Packing nine of the world’s eleven climate zones and several UNESCO World Heritage sites into an area slightly bigger than Scotland, Azerbaijan, with its 2010-2014 state programme for tourism development, has made great strides in recent years to develop its tourism potential and place this country in the heart of Eurasia on the international travellers’ circuit.

“Azerbaijan has all the necessary elements to become a successful tourism destination: hospitality, a rich history and cultural heritage, beautiful natural landscapes, delicious cuisine and at the same time a very favourable geographical location,” highlights Abulfaz Garayev, minister of culture and tourism.

Recent events such as the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest have had a positive effect on attracting international attention. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), over 2 million foreign tourists visited Azerbaijan in 2012 and the authorities are hoping for a 70-80 percent increase in tourist flow over the next five to six years. New offerings such as the Shahdag ski complex add to the country’s diverse attractions. Another of the jewels in Azerbaijan’s tourism crown is Gabala, which was the capital of Caucasian Albania until the ninth century and boasts a mountainous resort area known for its extraordinary natural beauty. Known locally as the ‘Switzerland of the Caucasus’, Gabala offers an abundance of attractions, including the stunning five-star Qafqaz hotel complex and the 3,000-capacity Tufan Alpine Skiing Summer and Winter Recreation Complex, which began construction in February 2013. As a member of UNWTO’s Silk Road Programme, Azerbaijan today plays a vital role in boosting the region’s tourism industry by enticing increasing numbers of visitors to this ancient and distinctive part of the world.

Luxury option

Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel

In 2012 Dubai’s Jumeirah hotel group became the latest five-star brand to open a hotel in Azerbaijan’s tourism and hospitality sector. Set on the Caspian Sea, just 35 kilometres from the centre of Baku, Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel offers 176 luxurious rooms and suites and a vast array of facilities for business conferences or family holidays. As the only luxury international city resort in Baku, the Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel has been able to tap into both the business and leisure traveller segments and sees Baku as a gateway to the CIS region.