Achievements of the EU-funded Twinning Project on supporting tourism in Azerbaijan are evident across the country.
This was said by EU Tourism Twinning project, Resident Twinning Adviser, Daiva Chetcuti-Kirkilaite to Trend.
The Twinning Project to strengthen the capacity of the Department of Tourism in the Azerbaijan's Culture and Tourism Ministry is financed by the European Union as an initiative from the Eastern partnership program. The total contractual values of the project constitute 900,000 EUR.
The tourism Twinning Project started 16 months ago and has been implemented by Austria and Lithuania. Experts from similar institutions of both countries have been involved to come to Azerbaijan and share their own expertise in tourism development.
According to Member State Project Leader Florian Sengstschmid tourism is in general a very hard and complicated industry.
"I would even say it is one of the most labor intense industries in our global economy. Along with all these parts of the value chain of tourism, it is highly dependent on people and human beings and the contributions of their professional level. That is what also makes tourism a success story or not," he said.
"This is exactly what this twinning tool in general and our project in particular-with the efforts of Austrian and Lithuanian experts working close in hand-in-hand on collaboration with Azerbaijani partners- builds on and links to professionalize the system," he stressed.
The main goals of the project
Chetcuti noted this project is directly targeting facilitation of tourism business in Azerbaijan in full sense of the word. "As we all know, tourism being a new industry is developing very fast in Azerbaijan and promising a lots of benefits to the country."
She also emphasized that this project is contributing to tourism development through the organizational changes, because Azerbaijan is not the only country going through organizational changes in order to adapt to the changing environment as response to the changing needs in tourism.
The review of the organization structure, the main goals and functions of the Tourism department and the main processes in terms of tourism development were made within the project with the purpose to professionalize the tourism management in the country.
"We brought in new functions that exist in European countries and that are still not covered by Azerbaijan, such as the strategic planning in tourism to forecast the country stance after a decade," she stressed.
"All these activities have to come out from the strategy and to be transformed into concrete actions and plans undertaken by the ministry," she said. That was the idea behind the developed marketing strategy by Twinning, which is an important mid-term policy document, which clearly emphasizes the main goals for the department.
"What is new is that these goals are measurable, that they have very clear performance indicators. For example, this marketing strategy is focusing on four achievements: the visibility, accessibility, seasonality and partnership," she said.
Giving example for accessibility Chetcuti said the goal is to facilitate the visa regime with five foreign countries per annum, while as in terms of the visibility, its main goal is to bring foreign tourist to Azerbaijan.
"The expected outcome for this goal would be to achieve the increase of foreign arrivals by 15 percent per annum from the foreign markets for the first primary target markets," she added.
Talking about the seasonality, she said, the desired outcome would be to increase the share of tourist arrivals by 0.25 from October to March. While in terms of partnership to have at least five joint marketing initiatives or schemes each year with the tour operators in the foreign countries.Key achievements of the project
Speaking about the key achievements of the Twinning Project, Chetcuti said the essential achievements are basically the capacity building reforms, that show the different ways to visualize the perspective achievements.
"We also introduced representation offices abroad through companies contracted in Russia and Germany that will be promoting Azerbaijan as a tourist destination. In addition, the Convention Bureau was created which will directly facilitate the conference and incentive business in Azerbaijan," she said.
Chetcuti added elaborations on the legal component should be particularly underlined, since the acting tourism law does not correspond today's changing needs of tourism industry.
"Our legal experts gave recommendations on improvement of the current law in close collaboration with the ministry to pave the way for the secondary legislation. The purpose of the secondary legislation is to facilitate the tourism association's work as well as the business relationship between different stakeholders in the tourism industry," she noted.
The Twinning Project also proposed theoretical model for development of the recreation area and all the prerequisites needed.
"A significant recommendation provided was also development of a recreation model applicable for eco-sensitive areas, the nature aspect of which is of growing interest for foreign tourists based on the example of the mud volcanoes in Gobustan," she added.Tourism potential in Azerbaijan
Sengstschmid assessed the tourism potential as huge and which is reflected as the priority in the government strategy policies.
"Actually, economy diversification and focus on non-energy, non-oil and gas sector is extremely important today in Azerbaijan. Thus, currently two million tourists according to official statistics are coming to Azerbaijan with regard to product potential in the fields of culture, sun and beach, being attracted by the nature aspect," he said.
There are many things already done with regard to infrastructure, hotels, facilities, restaurants, museums and attractions, he added. "The development potential lies especially in the software, in the people running these establishments, people working together collaborating in different fields in order to make this whole package really a unique experience and visible to the potential clients outside of Azerbaijan."
Sengstschmid noted a huge potential for development of cultural tourism, especially for European countries with the biggest outbound markets of Germany, France and UK.
"Definitely the segment of sun and beach in the northern coastal parts of Azerbaijan as a regional tourism product is a very promising experience for all neighboring markets. The nature experience in summer can start from lakes, hiking, and move to winter entertainments such as the wonderful ski resort Shah-Dag and Gabala Ski Resort, which are developing year by year," he said.
He also noted the Baku 2015 European Games, which is also a great opportunity, as well as 2017 Islamic Games, Formula One, and all other events happenings in the tourism business.
Sengstschmid also noted a convention perspective, participation at the events such as the humanitarian forum, the intercultural dialog, coupled with the huge available potential with regard to the geographical position of Azerbaijan between Europe and Asia as opening new perspectives for tourism development.