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Azerbaijan’s Inexhaustible Tourist Potential

Azerbaijan is a unique country because it can develop all types of tourism business: rural, beach, mountainous, medical, etc.
Azerbaijan has a truly unique nature. Thus, this country has localities where healing mountain climate is combined with forest-covered mountains and seashore (825 km); some places are known for their vast sunlit sandy beaches, mineral water and therapeutic muds. Also, this includes exotic nature comprising landscapes that frequently change and contrast each other as you travel but a short distance, unique old-growth forests and plants, most diverse wildlife, numerous natural sanctuaries, artifacts, architectural and historic memorials.

Rural Tourism – Crisp Air and Picturesque Sites
Since recent introduction of rural tourism in Azerbaijan, modern camping areas have been rapidly constructed in the country’s regions, while the culture of tourist service is improving. Foreign tourists will have long-lasting memories of just how fruits and vegetables taste in Azerbaijan, recalling the country’s wine and gorgeous slopes of Caucasian mountains, whose picturesque beauty never comes short of Austrian and Swiss mountain sites.
Rural tourism encourages tourist contact with nature, promotes camp life and experiences of farm yard environment as well as tiny countryside town atmosphere. This kind of leisure presents tourists with a chance to familiarize themselves with everyday life of rural population, when they can eyewitness folk crafts, study vegetation and animal life, enjoy fishing and hiking through mountains and lakes. And, needless to say, such hiking opportunities must result in enjoying ample national cuisine in the evening atmosphere of Azerbaijan’s profound musical arts.
By choosing to take rest in Azerbaijan’s countryside regions, visitors may come across historic facts pertaining to their own country, i.e. something they, perhaps, did not even expect to discover. In the city of Shamkir, German tourists can, to their own surprise, see entire streets full of German houses; enjoy the beauty of local Lutheran church, parks, discover production of wine, etc. Back in 1818, Germans moved in here from Wurttemberg as they fled from the calamity of Napoleon`s invasion. Thus, they fled to Azerbaijan, where they established two German settlements: Helenendorf and Annenfeld (present-day cities of Goy-Gol and Shamkir). By the way, German descendants can also taste wine that in time past was deposited in wine cellars by their ancestors that had used their own technology to develop wine industry in Azerbaijan.
Annually, hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to hotels and countryside cottages to enjoy their Summer-time vacations.

Mountainous Tourism Captures More and More Proponents Many people recognize Azerbaijan as a sunny country with valleys and seashores. Clearly, Azerbaijan is a mountainous country, since 60 percent of its territory is made up of mountains and submountain regions. Azerbaijani territory includes both Lesser and Greater Caucasus mountains, forming a natural fence that surrounds the country from its Northern parts all the way down to the Southeast.
In some areas, the height of the Greater Caucasus mountain ridge can exceed 4000 meters above the sea level.
The mountain titled Shahdag enjoys the biggest popularity among local tourists. Its height is 4243 meters above the sea level. The mountainous landscape consists of glaciers, waterfalls and Alpine meadows. In the western part of Shahdag intrusion, there are two lakes situated amid crags at a height of 3700-3800 meters above the sea level; Shahdag’s western “gate” is the only way that leads to these lakes.
In winter, the air temperature in these mountains drops down to and below minus 20 degrees by Celsius and that, in turn, makes hundred-meter waterfalls freeze while on their way down from the mountain slopes. These waterfalls freeze to form huge ice blocks that people use to ascend the mountain.
All necessary conditions have been established for mountain climbers in Azerbaijan: recreation facilities sit at the base of the mountain range to accommodate climbers that can also use the uphill transportation system. Tourists can always reckon on experienced instructors and guides to accompany them.
The Shahdag mountain was invigorated by the decision of Azerbaijani government to build a ski resort in this picturesque region. Since September 2009, work has been underway to erect necessary infrastructure, including bridges, new roads and even a new Shahdag power plant. Within a short period of time, five modern hotels were built at the altitude of 1300-2300 meters above the sea level.

