'On the cusp of a tourism boom, Azerbaijan is one of the fastest-growing destinations in the world'
Florian Sengstschmid, CEO of the Azerbaijan Tourism Board, tells us more about the country opening up to tourists from India and around the world.
Take another look and say ‘salam’ to Azerbaijan, as the country rolls out the hospitality red carpet to unveil its incredible revelations and attractions.
An Eastern country with a Western outlook, Baku is known as the Pearl of the Caucasus.
Combining history, culture and modernity, the vibrant city offers a safe and attractive setting along the Caspian Sea.
From outdoor activities, phenomenal shopping experiences, luxury hotels, and beautiful venues and locations for weddings and honeymoons, Azerbaijan is a perfect destination for couples, families, and friends.
Florian Sengstschmid, CEO of the Azerbaijan Tourism Board, tells us more in an interview.
What are your marketing and promotion strategies for 2019 in India? What are your growth targets?
India is a potential key source market for Azerbaijan owing to the growing local interest in the Caucasus region.
In 2019, the Azerbaijan Tourism Board launched a representative office in India to work closely with the local travel and trade industry.
In terms of a marketing strategy, we began the year by participating at South Asia’s leading travel show - SATTE 2019 in January where we launched our marketing campaign ‘Take another look’ to encourage travellers to discover Azerbaijan’s hidden gems.
We will have more activities from a B2B perspective – like roadshows rolling out in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai on the 9th, 11th and 13th of September respectively and partnerships with airlines and tour operators.
These will be targeted campaigns for families, for MICE, for weddings and for the film industry.
The commencement of direct flights every Tuesday and Fridays from Baku to New Delhi by Azerbaijan Airlines offers new opportunities for travellers to explore Azerbaijan’s unique stories and revelations, which is in line with the boards’ strategy to enhance the destination value and double the current in-bound tourism by 2023.
Indian carriers are also currently assessing the market and flight connectivity will help us diversify the products for the India market.
What is the current Indian tourist inflow into Azerbaijan? What are the Board’s promotion plans to increase the flow? Is the direct flight connectivity a step in that direction?
In 2018 alone, we had 40,000 Indian travellers visit the country. As far as 2019 goes, we have already had 27,000 travellers which is an increase of 80.2% within the first half.
Azerbaijan is currently on the cusp of a tourism boom as it welcomed a record number of in-bound visitors spending more than US$ 2 billion in 2018, making it one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world.
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.
Owing to the infrastructure, facilities, and tax rebates, Indian cinema is also slowly looking at this region with a few film shoots already in the pipeline. We are looking to build a film policy document to encourage and support the Indian film industry.
Azerbaijan Airlines’ direct flight connectivity between Baku and Delhi plays a very important role in terms of driving more visitors from India as previously we were only serviced by GCC connections. Adding to the convenience of travel for tourists is the newly implemented visa process.
Azerbaijan is one of the 41 countries in the world allowing Indians to acquire a visa with a simplified electronic visa procedure that can be availed in as little as three hours enabling ease of access to the country.
Which segments are you planning to focus on promoting in India?
Currently, the Boards’ strategy for India is to attract corporate, wedding and leisure travellers.
Azerbaijan is also a perfect destination for families with children friendly resorts and entertainment zones.
The Indian market has a large outbound potential, which is of high interest for the Azerbaijani DMCs, focused especially on attracting corporate and wedding travellers.
Is there an increasing interest among Indians to visit Azerbaijan? If yes, what has promoted the interest?
Azerbaijan has nine of the world's eleven climate zones, offering travellers a European experience at affordable prices all year round.
Besides, it offers the perfect landscape for every kind of holiday that Indian travellers will want to choose from - ranging from mountains and plateaus to the lowland sand coast which allows visitors to plan an itinerary that is unique and unforgettable.
Ties between India and Azerbaijan are very close – with a lot of cultural and historical touchpoints between both countries. For millennia, Azerbaijan has been at the crossroads of history.
As a tourism proposition, Azerbaijan is a safe family-oriented destination that is supported by a rich history that dates back 5,000 years and a composite culture that has evolved with the passing through of travellers along the Great Silk Road.
