Azerbaijan woos Arab travellers

Al Baker addresses the media at the launch of Qatar Airway’s new service to Baku

AZERBAIJAN’S energy renaissance is astonishing by any criteria and the development of Azerbaijan and its capital, Baku, in recent times has been remarkable. It is no surprise therefore that Qatar Airways is creating a strategic air corridor into south-west Asia from its Doha hub and pioneering an aggressive route expansion to serve the eastern flank of Europe to serve Azerbaijan and Georgia. By year-end, Qatar Airways plans to serve a further seven destinations worldwide making a total of 119 destinations including 29 cities in its European network.

Qatar Airways is the only five-star airline flying to Baku, and according to Akbar Al Baker, this new route is a major part of its strategy to enter new markets, build business and provide choice through a range of top-level services. The flight from Doha is about 1,700 km with a flying time of 150 minutes into Heydar Aliyev International Airport.

“We are delighted to create a new air corridor and see great potential in Azerbaijan not only for business and investment in the country’s vast energy resources as well as the development of the tourism sector for family and independent travel drawing from the Middle East. The high-level delegation from Doha to Baku on the inaugural signifies the importance of Azerbaijan as an eastern gateway into south-west Asia and Europe and the enhanced connectivity that can be provided by Doha to serve global destinations through our Doha hub,” says Al Baker.

“Opening this route by Qatar Airways creates additional opportunities not only for Azerbaijani tourists but also for the inflow of tourists to Aberzaijan (you are already talking about Aberzaijan) especially from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab countries,” said Nahid Bahirov, head of the Azerbaijan Tourism Association.

In May 2012, Baku hosts the Eurovision Song Contest and expects a huge boost to tourism at that time. According to government sources, Azerbaijan currently attracts about two million foreign tourists and this is expected to rise to five million by 2015.

Azerbaijan is transforming itself from the legacy of the building boom of the Rothschild and oil barons period before the First World War and the 70 years of the Soviet era into a vibrant and diverse country rich in culture, arts and  intelligence.

As well as the Caspian Sea with its Beluga caviar there are many great assets such as Unesco world heritage site at Gobustan with petroglyphs showing the carvings of 20,000 years of history. There is the old city of Baku with remnants of the city walls and the famous mediaeval Maiden Tower and the Shirvanshah’s Palace. The grand public buildings and elegant mansions of a century ago are tastefully being restored with the boulevards and streets reminiscent of French-empire style.

Hotels are being built or commissioned through the city including many of the leading hotel companies of the world. Four Seasons is under construction and there are plans for a Fairmont and a Jumeirah Beach property. The massive Kempinski Hotel, Badamar recently open including meetings and conference areas, offices and hotel accommodation. The Hyatt and Park Hyatt are well established with offices and service apartments serving the business community, which includes many of world’s oil industry majors as well as the Sheraton, Radisson, Hilton and Marriott changing its cityscape very fast.

The city’s skyline is dominated by skyscrapers, hotels and shopping malls, museums and art galleries overlooking the great Caspian Sea. The Flame Towers building under construction has three curved steel and glass towers signifying the importance of oil and gas and reflecting Aberzaijan’s ancient history of fire-worship.   

As the first country in the region to exploit its immense energy potential more than a century ago, Azerbaijan is again poised to become a super-economy with its fast-tracked development of infrastructure and petroleum assets. This spectacular energy renaissance is reflected by per capita income for Azeris of $10,900 today compared to $509 in 1997 in a country of more than nine million.

In May 2011, the Ministry of Culture & Tourism, the Association of Tourism of Azerbaijan and Dubai’s Atlantis Holidays signed a tripartite cooperation agreement. The agreement implies opening of the Azerbaijani Culture & Tourism Ministry’s representative office in Dubai to actively promote the tourism potential of Azerbaijan across the Persian Gulf.

“The most important question for us is to convince the residents of Dubai of tourism potential of Azerbaijan. The residents of Dubai are keen travellers and enjoy exploring new destinations, says Dayana Persan, general manager for Atlantis Holidays.

“We are keen to position Azerbaijan as a short-haul destination catering to Arab and expat, couples and family holidays as well as the Mice and soft adventure sectors,” adds Persan.

Already popular with Mice industry, a new state-of-the-art Expo Centre is expected to position Baku as a natural choice for future exhibition and events as well as a preferred destination for major conferences and events.