Azerbaijani tourism industry waits for land borders’ opening
    Review by Caliber.Az

    ANALYTICS  21 April 2022 - 14:39

    Khazar Akhundov

    The global tourism industry has been under the influence of a pandemic for over two years, while this year negative factors also have been added due to the war in Ukraine and anti-Russian sanctions. Experts of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) believe that the recreational sector will return to indicators of a prosperous 2019 only in 2024. Nevertheless, the dynamics of tourist activity in Turkey, Georgia and some other countries are noticeably higher than the world average. Positive developments are noticeably higher in Azerbaijan as well. So, according to forecasts of Azerbaijan's Tourism Association (AzTA), tourist flow to the country may rise in 2022, taking into account the cancellation of the PCR test for COVID-19 and the expected opening of land borders.

    Although the global travel industry figures are more than 70 per cent behind the pre-pandemic year of 2019, and the UNWTO recorded a 4 per cent increase at the end of last year. UN experts linked this positive trend to the success of global vaccination and the removal of quarantine restrictions on travel in many countries around the world. This trend is reflected in the statistics: last year's global tourism revenues were about $1.9 trillion, which is $200 billion more than in pre-crisis 2019. Of course, this growth is not directly related to an increase in the number of international travellers, on the contrary, we still feel the dynamics of recession here. The high figures in value terms can be explained by the unprecedented level of global inflation, which led to higher prices for airfare, fuel, food and services, and hotel accommodation.

    At the beginning of 2022, UNWTO experts predicted that it would be possible to bring the global tourist flow dynamics to the pre-pandemic level only by 2024. However, the travel industry was preparing for some growth in 2022-2023, as the coronavirus pandemic was on the decline. The year got off to a good start, and according to UNWTO, the number of international tourist arrivals in January increased by 18 million, or 130% compared to the same month in 2021.

    However, due to the war in Ukraine, the prospects for global tourism recovery will definitely slow down, according to the experts of Euromonitor International. The organization's report says that Russian tourists account for about two per cent of world travel spending: thus, in 2021 travellers from Russia spent abroad $ 9.1 billion. Due to the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, including the aviation industry, the global travel industry (primarily EU countries) may lose about $7 billion. UNWTO experts are even more categorical on this issue, and according to their calculations, Russia and Ukraine in the past couple of years accounted in total for about 3% of world spending on international tourism, respectively not less than $ 14 million, which was a lot more than in 2021.

    In turn, the war in Ukraine puts serious obstacles to global air travel: in particular, long-haul travellers from North America, for example, are postponing their trips to Eastern Europe because of the conflict, as they are unsure of the region's safety and openness to travel and business. Finally, the closure of Ukrainian and Russian airspace resulted in the need to change the routes on long-haul transit flights between Europe and East Asia. It will certainly increase airfares, which is very bad for the development of the global tourism sector.

    However, in some countries, against the backdrop of risks in Ukraine and sanctions restrictions in Russia, tourism statistics, on the contrary, are growing: for example, in January-February this year the number of tourist arrivals in the Middle East region grew by 90%, while in North Africa by 51%. The year started very successfully for the tourism sector in our neighbouring countries, Turkey and Georgia, which also did not join the sanctions.

    In particular, according to Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, Minister of Culture and Tourism of Turkey, Turkey's plans for 2022 include bringing the number of tourists to 42 million people, and industry revenues are projected to be within $35 billion. These plans are based on expectations of the restoration of pre-pandemic levels of entry from Europe, as well as additional growth of travellers from Israel, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, as well as Russia under sanctions.

    Tourist statistics in neighbouring Georgia are no less cheerful: here, in the first quarter of 2022 revenue from tourism increased by 7.4 times ($ 393.7 million) compared to last year, and the tourist flow has grown by 3.3 times - the republic was visited by 576,503 travellers from around the world, especially from Turkey, Russia and Armenia.

