Azerbaijan in top three for dynamics of inbound tourism in post-Soviet space
    Review by Caliber.Az

    ANALYTICS  25 August 2023 - 12:26

    Khazar Akhundov

    According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the average global growth rate in the travel and tourism sector in 2023 will be about 5.1 per cent.

    Against this relatively modest background, Azerbaijan's tourism sector has achieved noticeably great success: just in 2022, it managed to overcome most of the problems associated with the Covid-19 pandemic and achieve an unprecedentedly high two-fold growth in inbound (incoming) tourism indicators.

    Moreover, this positive trend continues in the current season: according to the State Statistics Committee, in January-July 2023, the number of foreigners visiting the country increased by more than 37 per cent, and Azerbaijan is among the most prosperous countries in the post-Soviet region in terms of the revival of the recreational sector.

    The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) report for the first quarter of 2023 shows that international tourism has recovered by 80 per cent from the level of prosperous 2019. A total of 235 million trips were made globally from January 1 to March 31, 2023, and this is twice as much as a year earlier.

    The best results for the reported period came from the Middle East, which welcomed 19 per cent more travellers than in the same period of the industry benchmark year 2019. In Europe, tourist numbers reached 90 per cent of the pre-pandemic level mainly due to the domestic tourism segment.

    In Africa it was 88 per cent, in the Americas it was around 85 per cent, and Asia-Pacific had the worst performance from 2019 levels (just 54 per cent), largely due to still stringent quarantine restrictions, especially in China.

    "In many regions of the world, industry performance has approached or even exceeded pre-pandemic levels. However, challenges to tourism recovery still remain. These are geopolitical instability [war in Ukraine], lack of professional staff, the rising cost of living, the impact of inflation on tourism, leading to higher costs for transport and hotel accommodation," said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

    Judging by the data of another international structure - the World Travel and Tourism Council, the indicators of the recreational sector development in the following months of 2023, in general, have maintained the pace taken at the beginning of the year.

    Thus, the WTTC forecasts published the other day noted that the global tourism industry will employ about 430 million people by the end of 2023 against 334 million in the prosperous 2019, which is about one-ninth of all jobs in the world.

    Most importantly, the growth momentum of the tourism sector this year should be almost double that of the global economy, according to WTTC chief Julia Simpson.

    "Economists believe that global GDP will grow by 2.6 per cent this year, while we estimate that the travel and tourism sector will see annual growth of around 5.1 per cent," she said.

    The above positive trends are also tangible in the post-Soviet space, but with significant specific features and depending on certain regions. For example, in warring Russia and Ukraine, as well as in sub-sanctioned Belarus, outbound tourism has been dominating for the second year, while inbound tourism has been steadily declining.

    In contrast, the Central Asian (CA) countries and the South Caucasus have seen tangible positive growth in the inbound sector for the second year in a row. In the CIS countries, Uzbekistan is the leader in this respect, with 3.1 million foreign tourists arriving from January to June 2023, which is several times higher than in other CA countries. And in the South Caucasus, as last year, Georgia tops the list, with 2.86 million foreign tourist arrivals in the first half of 2023, representing a 75.9 per cent increase over the first six months of 2022.

    The data provided by the Armenian Tourism Committee on the number of tourist visits in January-July indicates 1.26 million foreign visitors. However, this statistic is not quite correct, since, according to Armenian experts and representatives of government structures, slightly less than half of all foreigners arriving in the "Land of Stones" account for the share of immigrants fleeing Russia and former compatriots returning home.

    Thus, according to the UN profile structures and a number of other international organisations, the category of "foreign tourist" may include persons arriving in another state for more than three days and who are not transit passengers. Of course, the definition of "tourist" presupposes that such persons have a certain purpose - to participate in recreational or balneological recreation, and certainly, neither refugees, relocated people, nor labour migrants can be classified as tourists. Therefore, the real number of foreign tourists who directly arrived in Armenia for the purpose of recreation in 2023 can be estimated at the level of 600-700 thousand people, not more.  

    In this respect, the figures for the sector in Azerbaijan are the closest to reality and are absolutely objective, given that the country is practically not involved in receiving people relocating from Russia, and the number of transit passengers and other visitors who do not belong to the category of "tourists" is small, taking into account the factor of still closed land borders.

    According to data published this week by the State Statistics Committee, more than 1.143 million foreigners and stateless persons arrived in Azerbaijan from 183 countries in January-July 2023, which is 37.4 per cent more than in the same period of 2022.

    This is a very good indicator, which brings the country to the third place in the post-Soviet space in terms of the dynamics of inbound tourism. Over the past few years, Russia and Türkiye have traditionally been at the top of the list of foreign visitors, and the first seven months of 2023 were no exception when these two neighbouring countries accounted for 51 per cent of all foreign tourist traffic.

    Moreover, despite rising inflation, depreciation of national currencies and other serious economic problems in the current season, the tourist flow from Russia and Türkiye increased by 1.7 times or 18.8 per cent. A serious problem in this regard was the strengthening of the manat against the ruble and the lira.

    However, despite this, according to recently published research by analysts of IT company ATOL and travel service "", Azerbaijan was recognised as the country most visited by Russian tourists this year: in the regional rating of TOP 5, the country, having gained 15 per cent in the most popular destinations for citizens of the Russian Federation, took the first place.

    It is noteworthy that in the current season the tourist flow from a number of countries with which the recreational exchange was still relatively low last year, has surged: the number of arrivals from China increased 8.3 times, Turkmenistan - 3.8 times, India - 2.6 times, Belarus - 2 times, Uzbekistan - 1.9 times, Kazakhstan - 1.8 times.

    Apparently, Azerbaijan country owes these successes to the efforts undertaken by the relevant departments of the country to open new flights to the countries of Central Asia and Indochina, to the increased activity at tourism exhibitions and forums, promotion of tourism products, development of new destinations - ecological, agricultural, wine, mountain, balneological and other types of recreation. The development of the tourism potential of the Garabagh region is on the way, where the design and construction of hotels, recreation areas, and balneological resorts have already started in a number of places.   

    All of the above is intended to contribute to the solution of the key tasks formulated in the "Strategy of Socio-Economic Development of Azerbaijan for 2022-2026" and envisaging an increase in the share of tourism in the non-oil GDP of the country by 1.5 times compared to 2019.

    At the same time, the share of revenues from the industry in the next four years should increase by an additional 20 per cent. According to the calculations of the State Agency for Tourism of Azerbaijan published in December 2022 by 2026, the inbound tourist flow in the country is planned to reach 4 million people, and the number of local holidaymakers in the country itself - up to 6 million people.


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