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The Inaugural European Games in Baku will be a Great Event
An interview with Mr. Abulfaz Karayev, Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan

    AT: In 2015, Azerbaijan will host its first ever European Olympic Games. And for the first time, these first games will cause a huge inflow of tourists to Azerbaijan. We might say that this will be the first international public event of this kind to be held in the country. What kind of preparation process does the Ministry undertake and what is this preparation process expected to yield?

A.K.: It goes without saying that the first Baku European Olympic games will be an event of immense significance. I believe that its staging in Azerbaijan will provide the international community with yet another opportunity to familiarize itself with our country, its history, culture, hospitality, cuisine as well as a number of other peculiar features, while exposing our country to the world in a different context. As you might be aware, scores of international tourism events have, to date, been successfully implemented in Azerbaijan that managed to prove its ability to deftly host international events of any scale. By way of an example, we can highlight some of the events that were previously carried out in Azerbaijan, including Eurovision Song Contest 2012, FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, etc. As for the inaugural European 2015 Olympic Games, I would like to emphasize their importance in a special way. Thus, these first Games will, on the one hand, serve as an opportunity for Azerbaijan to establish its new image of a tourist country that meets international standards while, on the other hand, they will further ensure continued tourist inflow to the country in 2015. It is no coincidence that - given the importance of this Event and its potential contribution to the development of our country’s tourism industry – our Government is unequivocally doing its best to provide the first Athletic Games in our country with unparalleled athletic infrastructure and facilities. As you know, the athletic infrastructure that has been established in our country in the past years meets global requirements and international standards. We can say with confidence that these athletic facilities and structures, both completed and those still undergoing construction, will allow us to hold top level inaugural games. Meanwhile, I would emphasize the fact that we conduct regular monitoring activities and ongoing surveys aimed at assessing the level of tourist sector service quality and proficiency against modern requirements. We carry out studies to find whether hospitality services provided by hotels and travel agencies comply with governmental standards, and rectify deficiencies, if they are found. I should also note that the foregoing monitoring program will duly focus in on maintaining high quality of services to be delivered to our tourists during the oncoming first European Olympic Games. By maintaining close cooperation with the inaugural Baku 2015 European Games Operation Committee and other relevant structures, we take all necessary measures to ensure the best possible organization of the first Games. While the expected majority of tourists are forecasted to arrive from European countries, one should not rule out the probability of foreign nationals’ coming from other countries. I hope the first Baku 2015 European Games will be a success story and that, while positively impacting both current and future tourist inflow to our country, will give publicity to our country’s current state of development and improve its popularity worldwide.

    AT: As an integral part of culture, tourism comprises scores of constituent elements, whose number increases day by day. At the moment, Azerbaijan diversifies its economy and, from this perspective, development of the non-oil sector is one of the country’s current objectives, according to President Ilham Aliyev. In this context, the role of tourism sector in Azerbaijan - given the country’s geographic and climatic conditions – should be considered indispensable. In your view, what kind of measures must be undertaken to turn tourism into a sustainable business sector that would be able to make reliable and ongoing contribution to Azerbaijan’s GDP?

A.K.: You have rightfully pointed that development of the non-oil and, particularly, tourism sector in Azerbaijan is of paramount importance. It should be noted, moreover, that development of tourism industry can provide our country with a few specific advantages: it can strengthen our economy at large, bring development to the country’s regions and popularize Azerbaijan throughout the world. Our President declared tourism to be a priority sector thereby providing necessary conditions to increase its share in the non-oil sector. Statistical data pertaining to the future potential development of tourism industry is clearly alluding to the leading role it is destined to play amongst other areas of the non-oil sector. It was no coincidence that the head of our country declared 2011 the ‘Year of Tourism’ and since then a series of reforms have been implemented to accelerate the development of tourism sector. It should also be taken into account that our future vision is based on sustainable economic development. From this standpoint, one of our major objectives is to establish a strategy aimed at sustainable development of the tourism sector, constituting a critical segment of our economy. It is notable that, while considering various types of national strategies, our tourism development policy is solely based on the principles of sustainability. As a branch of Azerbaijan’s economy, lately, the tourism sector has strived to increase its share in Azerbaijan’s GDP and reveal a positive growth dynamics. It should be noted that, based on 2014 assessment of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the tourism industry’s direct contribution to the country’s GDP amounted to 1.3 bln manats, with indirect contribution to GDP totaling 4.9 bln manats, making 2.4% and 8.8% accordingly. Unequivocal development of the country’s non-oil sector is increasingly considered a priority objective and, from this perspective, our major objective is to increase the share of tourist sector in Azerbaijan’s GDP structure. The government’s main course of economic development will allow countering the decline – forcasted by economic experts to take place within the oncoming few years – of the oil sector’s absolute and relative share in Azerbaijan’s GDP by the growing share of non-oil sector in the national GDP. To increase direct and indirect contribution of turism sector to the country’s GDP, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism must undertake certain measures to establish necessary conditions, solve problems the industry is faced with and create proper competitive environment. Сurrent statistical data evidences a growth trend on a number of indicators. Thus, in 2014, the number of tourism entities grew by 10.5% to total 276, hospitality facilities amounted to 527, while the number of employees reached 40 010. According to the assessment of the World Travel and Tourism Council, domestic spending incurred in the tourism sector has increased by 21% to reach 1.7 bln manat, while the level of capital investment in the sector grew by 20% to total 360 mln manat.

    AT: Thank you for the interview Mr. Minister.