    Azerbaijan cannot yet claim similar figures in absolute terms, especially when compared to the record figures for 2019 when the country was visited by 3.2 million foreign tourists. Nevertheless, this year, our country has seen very high dynamics in terms of percentage growth. According to the State Tourism Agency (SATA), 246,277 foreign citizens visited Azerbaijan in the first quarter of 2022 (for comparison, in the first three months of 2021 the number of foreign travellers was 117,227, which indicates a more than two-fold increase). Turkey, Russia, Iran, Georgia and Ukraine are among the top five countries from where most visitors come to our country, also the flow from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has noticeably increased.

    In general, the situation in the recreation industry is gradually changing for the better, and according to the forecasts voiced at the beginning of the year by the State Agency for Tourism, Azerbaijan can expect a 50% increase in the number of foreign tourists in 2022. In particular, this is due to the removal of several sectoral quarantine restrictions, the reopening of most recreational facilities, and above all the liberalization of international air traffic.

    "The expected early opening of Azerbaijan's land borders will further increase the flow of tourists to the country this year," believes Ahmad Gurbanov, chairman of the board of Azerbaijan's Tourism Association. “As the borders open, the number of foreign tourists will grow and with time it will be possible to approach pre-crisis indicators," he added.

    According to Gurbanov, the Cabinet Ministers' decision to cancel compulsory PCR-testing for air passengers from 15 April is also a timely decision that contributes to the easing of quarantine restrictions and creates favourable conditions for inbound tourism. The AzTA chief also stressed that at present, tourists mostly come to Azerbaijan on holidays and in the summer season, respectively, it is necessary to take into account the upcoming Ramadan and Eid al-Adha holidays in the issue of opening the borders. Often Muslims visit other countries on holidays, and it is possible that the flow of tourists from Arab countries to our country will increase again.
    Azerbaijan has already opened its air borders with more than 70 countries, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.

    And this process is actively continuing. In March, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) launched passenger flights from Karachi and Lahore (twice a week) to Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku. Air service between the countries contributes to the sustainable development of tourism relations as well as will provide convenient connections with other countries through Baku airport. It should be noted that almost 30 thousand Pakistani tourists arrived in Azerbaijan in the prosperous year of 2019. Air communication with the countries of Central Asia is expanding: recently the low-cost airline Buta Airways started operating regular flights on the route Baku - Aktau - Baku, also the airline company Uzbekistan Airways resumes regular flights (twice a week) to Azerbaijan. And from April 25, Iranian airline Homa will launch weekly flights between Tehran and Baku with the prospect of increasing the frequency of flights in the summer period. Air communication and tourist relations with Israel have been activated, which is very important if we take into account that 47 thousand guests arrived in Azerbaijan from this country in 2019. AZAL has recently decided to increase flights between Baku and Tel-Aviv from two to five times a week, in turn, the Israeli airlines Israir Airlines and Arkia were also issued a permit for regular flights to Baku.

    However, along with the expanded possibilities of air logistics, it is equally important to open the land borders of the country as soon as possible, which fits into the concept of budget mass tourism, especially relevant to the closest neighbours in the region. According to Vugar Bayramov, MP from the Azerbaijani parliament, the free access of tourists can directly affect the growth of their number, as the vast majority of them come to us from neighbouring countries.

    "The coronavirus pandemic in the world is gradually coming to an end, Azerbaijan also recorded a positive epidemiological situation, and the statistics on COVID-19 are improving day by day. According to available information, the government is consulting on the partial or full opening of land borders in April," recently noted MP Musa Guliyev.

    A noticeable interest in the opening of land borders is also shown in neighbouring Russia. According to Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mikhail Bocharnikov, the removal of border restrictions between the two countries, as well as the possibility of payment by "MIR" bank cards will ensure a greater flow of Russian tourists. This trend is quite significant if we take into account the fact that Russian tourists ranked first among foreigners who visited Azerbaijan in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. Interest in Azerbaijan as a tourist location is very high this year, considering the closure of airspace for Russian aviation and restrictions on the entry of its citizens to the European Union. It is not surprising that the recent data of Russian tour operator Fun&Sun and the recommendations of the leading travel agencies in Russia indicate 12 priority countries for visiting the world, among which Azerbaijan is also listed.


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