Golden Sand Beaches of the Caspian Sea
Recreational potential of Azerbaijan’s health-resorts is duly evidenced by the fact that the country’s 680 kilometer-long coastal line was deemed fit for construction of a number of sanatorium-and-spa facilities. In today’s Azerbaijan, “wild” beaches are nowhere to be found anymore, instead, there is a rapid development of modern hotels, tourist camps, campings, etc.
Surrounded by the Caspian Sea, the Apsheron peninsula is well renowned for its sandy beaches and numerous dacha communities. It is here that metropolitan inhabitants like to spend their summer months. Situated nearby Baku, the beach resorts of Mardakyan, Buzovna, Zagulba, Bilgyah, Pirshaghi, Shihov, Novhani, etc. amass visitors that come here from all over the country as well as from abroad. A well advanced infrastructure – hotels, aqua parks, restaurants, etc. – provides favorable conditions to ensure development of all types of beach and medical tourism here.
As for the health-care benefits, suffice it to recall the Bilgyah Cardiological Health resort that was built in 1978 and enjoyed great popularity among Azerbaijanis. The cardiological facility had a 700-bed capacity and included a medical rehabilitation department for post-myocardial infraction treatment section, and enjoyed a great deal of popularity among local citizens and tourists. The health resort’s attendees were provided with ideal conditions as they could rest in the shade of trees, enjoy athletic ground, fountains, etc. Also they could certainly enjoy the golden sand beach lying along a warm shoreline with a ten-meter wide shallow water strip. It should be noted that Bilgyah coastal area includes some luxury hotels and sanatoriums; also, there is a possibility to rend housing from the settlement inhabitants.
In summer, local inhabitants and tourists enjoy the popularity of Hachmaz-Nabran seaside area as it represents a unique juncture of coastal forest and the sea. This area undergoes rapid development as modern hotels and cottage settlements are built here. Comfortable accommodation, kindness of local inhabitants and availability of a large athletic facility provide various age groups with favorable leisure conditions to enjoy.
Modern hotel facilities were built in the Caspian shorelines to meet the requirements of the most accomplished tourists that can come from any part of the world.

Caspian Riches and Mysteries
The Caspian Sea is not only rich with oil and natural gas. It possesses diverse biological resources and abundant population of plants.
Caspian biological resources comprise 1809 species and forms, of which 1069 species are known to be self-sufficient, 325 - parasitic and 415 vertebrates. The Caspian sturgeon population forms the mainstay of global genetic stocks of sturgeon and is, therefore, very important. At the moment, the Caspian Sea is the major water body in the world to harbor Sturgeon species, as it accounts for 90% of the global Sturgeon production.
In overall, there are 101 fish species registered in the Caspian Sea. Of them, the Caspian seal is the only aquatic mammal.
Azerbaijan’s own ‘Atlantis’ is found underneath Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea. Archeologists believe that the medieval river of Kura bypassed Kursenge to flow into the sea nearby Bandavan cape. It could well be that, in the Middle Ages, a populated, large and strong city had been situated on the bank of upstream Kura, way North of Salyan city, where it debouched into the Caspian. In 1986, the Azerbaijan’s History Museum undertook a subsea expedition to explore the sunken city.
Based on the information that was collected and documented over the period of fifteen years, we can clearly state that the submerged 20-kilometer area along with a few drowned structures represent remains of a large city. Archeological findings dating to 9-11 centuries reveal that the city could be called Mughan. The artefacts of Bandavan cape could be split in two categories. The items found in the northern area date back to 9-11 centuries and represent houseware with simple ornamentation, while those discovered in the southern area are about two centuries older and contain a richer ornamentation.
Goglets were used as containers to store various food products. Cholmaga — a container made of clay that resembled cups — were used to prepare meals that were eaten from large bowls. Small bowls were used to drink water. Bandavan’s pottery is characteristic of many green color variances, including both green malachite, produced from copper sulphate, and the color of grass as well as other undertones. Manganese dioxide was used to produce yellow, red and purple colors as well as their undertones. Ferrous oxide would be added to the red color. Having stood the test of time, Dutch ware and pottery still maintain their colors today.

