A Decree “On additional measures associated with the acceleration of the flow of tourists into the Republic of Azerbaijan” signed by President Ilham Aliyev on February 20 2017, as well as items attracted in it, are stimulating the development of the tourism industry not only in our country but also in our neighbor and friendly states.
I would like to dwell on one of the moments mentioned here in details. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been assigned the following task: To conduct jointly with the State Maritime Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan Caspian Shipping CJSC and Baku International Sea Trade Port CJSC negotiations with the Caspian states in order to organize sea trips in the Caspian Sea and submit information about the results of the negotiations to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan in 4 months.
Organization of the sea trips –cruises in the Caspian with the participation of coastal states has been the main issue arising out of this decree of the President. In fact, this decree will not only ensure the development of cooperation in the Caspian but also give a rise to a new direction in tourism. This area is developing more dynamically in the world tourism. Each of the 5 Caspian states can gain a sufficient amount of profits from the consecutive operation of the cruise routes. The most complicated moment in this matter is the conformity of the interstate political agreements, assurance of security and compliance of the port infrastructure of coastal cities with the modern requirements. Apart from provision of high quality services to passengers on vessels, arrangement of the worthy service at ports is also taking on particular importance. The most promising part for us is that Baku, as the largest city on the Caspian coast, can be the most interesting point of this route.
Our capital’s turning into a large cultural center in recent years, as well as abundance of historical monuments, recreation and entertainment zones in Baku has been its advantage. As the man-made engineering miracle, the Oil Rocks will certainly make cruises within our sea waters more attractive. We are aware that Absheron beaches are of big interest among tourists. One night stoppage of holiday cruisers in Sumgait, Baku and Lankaran along the whole route will lend color to a fascinating recreation. By the way, in the near future Sumgait and Lankaran have big chances to fall into the list of cities playing a big role in development of the beach tourism in the Caspian. Construction and estate maintenance operations performed in these cities in recent years, as well as upgrading of the infrastructure have been a part of the timely implemented task-oriented projects. However, it should be noted that modern mooring bridges have to be built in Sumgait and Lankaran. Both cities feature a unique relief along the Caspian coast. It would be right to keep the cleanness of this unique coastline and restore urban beaches. It is possible to work out more progressive plans in near future in order to turn these cities into coastal relaxation centers.
Our budget can gain big profits from opening of markets and public eating facilities at stoppage points of cruisers. Besides, it will ensure opening of new working places. Sale of ‘Made in Azerbaijan’ brand projects for favorable prices can be arranged in these areas. Apart from this, free running of regular passenger vessels can promote the development of medical tourism. Investors can and need to be attracted to resume and secure unimpaired operation of Sumgait sanatoriums along with the Absheron ones. The sale of shares to citizens as an investment tool can also be of big importance. It is known that Sumgait has a sufficient amount of education and competent doctors. Large sanatorium and health care institutions used to operate in this city before. It is necessary to resume these traditions. Resuming of the festival ‘Neptun’s holiday – the holiday on the occasion of the beach season opening’ can attract a high number of foreign guests.
I think if the route starts from Olya port in Astrakhan region of Russia, it can cross Makhachkala, Sumgait, Baku, Lankaran, Enzeli, Turkmenbashi, Aktau and Astrakhan. Holiday cruisers departing from Baku can also run along this route. Such cruises usually take 7-15 days. Nevertheless, these cruise programs and routes bear a relative nature. The main matter is to ensure quick realization of the fact itself. I would like to bring one small comparison. International recreation center “Avaza” was built on the Caspian Sea coast of Turkmenistan near the city of Turkmenbashi. According to the available information, big investments were made into this center – about five billion dollars. However, the return of investments is hardly probable due to inappropriate management. The number of tourists here is very low. Close location of Turkmenbashi to oil refineries and pollution of Saymon bay, windy weather throughout a whole year, touch visa regime of Turkmenistan and high prices at hotels make a negative impact on the competitiveness of ‘Avaza”. Though, the idea itself is worthy appraisal because the aim was to create a small Dubai.
At the same time, Aktau which is a big city of Kazakhstan located on the Caspian coast is also hardly suitable for tourism in a broad sense. Presence of operating uranium fields, low water temperature on the Caspian coast, poorly developed infrastructure and high prices are making Aktau less attractive in terms of tourism. Though, Aktau is a rich city in terms of business. Business doing is developing very rapidly here and one can enjoy interesting events in during the stoppage in this city because it has a big potential for it.
Enzeli, the largest port city of Iran, is less suitable for beach tourism because of the local mentality. According to the Islamic measures, even swimming in clothes is taken as a serious liberty in Iran. Nevertheless, this city is interesting in terms of trade. Affordable prices and quality products perhaps are the main tokens of this city.
Astrakhan, Makhachkala and Derbent are big Russian cities located on the Caspian coast. The first city Astrakhan is located far from the sea at a distance about 200km. Therefore, the mooring point is the port of Olya. Good preparation of navigation channels in Astrakhan will make it possible for cruisers and tourists to moor here and have a good rest respectively. Astrakhan is the most original city in south of Russia. There is no modern network of hotels in the city of Makhachkala. Though, the city is interesting and remarkable, alas, its criminogenic background causes a small number of people willing to visit this city. This also holds true for Derbent. Amid the problems which are typical for neighbor Dagestan, this city did not feature massive tourism. Though, Derbent is the heritage of our common history and the ancient city in the Caspian coast. In terms of history, it is Derbent which could attract the majority of amateurs of antiquity and craft because the city is a museum under the open sky and it is minimum 2500 years old…
As we see, the cities of Azerbaijan have an advantage and stay beyond competition in certain sense. Therefore, our country has big chances to become a pearl of the Caspian tourism.
We can create a big number of working places at the expense of tourist packages featuring average and low cost. It certainly requires thorough development and thought-out plans. It is important to consider any detail and appreciate civil initiatives in this area. A strong side-wind is a major factor hindering passenger transportation in the Caspian which makes it a matter associated directly with professionalism of sailors and vessel team as modern vessels have all equipment. So, this is exclusively a matter of a technical nature.
There were only 4.5ml Russian tourists visiting Turkey in 2015. If we manage to prepare for this summer, then we will be able to attract at least 2% of Russian tourists only to Sumgait and Lankaran. Cruise tours are memorized as wonderful holidays in the world. Only one cruiser can transport up to 5,000 passengers and about 2,000 team members. Of course, at the beginning we will not be able to reach the level of cruises in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and BalticSeas. But considering the potential of flow of tourists who can come from Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and Arab states, the prospects are very high. At the first stage it would be expedient to use vessels accommodating 400-500 passengers in the Caspian. All technical matters concerning cruises can certainly be solved with lapse of time. The experience of Batumi, the city in Georgia, can be used in the general approach to the matter. Establishing favorable conditions, it is necessary to bring the communications to an appropriate level and offer reasonable prices. We are the Azerbaijanis who are famous for their hospitality. It is necessary to develop a modern way of thinking and communication among our citizens in order to accelerate the flow of tourists. Time is running whole the season lasts till the end of September. If we start a thoroughly thought-out and active work this year, then we will have our figures improving year by year. Tourism indeed can turn into a sector bringing big profits to our economy and economy of our friendly states in the Caspian Sea waters.
Faig Husiyev, honored journalist