The Old Town of Baku is crammed with historical buildings and has been classified a UNESCO heritage site The Old Town of Baku is crammed with historical buildings and has been classified a UNESCO heritage site

Known principally for its oil and gas resources, Azerbaijan has yet to hit the headlines as a leisure destination — despite the nomination of its capital Baku as one of the world’s 'top ten party cities' by Lonely Planet last year and its success as winner of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

But, with a new representation office appointed this year to spearhead promotion throughout the GCC, flights to Baku with FlyDubai, plus the upcoming launch of daily Qatar Airways flights from Doha to Baku, the CIS republic is eager to position itself as a short-haul destination catering to both Arab and expat, couples and family holidays as well as the MICE and soft adventure sectors.

The country’s nascent tourism industry is keen to corner the Middle East market, and Ambassador to the UAE, HE Elkhan Gahramanov wholeheartedly encourages the travel trade to pay the emerging destination a visit.

Story continues below

“During the past few years, the Azerbaijani economy has developed at one of the highest rates worldwide — with GDP up 7.3% during 2010 — and tourism has become one of the country’s leading sectors,” he explains. “Rich natural resources and diversity give excellent opportunities for development of different spheres of tourism. I would like to extend an invitation to visit and learn more.”

The Middle East is a key market for Azerbaijan due to common cultural and religious orientations, explains HE Abulfas Garayev, minister of culture & tourism for the Republic of Azerbaijan. “Although at this point, we are very much concerned about establishing strategic and strong relationships in the region, our targets are ambitious and we hope to generate over 1 million visitors in the short term, and improve numbers in the long term.”

At the moment, most travellers come to Azerbaijan for business reasons, but the Ministry is working hard to promote the country’s stunning natural beauty and wildlife and historical experiences, unique culture and hospitality, adventure and sports, arts and music and family-focused attractions in order to attract leisure travellers too.

“Most business trips are combined with one or two extra days to relax and enjoy our fine weather and friendly people,” explains Garayev.

“However, we are working very hard in to encourage short holiday travel over the weekends and other short public holidays.”