Liberated Karabakh preparing for tourism boom
    Review by Caliber.Az

    ANALYTICS  06 November 2023 - 11:23

    Khazar Akhundov
    Caliber.Az

    According to the provisions of the “Strategy for Socio-Economic Development of Azerbaijan for 2022-2026” concerning the development of the country’s tourism sector, the share of tourism in the country’s non-oil GDP will be increased by 1.5 times compared to prosperous 2019. The incoming tourist flow in Azerbaijan is planned to reach four million people, while the number of local vacationers within the country to six million people approximately by 2026.

    The achievement of these goals is greatly facilitated by the development of recreational opportunities in the Karabakh region, where recreation zones have been recently created, the foundations of hotels, balneological complexes, etc. have been laid. This work has been accelerated in Shusha, the tourist capital of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) member states for 2026. Tours have been organised here since March 2023, while representatives of the NomadMania, the ultimate hub for global explorers, visited Shusha on November 4.

    Among the strategic objectives of the Azerbaijani government is the transformation of the Karabakh region into one of the most important tourism clusters of Azerbaijan and the entire Caspian region. Priority steps to develop the recreational potential of the liberated territories are included in the “First State Programme for the Great Return to the Territories of Azerbaijan Liberated from Occupation,” approved in November 2022 upon the Azerbaijani president’s order.

    As far as Shusha, Lachin, Kalbajar, Gubadli, Zangilan, Fuzuli and Khojavand districts are revived, competitive tourist destinations will be created here by using the opportunities of the countryside, picturesque mountains, forests, rivers and lakes. Mountaineering and winter sports will be actively developed. The thermal and hunting potential will be used. Green tourism, ethnographic tourism, agritourism will be promoted.

    Over 2,000 jobs are predicted to be created in the tourism sector in Karabakh and East Zangezur by 2030. Although the demining process is still underway on the liberated lands, primary infrastructure, cities and villages are being created, tourism potential is being developed in parallel. The design and construction of hotels, recreation zones and balneological resorts has already begun in some places.

    The highest rates of revival of recreational potential have been observed in Shusha. Three hotels, namely, Qarabag Hotel, Avan Shusha Plaza Hotel, Kharibulbul Hotel, have already been restored and are operating here. Small boutique hotels, guest houses, hostels, etc. are also planned to be built in the city and its outskirts. In particular, Karabakh Construction company announced the construction of a luxury five-star hotel complex Qarabag Zafar in Shusha in 2021.

    Of course, Shusha will play the role of a driver in the development of tourist destinations throughout the region in the future. In this regard, it is quite justified that in 2022, members of the Organisation of Turkic States declared Shusha “Cultural Capital of the Turkic World in 2023”. Shusha was declared ECO’s tourism capital for 2026 within the fifth meeting of tourism ministers and the seventh meeting of high-level tourism experts of the ECO member states held in the Iranian city of Ardabil on October 4-5, 2023.

    Many international conferences and meetings have been held in Shusha over the past three years. Azerbaijani people have been able to see the picturesque nature and numerous monuments of this city in the mountainous landscape since March 18, 2023. Foreign travellers will be able to see the beauties of the “Pearl of Karabakh” soon. According to the Azerbaijani State Tourism Agency, tourists from different countries will be able to see this city from 2024.

    On the eve of these significant events, Azerbaijan intensified activity to popularise the recreational potential of Shusha. In general, for these purposes, the recreational potential is promoted at international exhibitions and other forums. The tourism opportunities of the entire Karabakh region are demonstrated to attract potential investors.

    Another step in this sector was the visit of a group of travellers from the world-famous NomadMania to Shusha, which started on November 4, 2023. As part of a three-day trip, a delegation consisting of 50 people, namely, representatives from 26 countries, mainly from Europe, as well as the US, Canada, Australia and Singapore, is visiting attractive places in the region, moving along the Fuzuli-Khojavand-Shusha-Aghdam-Kalbajar-Lachin-Zangilan-Jabrayil route. This is the ninth visit to Karabakh and East Zangezur by teams of such leading international travel organisations as Etic, MTP, TCC, NomadMania, Travelers Club of Türkiye, British Piki Reels, Swedish Club 100, etc.

    For this purpose, the State Tourism Agency’s efforts are aimed at promoting tourist destinations in Karabakh, primarily attractive to tourists from Islamic countries. The State Tourism Agency’s specialists are also working to attract specialised portfolio investors to the region. In this regard, for the third year now, cooperation has been strengthening with Türkiye, Pakistan, Russia, Israel, the Gulf states, Organisation of Turkic States and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which have shown great interest in projects for the restoration of architectural and historical monuments, and also investing in recreational projects in the liberated territories. Potential investors in the tourism sector will be provided with tax and other preferences, along with general benefits envisaged in the tourism sector. A part of the VAT paid for accommodation (except for other additional services) rendered by hotels and hotel-type facilities will be refunded to consumers.

    However, at present, the biggest activity in developing the tourism potential of the liberated territories is observed as part of the budget-financed restoration work, as well as public-private cooperation initiatives. The most important step to attract foreign tourists is a short transportation route. The international airports in Fuzuli and Zangilan have been commissioned, and an airport in Lachin is expected to open in late 2025.

    Besides Shusha, the construction of the first tourist facilities has already started in the Lachin, Kalbajar and Tartar districts. In particular, preparation is underway for the creation of a recreational and balneological zone in Kalbajar. A medical and health centre will be restored in Istisu settlement. The foundation was laid for a hotel complex consisting of a multi-storey hotel with 100 rooms, 10 cottages, as well as cafes and restaurants, a health centre, swimming pools, SPA, entertainment facilities and a conference hall for 500 people near Lachin in August 2023. A beach and recreational centre is being created in the Lachin district on the banks of the Khakari River. Ancient caves called Abdallar have been restored in the vicinity of the city, and this area will be involved in the development of ethnographic and natural tourism.

    In turn, the State Tourism Agency’s specialists are working on the design of facilities intended for the development of tourism in Hadrut settlement. The Sugovushan recreational park is being created. For these purposes, the government has allocated about four million manats ($2.3 million). As part of the first stage of work, a tourist information centre, a cafe, a floating overpass and a parking lot for travellers’ vehicles have been created on the 7.5-hectare-picturesque coast of the reservoir. About 5,000 trees and shrubs were planted. In the second stage, a recreation area will be created here, a new bridge will be built, and large-scale landscaping work will be carried out.

    Among the priorities for the development of recreational potential, the Tugh State Historical, Architectural and Natural Reserve will be established on the historical territory of Tugh village of the Khojavand district, where it is also planned to develop specialised tourist destinations.

    A number of initiatives, covering cultural heritage, natural landscapes and historical monuments, are envisaged within the Strategy for the Development of Regional Tourism in Karabakh, developed more than a year ago, to transform the region into a new tourist destination. Thus, these directions cover the heritage of the Karabakh Khanate, “Silk Road”, including Hadrut, Fuzuli, Khojavand, Aghdam, Sugovushan, etc. In turn, the State Tourism Agency has prepared the projects within the “Victory Routes” concept, including “YolumuzAğdama” (Trip to Aghdam), “YolumuzFüzuliyə” (Trip to Fuzuli) and “YolumuzXocavəndə” (Trip to Khojavand), etc.

    Caliber.Az

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