You will discover a constantly evolving tapestry of life and energy from bazaar to penthouse in Baku. Being a coastal city, Baku is intrinsically open-minded and hospitable.

    Sharing more on Baku and the nearby places, Bahruz informs, “Baku is the main hub where we receive the tourists along with Gabala and other destinations in Azerbaijan. The city is amazing. Our biggest city is also the economic and cultural center in Azerbaijan, and it has this European outlook, very nice, very modern, and with very good infrastructures. There are also many cultural sites in Baku and the rest of Azerbaijan that tourists can visit. In a few hours of travel, one can connect Baku with other destinations, such as Gabala, and Lankaran. If one stays, even more, they can go to Sheki, which was recently inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

    Azerbaijan is now open to eighty-seven countries by air travel. With a restored connection via multiple international airlines and easy e-visa procedures, passengers aged eighteen and over can now fly to Azerbaijan by submitting a COVID passport/certificate and a negative PCR test taken within seventy-two hours before the flight. Only the latter needs to be provided within the indicated time for minors.

    Azerbaijan has a very simplified visa regime. Bahruz mentions, “Before the pandemic, Azerbaijan became popular with Indian tourists. It was because of the ease of the visa application process. For a visa, one only needs a passport. Travellers can visit the website and apply for this visa, and they can get a regular visa issued within three days, but usually it is issued in one day. They can also get an urgent visa in a couple of hours. It’s very easy, and applicants don’t face any problems applying for a visa. Also, when they arrive in Azerbaijan, there is basically no chance of being deported. Hence, everything is very smooth.”

    Azerbaijan is full of contrasts, with nine climate zones stretching across the country. On a journey across the Caucasian leg of the Silk Road, you are bound to witness history and modernity collide across dreamy semi-desert landscapes. One is surprised to see the snow-capped Caucasian Mountains border the hot deserts while sun-soaked meadows merge with Caspian Sea coasts.

    When it comes to attractions and offerings, one of the best examples among these offerings is Slow Food Travel, developed within an EU-funded project which ATB and Slow Food International have jointly implemented. This experience is now accessible across the north-western route, with about sixty local partners providing local gastronomic experiences and accommodation options. It is also planned to be expanded to the subtropical south of Azerbaijan, where a perfect combination of rice, tea, and citrus plantations awaits travellers.

    When Indian tourists started visiting Azerbaijan, the country only had a few restaurants offering Indian food. “Right now, there are so many restaurants that offer Indian food because hospitality stakeholders began to understand that when the Indian travellers come to Azerbaijan, they would at some point like to have their food as well. So, in many streets, one can find Indian restaurants, and they are getting quite popular. It’s not only in Baku but also in Gabala that restaurants cater to Indian food. Since Baku is a dynamic city, it is known for all kinds of cuisines right from European, Asian, Russian to Indian and Arabic cuisine,” states Bahruz.

    ATB has also managed to achieve considerable progress in developing hiking routes, with sixteen new trails marked across Azerbaijan’s northern and north-western routes, passing through remote mountain villages surrounded by breath-taking nature. Moreover, 97 km of hiking trails through the lush, forested mountains of Sheki and Zagatala have recently been added to the Transcaucasian Trail, and more routes are still to be added in cooperation with the Transcaucasian Trail Association.

    Azerbaijan is becoming an increasingly attractive birdwatching destination thanks to its diverse landscapes and interesting bird species, and there is more to be done in this direction as well. ATB is planning to organise a birdwatching festival where international media and relevant partners will also be invited, in cooperation with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

    After the pandemic, ATB sought to create some unique and sustainable experiences. They are beginning to understand that people want something new, which is also sustainable. They didn’t want to go into mass tourism. “That’s why we developed a few offerings for this type of tourist. Besides hiking, Azerbaijan is also turning out to be an amazing birdwatching destination. The region is one of the few hotspots where migratory birds from Eurasia during winter make a stopover while flying from the north to the south and from the east to the west. During this migrating season, there are lots of exotic, beautiful, and wonderful species of birds to be seen. Besides the migratory, bird lovers will also be surprised at sighting birds endemic to the region. We hope to generate a lot of worldwide media attention around the destination during the bird-watching festival in November this year. But meanwhile, we are working on the infrastructure. We will make sure that bird watchers and wildlife aficionados can view this one-of-a-kind experience,” explains Bahruz.

    Bahruz further adds, “And for travellers visiting in winter, we have amazing ski resorts in Azerbaijan in destinations such as Gabala, Qusar, and Nakhchivan. The development of new tourism offerings has also continued Safari tours in Shamakhi, surrounded by the Caucasus Mountains for ecotourists and wildlife lovers, the Alpine Coaster at Shahdag Mountain Resort, the world’s first oil tanker museum, and a reconstructed zoo in Baku.”

    Another integral part of ATB’s activities is to continue researching how best to develop tourism offerings in Karabakh, where major restoration work continues at full speed. With one international airport opened and two more under construction, this destination is set to combine interesting experiences across outdoor activities, health and wellness, cultural routes, and other tourism offerings.

    One more much-anticipated plan for 2022 is opening the Mud Volcanoes Tourism Complex, which will allow its visitors to enjoy multiple experiences from quad biking and zip-lining to workshops for children, along with a trip to the moon-like landscape home to an enormous collection of mud volcanoes. This June, Azerbaijan will host the sixth Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix from 10th to 12th.

    ATB had been very active throughout the pandemic, and now they are restarting everything again. During the pandemic, they had a few platforms that they launched for their travel partner to keep Azerbaijan on the top of mind for the travellers. “It was surprising to know that the highest certificates were awarded to our Indian trade partners in our destination expert program, which shows a great deal of interest in Azerbaijan by the Indian trade. Now, we further want to recommend our partners and show what more Azerbaijan offers. Since we have also developed a few new products in Azerbaijan, we really want to showcase those to our Indian partners,” concludes Bahruz.

    Source: Travel Trade Journal