By Nigar Orujova, Azernews
The number of foreigners, who arrived in Azerbaijan last year, increased by 2.4 percent and reached 2.480 million people compared to 2003, a report of the Cabinet of Ministers on results of 2012says.
The report says that new hotels were built all around the country through the huge investments made in tourism. The number of hotels and hotel-type facilities increased five times and reached 506 compared to 2003. Of them around 80 percent are in the regions.
According to the report, the number of travel agencies in Azerbaijan reached 200.
Earlier, Culture and Tourism Minister Abulfaz Garayev stated that Azerbaijan remains on the path to become one of the primary tourist destinations in Europe, adding that two major events of the 2012 -- the Eurovision song contest and FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup held in Baku --increased the tourists flow to the country.
This year, Azerbaijan will host the 12th Azerbaijan International Travel and Tourism fair and the First Baku International Tourism Film Festival to further develop tourism sphere in the country.
In recent years Azerbaijan has considerably improved its tourism infrastructure due to the opening of such major hotels as JW Marriott Absheron, Four Seasons, Jumeirah, Sheraton, Hilton and Kempinski.
Also in 2012, the Culture and Tourism Ministry developed new standards on the hotels' star rating, which will be implemented from this year.
Whereas earlier, assessing the category of hotels, 150 criteria were taken into account, at present, the state standard specifies almost 300 criteria for such facilities, which will increase the service level.
According to the ministry, some 50 new hotels are commissioned every year. The service of the hotels also increases with its quantity.
More attention was also paid to lower grade hotels construction, which will diverse variety of services available to visitors.
The prices at Azerbaijani hotels decreased 15-20 percent in the past two years.
Located on the Great Silk Road and linking western and eastern civilizations and cultures, Azerbaijan has a beautiful nature, various archaeological, delicious cookery, and adorable beaches on the Caspian seashore. However, most of the tourist facilities are located in the regions.
Notwithstanding the fact, that Azerbaijan attracts most part of the tourist in summer, a new mountain skiing facility Shahdag was constructed to change the situation. Built in the northern Gusar region, it will be able to function all year round with artificial snow and is expected to receive 10,000 tourists daily after the completion of its construction.