Baku, Azerbaijan, June 12
By Sabina Ahmedova:
EU Tourism Twinning project, Resident Twinning Adviser Daiva Kirkilaite Chetcuti and Member State Project Leader Florian Sengstschmid speak to Trend Agency
Sabina Ahmedova: Could you please give an overview of this Twinning project and your assessment of the role of the Twinning project "Strengthening the Capacity of the Department of Tourism in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan"?
Daiva Kirkilaite Chetcuti: For the beginning I would like to highlight the key projects facts for your audience. This project is financed by the European Union as the initiative from the Eastern partnership program and the total contractual values of the project constitutes 900,000 EUR. The purpose of the project is to help the Department of Tourism of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to improve their working capacities. These are two member state countries of the EU that have been implementing this project: the senior partner presented by Austria and the junior partner which is Lithuania. Experts from similar institutions of both countries have been involved to come to Azerbaijan and share their own expertise in tourism development. This tourism twinning project started 16 months ago and today, I believe, the achievements of the project are quite visible.
Florian Sengstschmid: Tourism in general is a very labor and workforce intense 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. 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 in to professionalize the system.
Trend: What changes will the project implementation bring to the public tourism management of Azerbaijan?
Chetcuti: First of all I would like to say that 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. What is needed to emphasize is 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. Within the project the review of the organization structure, the main goals and functions of the Tourism department and the main processes in terms of tourism development was made 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. All these activities have to come out from the strategy and to be transformed into concrete actions and plans undertaken by the ministry. 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. I would like to give an example for accessibility - 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. If we talk about the seasonality, the desired outcome would be, for example, to increase the share of tourist arrivals by 0.25 from October to March. In terms of partnership, for example, to have at least five joint marketing initiatives or schemes each year with the tour operators in the foreign countries.
Trend: How do you assess tourism potential in Azerbaijan?
Sengstschmid: Tourism potential in Azerbaijan is huge and it 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. There are a lot of things already done with regard to infrastructure, hotels, facilities, restaurants, museums and attractions. 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.
Trend: What are the key achievements of the Twinning Project?
Chetcuti: The essential achievements of the Twinning Project are basically the capacity building reforms, that we 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. 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 basis 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. For example, we prepared the Charters for associations, the contracts between the clients and tour agencies as well as between the tour operators and hotels. The minimum standards for hotels and accommodations were approved by the Committee on Standardization and Patent of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The trainings on destination management were performed in the regions for tourism authorities and industry representatives in Lenkoran and Ismailli. The staff of the Department of Tourism also benefited from trainings on destination management and marketing, as well as the product development. The Twinning Project also proposed theoretical model for development of the recreation area and all the prerequisites needed. As a result of recommendations from the Ministry Naftalan and Goranboy area was selected to serve as an example for such tourism and recreation area as a subject of this model application. This model has been structured in a way to be multiplied in other areas of Azerbaijan. . 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.
Trend: What types of tourism can develop in Azerbaijan?
Sengstschmid: There is 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 neighbouring 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. Yesterday, we all witnessed celebration of the one-year count-back to go until the 2015 Olympic Games hosted by Azerbaijan, which is a great event and a great opportunity. Besides, 2017 Islamic Games, Formula One and a lot of happenings in the tourism business as well as, from 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 is opening new perspectives for tourism development.