Over the last decade, Azerbaijan has witnessed significant growth in its tourism sector that has contributed heavily to the country's economy. The Caucasus country, which is a popular destination during the Ramadan break for both UAE nationals and expats staying in the region, witnessed visitors spending more than $2 billion in 2018, making it one of the fastest growing destinations in the world. In 2018 alone, the country welcomed more than 200,000 tourists from the GCC, which is a 30% increase from the year before.
A recent forecast by the Travel and Tourism Council 2018 Impact Report placed Azerbaijan among the Top 20 high potential countries in the world. AMEinfo had the opportunity to interact with Florian Sengstschmid, CEO of Azerbaijan Tourism Board, who shared his thoughts on a score of topics from economic diversification boosting tourism, to spending patterns, B-leisure travel trends, the impact of social media and millennials and so much more!
"Tourism is considered as the second oil boom for the nation which provides thriving business opportunities to local nationals. With high-profile sporting events such as Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix and UEFA Europe League Final; varied hospitality offerings that range from luxury collections to B&Bs; a vibrant gastronomical experience; spectacular landscapes including summer countryside and winter ski slopes; adventure trails; and cultural events; Azerbaijan is in an excellent position to cater to high volumes of visitors seeking authentic experiences and the local community is enthusiastic to share their culture, cuisine and country with visitors," Florian Sengstschmid summed up nicely. Read on for his highly interesting insights …
Speaking on GCC and Arab spending patterns, Florian Sengstschmid said that shopping and hotel spend rank as one of the most important leisure activities sought out. GCC shoppers tend to seek international goods and luxury brands at malls and designer boutiques.
On "Bleisure travel" – combining “business travel” and “leisure travel”
Florian Sengstschmid: We see “Bleisure travel” as a great opportunity to showcase the many revelations of Azerbaijan as both a business and leisure destination. Azerbaijan’s recent investments in tourism and country promotion are testimony to the fact that the country is poised to become a premium MICE destination with a well-developed corporate infrastructure equipped to host large scale business meetings and conferences. Its unique location at the crossroads of the East and West, and rich historical and cultural heritage, combined with modern infrastructure and heartfelt hospitality, positively contribute to its appeal as an emerging business events hub.
Along with excellent air accessibility, the contemporary nation offers authentic on-site activities, unique dining venues, world-class conference facilities, luxury hotels, and state of the art venues, some of which are the city’s most remarkable 21st-century architectural masterpieces. Most notable are the iconic Flame Towers, a trio of skyscrapers dominating the skyline of Baku and the brand-new purpose-built Baku Convention Center. The multifunctional convention center has structured but flexible rooms and spacious public areas covered by a shared curved shell. The impressive, open-plan space offers unobstructed views across Baku’s greatest architectural masterpiece: the Heydar Aliyev Center. Designed by the world-famous architect Zaha Hadid, the Center is the crown jewel of Baku’s architecture.
The capital city, Baku, strikes a natural balance between high-standard facilities with charming streets in the Old City quarter. The city boasts numerous centrally located facilities, offering venues for large-scale conventions and trade events catering to over 68,000 participants as well as the capabilities to host smaller more exclusive forums.
Major trends likely to impact the travel and tourism industry
Florian Sengstschmid: In addition to “Bleisure travel”, another trend we believe will impact the tourism industry is immersive, curated and cultural experiences. Travelers are seeking experiences that are unique, authentic and tailored to their specific interests. Within this, we also see a trend of destinations that are safe, family-friendly and cater to traveling couples.
As travelers are seeking enriching experiences, we have curated niche tourism products such as wellness and health retreats, the first Azerbaijan wine-route as well as the popular slow-food travel concept that is being developed in the regions to enthrall visitors.
Azerbaijan is a true amalgamation of the East and West with the country encircled in scores of natural beauty speckled with modern architecture and rich medieval history. From Baku’s modern Flame Towers, to the depths of the medieval UNESCO World Heritage site, there’s something for everyone in Azerbaijan. A constantly evolving tapestry of life and energy from bazaars to jazz clubs makes it an ideal destination for family holidays as well as solo travels.
As an Eastern country with a Western outlook, Azerbaijan caters to all types of travelers. With our combination of antiquity and novelty, our diverse landscape, and fine cuisine and sophisticated gastronomists, Azerbaijan is in an excellent position to cater to this upcoming trend. Tourists can enjoy a safe environment, a warm welcome by friendly locals and experiences that meet their needs and expectations.
We’ve also learned that direct travel access is increasingly pertinent for travels. People want quick access and no longer want to wait for transfers or long layovers. Catering to this trend, we have ensured Azerbaijan is easily accessible by offering over 40 direct flights across the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.
Impact of millennials and social media influencers
Florian Sengstschmid: The impact that social media has on attracting tourists to the country is monumental, especially on millennials. It’s a powerful channel that truly has the power to influence others and even create feelings of FOMO which can lead to action.
The channel also underlines the importance of authenticity. In today’s digital age, most of us are turning to social media for destination inspiration and trip ideas – however, consumers scrolling through their Instagram feeds are becoming savvier about travel images that are staged, over-edited and lacking authenticity.
We use our hashtags #TakeAnotherLook and #ExperienceAzerbaijan across our social platforms to showcase all the country has to offer as a business and tourism destination. The hashtags also act as an invitation to our audience to share their experiences with us and their followers, which we then repost. This user-generated content is essential in highlighting authentic experiences by real people.