Tourism in Azerbaijan: Is an Arab tourist a threat to security?

banknews-az_2016-08-29_08-09-56Azerbaijan is an attractive country for foreign visitors with its natural charm and historic-cultural heritage. 9 out of 11 of the world’s climate zones are found in Azerbaijan where a unique architecture and culture, diversity, cuisine, nature, beach, attractions, hunting etc. add value to the tourism of the country. The climate of Azerbaijan also offers opportunities for summer and winter holidays. Given the dipping oil and gas prices which have been the major profits for the state budget for years, we can predict the government’s priority for further development of the tourism industry. The influx of foreign visitors has been on the rise particularly since 2011, and the number has reached 2.2 mln.

The trend has been especially remarkable with the influx of Arab tourists. The reasons that bring Arabs to Azerbaijan range from active promotion and marketing strategy of the country’s tourism to visa liberalization. Yet the major boost factor has been the simplification of the visa regime for Arab countries since November 2015. The number of visitors from the United Arab Emirates and Gulf Countries has mounted up to 30 times. “These results show that Azerbaijan is a priority destination for tourists from the UAE and other Gulf States. It portrays a strong desire of Arabs to travel to Azerbaijan, and this continues to drive tourism growth. Azerbaijan keeps improving and developing new tourist sites and accessible infrastructure. Our strategic plans as the government is to implement new facilities such as the already introduced tax free shopping, to help tourists to have simplified travel experience,” said Abulfas Garayev, Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Security risks

Yet in the face of the fact that Azerbaijan has turned into a favorite tourism destination for Arabs, according to some analysts, this, in turn, may bring security risks. However, expert on security matters – Ilham Ismayil argues that the influx of Arab tourists to Azerbaijan is very much unlikely to pose threats to the stability of Azerbaijan. This is mainly because Arabs use air transport, and that their luggage is checked at the airport. Further, Azerbaijan is not such a great political player where radicals would need to resort to their services. The effective anti-terror coordination by Azerbaijan security services is another impediment for terrorists to potentially realize their dirty plans.

However, according to security issues guru – Aliyev, hotels in Azerbaijan have not yet built effective security systems, and proper safety measures are not being taken to prevent potential terror acts at hotel check-in desks. One certainly can’t deny the fact Azerbaijan is the only safe and developing Muslim country situated just next door to the Middle East – a region hugely flustered with deep instability and risks.baku-by-night-6

Azerbaijan is one of the major targets for ISIS – a terror group that has frequently reiterated this. However, do we take security measures when we know that we are a target? When we see the influx of tourists and their conduct we realize that nobody is dealing with them. The business of hotels is to make money and security is low. Hence, there is a reason to worry about. We do not have a serious group of experts to monitor the arrivals. Money is necessary to spend two to three months in a five-hotel star. Where does such money come from for a group of seven to eight people? Why do they come here? Why do young people spend three months of summer here? Are there such well-off people in Iraq and Syria? Do they have the means to come? Maybe they come with Syrian and Iraqi passports from other countries? Why do not they go to (Turkish resorts) Antalya or Bodrum?

Contrarily, there is a belief that those tourists coming from the Arab and Gulf countries, once preferred European countries and Turkey and spent millions there now favor Azerbaijan as a tourist destination due to ongoing instability in those countries. Hence, it is less believable that an Arab would commit a terror or suicide attack here, however at any rate or cost this area has to be monitored with scrutiny

Diversification of the national economy

The influx of Arab tourists, on the other hand, during the current economic recession may revive the economy of the country. In particular, offered budget routes will encourage further Arab inflow. According to the British research, every Arab tourist spends on average 3000-5000 USD in Europe, which clarifies the fact how this could contribute to the profit budget of Azerbaijan. This massive Arab influx will take the national tourism industry to a new level along with promoting its reputation worldwide. The ambassador of the UAE recently announced that “Arab visitors want to do business here in Azerbaijan and invest in different segments of the country’s economy”, which will enable the country to better expose itself to foreign direct investment. And this provides positive prospects for future diversification of the economy.

The article is published thanks to The Council of State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations under the Auspices of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

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