Azerbaijan has launched an ambitious programme of free e-learning courses helping professionals to learn about the country through a series of themes – both familiar and unusual.

Azerbaijan is still an emerging tourist destination, even though the country has been identified for many years by UNESCO as an important stopover along the Silk Road. According to UNESCO, Azerbaijan was at the crossing of trading roads between Europe, Turkey, Russia, Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, India and China. The goods and products in transit included oil, carpets, raw silk, fabrics, cotton, weapons, dried fruits, salt, precious stones, jewellery, spices and caviar.

Azerbaidjan’s capital Baku largely gained its prosperity from its geographic position along the Caspian Sea. Baku old town – a UNESCO world heritage site – contains not only the spectacular 15th century Palace of Shirvanshahs and the Maiden Tower – built between the 5th & 12th centuries, but also mosques, caravansaries, baths, mausoleums and madrasa. In 2019, Azerbaijan

In 2019, close to 3.2 million international travellers visited Azerbaijan. During the first half of 2020, numbers declined by 60% with less than 600,000 arrivals. The largest source markets, however, did not change, with Russia, Georgia, Turkey, the Middle-East and Iran staying at the top. Western Europe remains a relatively small market, with over 110,000 travellers in 2019.

Azerbaijan is now ready to relaunch its tourism. The Azerbaijan Tourism Board release a strategic development plan d in 2018 looking at welcoming four million international visitors by 2023. Although the coronavirus pandemic will delay this target, objectives remain valid in the longer term. Azerbaijan is thus due to become the Caucasus region’s most attractive destination.

Baku Old Town is on UNESCO World Heritage List (Photo: ATB)

Becoming an Azerbaijan specialist through free e-learning programmes

To help the travel trade become more familiar with the country’s tourism offer, the ATB launched last year the “Azerbaijan 101 e-learning platform”. The online programme aims to help travel professionals gain knowledge about Azerbaijan as a destination and the tourism products it has to offer.

Many modules are available, including a large selection of various themes covering all tourism types. Nature-focused agents can look at birdwatching, hiking, exploring mud volcanoes near Baku as well as specific summer and winter activities. For those looking at individual experiences, courses are proposed centred on fusion cuisine, the caviar tradition, wineries and wine tours, health and traditional spas, traditional silk making; and learning about Azerbaijan as a wedding destination. An original idea is to set a circuit along the trails followed by Caucasus shepherds with its rice and citrus farms.

Sport tour operators will enjoy to follow e-courses highlighting golf or horse riding.

Cultural courses include unusual aspects of Azebaijan such as German or Jewish Heritage around the country; oil-boom architecture of Baku; the old kingdom of Ganja with its ancient architecture; Baku museum or Azerbaidjan treasures along the UNESCO & UNWTO promoted Silk Road.

These courses aim to foster regional tourism development as it is considered an essential
component of ATB’s agenda. This encompasses the revitalisation of the economy by integrating the local population into the tourism and heritage value chains. All the programmes are developed under the auspices of the local Destination Management Organisation (DMO) offices and the Reserve Management Centre (RMC), which is currently managing seven heritage reserves.

According to the masterplan, Azerbaijan’s objectives of tourism development are to retain the economic and social advantages of tourism while reducing or mitigating any undesirable
impacts on the natural, historic, cultural or social environment. With the objective of four million international travellers in the near future – compared to three million at the end of the last decade- Azerbaijan shows a certain amount of pragmatism when it comes to avoiding overtourism.

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