2011: Azerbaijan’s Year of Tourism?
It been so decreed: 2011 is the Year of Tourism in Azerbaijan. All sorts of goings on are heralding a new boom in tourism in the country. This past weekend, President Aliyev was in Goranboy, at the opening of a new hotel near the Naftalan Oil Baths. A new state program is being drafted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to promote new regulations, tourism education, and improve customer service. In President Aliyev’s announcement, he noted that the opening of five new five-star hotels was going to be an unprecedented event in the year 2011.
I can’t tell you where this is leading, really. The government has previously noted tourism development as one of their top priorities. In the past, they’ve also called 2010 the Year of the Environment and 2007 was the Year of Youth. What tangible results came out of the monikers, I couldn’t say. Instead, I can say that Azerbaijan has been on a furious tear as of late to build world-class tourism destinations. In Baku, you now have a polished Bülvar, or boardwalk, along the Caspian, spotted with fountains, entertainment, and a big, shiny, Western-style mall. Up north in Qusar, they are trying to finish up construction of the Shahdag ski resort. And now the Naftalan business I noted up above. If it all works out, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is predicting a serious jump in tourists, over 2 million visitors, and possibly nearing 3-4 million.
I’m curious to see if there are any tangible results coming out of this push for tourism development. My cynical side says there won’t be. And episodes like this certainly won’t help. I’m more in tune with this view of the tourism prospects for Azerbaijan. Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.