Attractiveness of Tourist Business
According to 2014 statistical data, Azerbaijan’s tourism sector has been undergoing continued development in terms of the growing number of tourist companies, income level of tourist facilities and their expenditures. Compared to 246 tourist companies in 2013, the number of tourist entities in the country has grown to 270 in 2014.
A rapid development of the country’s tourism sector is clearly seen in the light of successes Azerbaijan could achieve over a longer period of time.
The number of hotels in Azerbaijan has grown from 288 in 2006 to 527 in 2014. It should also be noted that the number of people employed by tourist facilities has grown from 5117 to 9847, respectively. An overall capacity of the country’s tourist facilities at any one time is a major indicator that, from 2006 to 2014, has increased from 24706 to 34731, respectively.
In 2014, most of foreign visitors came to our country from Russia (36,3%), Georgia (31,4%) and Turkey (13,6%). Compared to 2013, more tourists came from France, Spain, Italy, Norway, Greece, Croatia, UK, Germany, Belgium and a number of other European and world countries.
Regional instability – toppling Russian rouble and economic crisis, political instability in Ukraine and socio-economic tensions in Iran – caused increased inflow of citizens from the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Iran thus curtailing the overall influx of foreign tourists in Azerbaijan.
However, an influx of tourists in 2015 can be effectively forecasted. A major reason for the tourist inflow has to do with the first ever European Olympic Games to be held in our country. The European tournaments will play an important role in drawing the world’s attention to Azerbaijan.
According to the assessment made by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), direct share of tourism sector in the country’s GDP in 2014 totaled 1,3 bln manat while its gross share amounted to 4,9 bln manat; which, in turn, totaled 2.4% and 8.8% of GDP, respectively. This is quite significant for an oil producing country. According to WTTC, domestic tourism expenditures grew by 21% and amounted to 1,7 bln manat, while capital investments in the tourism industry surged by 20% and totaled 360 mln manats, said the report by Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Steps Towards Attracting Tourists
In August through November 2014, tours titled ‘Getting to Know Our Country’ were conducted for high schoolers, 9 through 11 graders, within the framework of the activity aimed at promoting domestic tourist potential. 3 040 schoolers from the country’s 65 cities and municipal districts had a chance to partake of this event. The project aroused great public interest and was, particularly, enjoyed and participated by schoolers of different age.
The project contributed to raising awareness about the country’s history, publicized information about various districts’ natural environment, their customs and traditions as well as encouraged training and education of younger generations in the spirit of patriotism and aptitude for traveling throughout their native country.
Also, members of foreign diplomatic missions to Baku partook of an informational tour to Guba and Gusar on 20-21 May 2014, as well as to Sheki, Gabala and Ismailli on 4-5 November 2014. During the info tour, the diplomats were familiarized with our country’s rich tourist potential as well as its historical and cultural sites.
To attract more tourists from countries having visa relations with Azerbaijan Republic, a new important procedure of tourist e-visa system has been implemented in the country since March 2013, in keeping with an appropriate Presidential Decree.
The introduction of tourist e-visa system by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has enhanced tourist agencies’ interest in inbound tourism. Currently, 55 travel companies have been accredited by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for the issuance of electronic tourist visas. During 2013, the number of foreign visitors who came with e-visa was 6,147. In line with the data of the first half of 2014, the number of foreign tourists coming to Azerbaijan by electronic tourist visa amounted to 11,933.
Given the system’s recent introduction, the number of foreign visitors to receive electronic tourist visa is expected to grow annually.
To promote Azerbaijan’s tourist potential, the country’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture has conducted informational tours and press tours for representatives of Kazakhstan, Russia, USA, Germany and Spain.
This kind of events serve as important means to promote links between foreign tourist companies and Azerbaijani tourist agencies, as well as to inform citizens of other countries about the tourist, cultural and economic potential of our country.