The fire-worshipping Zoroastrians left their mark at Ateshgah, where the Fire Temple continues to amaze visitors with its spouts of flames and inscriptions in Sanskrit or Punjabi adorned by 19th century Hindu merchants.
Azerbaijan’s unique geography and location have resulted in a cuisine influenced by the land’s natural ingredients. It has also assimilated the flavours of travellers that passed through its heartlands.
In addition to eateries serving local and international delicacies, Azerbaijan has many Indian restaurants that serve vegetarian food and a large community of local Indian chefs working in the hospitality sector.
International franchises, authentic cafés, luxurious restaurants, open-air playgrounds and cosy wine bars, along with other exciting locations are well-suited for individuals ready to indulge their palates with unique local and international flavours.
The commencement of direct flights every Tuesday and Thursdays from Baku to New Delhi by Azerbaijan Airlines is also another reason that has contributed to the interest amongst Indians with the ease of visa on arrival.
What are the top attractions in Azerbaijan that would interest the Indian travellers?
Azerbaijan is in an excellent position to cater to Indian tourists seeking authentic local and unforgettable experiences.
From UNESCO protected World Heritage Sites, outdoor activities, to phenomenal shopping experiences, Azerbaijan offers the perfect landscape for Indian travellers with varying interests.
The top attractions (by visitor numbers) that would interest Indian travellers are as follows:
Heydar Aliyev Center
Designed by the world-famous architect Zaha Hadid, the Centre is the crown jewel of Baku’s architectural treasures and is widely considered amongst the world’s most memorable recent constructions.
Travellers will be enthralled by the harmonious link between the Centre’s exterior and interior that aspires to remove any boundaries in the building’s perception as the place is meant to be open to anyone irrespective of gender, race and origin, bringing people together united by shared ideas.
In 2010, the Azerbaijani carpet was proclaimed a Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage by UNESCO, and the National Museum of Carpets has one of the largest collections of carpets in the world.
These traditional works of art are housed in a modernist building that itself resembles a rolled-up carpet.
While visiting the museum you will be able to read the country’s history and heritage from the symbols indicated on the carpets.
The Ateshgah fire-worshipping temple, located on the Absheron Peninsula on the outskirts of Surakhani village, 30 km from the centre of Baku, was a shrine at different times for Zoroastrians, Hindus and Sikhs.
The current buildings at the temple complex date to the 19th century and consist of a pentagonal complex with an open courtyard in the middle of which is a temple altar that served as a place of pilgrimage for Indian fire-worshippers.
Currently, the complex functions as a well-designed museum.
Azerbaijan has been historically known as the Land of Fire because of its rich oil and gas resources, and the natural fires that blazed for millennia on the Absheron Peninsula greatly influenced the beliefs and traditions of the local people.
You can still see an example of this natural phenomenon 25 kilometres from Baku, at a place known as Yanardagh (which translates as 'Burning Mountain').
The natural subterranean gas that seeps up to the surface is constantly ablaze, giving this mountain its famous burning look.
To protect Yanardagh and attract tourists here, this area was declared a historical, cultural and natural reserve in 2007.
Gobustan / Mud volcanoes
Rising out of a semi-desert, this UNESCO Cultural Landscape of more than 6,000 rock engravings, is also the site of graffiti by a Roman legionary - the furthest east it has ever been found.
Sheki Khan Palace
The historic city of Sheki with the Khan’s Palace, located at a short 5-hour drive from the capital of Azerbaijan - Baku, was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List of cultural sites earlier this week.
Azerbaijani craftsmen are famed for the ancient art of ‘Shebeke’ which can be seen throughout the city especially on the windows of the Sheki Palace.
A mosaic of coloured glass set in wooden latticework and assembled without nails or glue are these stunning examples of artwork.
What makes the Sheki Khan Palace unique is the 5,000 wooden and glass details of ‘Shebeke’ making it a real visual feast.
We look forward to enhancing the country’s tourism proposition in the industry and becoming a leading destination brand in the world, as we continue to provide tourists with unique, authentic experiences that will leave them with lasting memories for a lifetime.