The Azerbaijan Tourism Board (ATB), who manages the Caspian country’s destination brand, has developed a four-phase plan designed to get the tourism sector back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
ATB CEO Florian Sengstschmid said the first phase focuses on utilizing the ongoing lockdown period to connect with stakeholders and partners virtually and create digital content.
“The second phase will be focused on domestic tourism, which we are in the process of rolling out as soon as the special quarantine regime will be lifted,” Sengstschmid said in an article published by BW Hotelier.
“The third phase will be when a few travel restrictions are lifted and borders reopen; we will use a staggered approach to roll out communications in our operational markets and restore key campaigns," he explained.
The fourth phase, according to him, will be when the world shifts to a new normal in a post-COVID-19 era that will comprise of new experiences and campaigns tailored to a different type of global traveler.
Tourism is among Azerbaijan's key sectors impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. In March, the country's borders were closed, while incoming and outgoing passenger flights have also been suspended under government-led measures to curb the spread of the virus. The restrictions will remain in force until May 31, when the lockdown in the country is expected to end.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in Azerbaijan, momentum behind the country's tourism sector was growing. In January and February of this year, 426,000 tourists from 149 countries traveled to the country, accounting for 17 percent year-over-year growth. However, tourist numbers plummeted in April, when the novel coronavirus began to spread more rapidly. The overall number of international visitors to Azerbaijan decreased by 92 percent.
The Azerbaijani government adopted a series of measures to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on various industries, including tourism. It has allocated 2.5 billion AZN (€1.35 billion) or 3 percent of the GDP to contain the negative effects of the virus on the national economy. Hotels, travel agencies and tour operators have begun receiving support under an entrepreneurship relief package launched by the government. The package includes payroll support, a financial support program for individual (micro-) entrepreneurs, tax holidays, rebates and exemptions program and a credit support program.
Sengstschmid noted that ATB is preparing for the post-quarantine period in Azerbaijan with the first target being reviving domestic tourism.
“We are in the process of launching a domestic tourism campaign, in the framework of which we collaborate with local hotels and tourism agencies in order to provide various tour packages to people traveling within Azerbaijan,” he said.
He went on to add that once international travel restrictions are lifted, travelers will be back on track, and Azerbaijan will continue offering unique experiences and opportunities under the national “Take Another Look” slogan.
“Once travel restrictions are lifted, I believe people will be eager to travel to less crowded places and discover hidden gems. In this context, Azerbaijan has so much to offer, with its diverse landscapes, 9 out of 11 climatic zones, dozens of unique languages, and people who have lived here for thousands of years,” he said.
ATB has re-launched its 2 websites – tourismboard.az (B2B) and Azerbaijan.travel (B2C) alongside a new innovative health & safety program, called SAHMAN (Sanitation and Hygiene Methods and Norms), for local industry players to improve the standards of hygiene and sanitation.
ATB launched SAHMAN project in cooperation with the State Tourism Agency (STA) of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Food Safety Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan (AQTA) in April of this year. “SAHMAN,” meaning “immaculateness” in Azerbaijani, is a nationwide campaign aiming to simultaneously maintain Azerbaijan as a high-quality destination for tourism and business, and promote existing health, safety, and hygiene standards. Supported by the World Tourism Organization, it focuses on three key aspects of the tourism value chain - accommodation, food & beverage, and touristic transportation providers, inviting stakeholders in Azerbaijan to pursue even better healthcare practices in their businesses for the sake of safeguarding public health and supporting the regrowth of the industry.
Spokesman to the State Tourism Agency, Kanan Guluzade said if the government approves the end of the lockdown on May 31, the new tourism season in Azerbaijan will be launched on June 1. However, ATB officials expects the country to see a mass influx of tourists to the country by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, officials at the Operative Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers, announced that the government is developing a set of instructions for hotels and recreation centers that will outline their activities in the post-quarantine regime. One of the requirements is the allocation of a special room at the hotels for dealing with suspected COVID-19 cases.