Azerbaijan’s Unique Approach to Sustainable Tourism Development
Azerbaijan, a country located in the South Caucasus region, is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. However, with the rise in tourism, there is also an increased need for sustainable tourism development. In recent years, Azerbaijan has implemented several projects aimed at promoting sustainable tourism, with a focus on preserving the country’s cultural, natural, tangible and intangible heritage.
Slow Food Travel Azerbaijan
The COVCHEG (Community-based Value Chain Enhancement in the Greater Caucasus Mountains) project was effectively completed in 2021 jointly with Slow Food International and financial support of European Union. The name of the route is Great Caucasus Slow Food Travel. To make this project happen, the team of Azerbaijan Tourism Board (ATB) held more than 200 meetings with farmers, cheesemakers, herders, butchers, bakers, winegrowers, and other participants of the supply chain, and collaborated with over 100 smallholder farms. As a result, 15 touristic experiences have been developed and integrated into the dedicated SFT map. This map shows the local producers to meet, products to taste and places to visit across the north-western route of the country in Shamakhi, Ismayilli, Gabala, Sheki and Gakh regions. There are now 60 SFT partners who provide a wide range of services, from available gastronomic experiences to accommodation options, within the designated routes in Azerbaijan.
The project mapped 80 local varieties of vegetables, fruit, traditional home-made sweets, animal breeds, wild plants and other specialties linked to the villages and climatic zones of the Greater Caucasus Mountains of Azerbaijan. And 31 out of the overall registered items are already on board the of Ark of Taste.
The fundamental milestone of the project was the creation of the first five Slow Food Presidia in Azerbaijan. The first five Presidia products were Ata-Baba Hazelnut, Caucasian Buffalo, Caucasian Mountain Honey, Madrasa Grape and Wild Caucasian Rosehip. We have also involved local chefs and established Slow Food Azerbaijan Cooks’ Alliance who have developed Slow Food Ark of Taste Menu. The main message of the menu is “Taste without Waste” and “From Soil to Table”. Buffalo yoghurt with smoked eggplant, spinach, Ata-Baba hazelnuts, and Madrasa wine reduction; Hot smoked river eel tartar with cream cheese and black olives powder; Marsan tomato salad with toasted Garagylchyg wheat and Ivanovka oil; Khari Bulbul tea; or Slow cooked kutum fish served with Baltali rice risotto and pomegranate paste are just some of the samples of the menu which will cause rainbow of emotions and tickle your taste buds.
The good news is that, at the moment Azerbaijan Tourism Board is working on integrating Slow Food Ark of Taste menu into the menus of selected local restaurants. The program will also be extended into the southern parts of the country where there are so many opportunities to develop SFT further. The project aims to start in 2023 and will finalize by 2026. The name of the route is the South Slow Food Travel route.
Silk Road Village Basgal — renovation
The ancient and rich Silk Road city of Basgal is a breathtaking example of the beauty of the East. With its medieval city walls, historical-architectural structures, epigraphic monuments, well-preserved water supply systems, artisanal neighborhoods, mosques and minarets, baths, ancient bazaar square, and teahouses surrounded by narrow streets, the village stands in the heart of sustainable and respectful tourism development of Azerbaijan.
The renovation efforts have focused on preserving the traditional character of the village while updating its infrastructure to accommodate tourists. For example, old stone houses have been restored and turned into guesthouses, offering a unique and authentic experience for visitors.
The renovation of Basqal village has brought numerous benefits to the local community. Firstly, it has created new job opportunities in the tourism industry, providing a source of income for local residents. With the opening of Basgal Resort & Spa, local residents have been employed as tour guides, cooks, and in other roles related to hospitality. In total more than 300 people are employed in this hotel. Up 30 people are employed in Basgal Reserve.
Additionally, the restoration of the village has helped to preserve the traditional architecture and cultural heritage of the area, promoting a sense of pride in the community. The increased influx of tourists has also brought new business opportunities, such as local crafts, traditional foods, and souvenirs, which help to support the local economy.
In summary, the renovation of Basqal has brought a range of benefits to the local community, including new job opportunities, preservation of cultural heritage, support for local businesses, and improvement in the quality of life. The village has become a model for sustainable tourism in Azerbaijan and a source of pride for the local community.
Birdwatching in Azerbaijan
One of the sustainable tourism products developed with respect to nature and wildlife is birdwatching. Birdwatching in Azerbaijan is an incredible experience for nature lovers and bird enthusiasts. With its diverse landscapes ranging from the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains to the lush wetlands of the Caspian lowlands, Azerbaijan is home to an incredible variety of bird species. According to available data, there are approximately 400 species of birds in Azerbaijan. This number represents a significant portion of the bird species found in Europe and Western Asia and highlights the country’s importance as a habitat for avian biodiversity. The diversity of bird species in Azerbaijan is due in part to its location at the crossroads of several important migration routes and its diverse range of habitats, including mountains, wetlands, and forests.
The country is an important stopover point for many migratory birds traveling along the East Atlantic Flyway, making it an ideal destination for birdwatching during the spring and fall migration seasons. The bird migration site of Beshbarmag along the Caspian Sea coastline, is an important stopover point for migratory species, with more than 100,000 individual birds appearing in the area in just one day. Additionally, Azerbaijan is also home to many resident species. The slopes and high-mountain areas around the stunningly set villages of Khinalig and Laza in the Greater Caucasus Mountains are great places to see regionally special and endemic species.
Southern Azerbaijan is a true mecca for nature enthusiasts. Here, the Talish Mountains meet the Caspian Sea and natural highlights include the spectacular Hirkan Forest, myriad hot springs, black-sand beaches and, yes, great birdwatching! Gizil Aghaj National Park is a key resting and refueling spot for seabirds migrating along the western coast of the Caspian, as well as a wintering ground for birds breeding in Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia. Numerous species also breed here.
Azerbaijan Tourism Board implements various actions to develop birdwatching experience in the country further and contribute to bird conservation efforts. Among them are:
Promote birdwatching opportunities: ATB promotes Azerbaijan as a birdwatching destination through various channels, including their website, social media, international birdwatching magazines, familiarizing trips, travel fairs and international events.
Support local birdwatching organizations and nature tour operators: ATB supports local nature tour operators and organizations, by helping them organize birdwatching events and tours. This helps raise awareness of the country’s birdlife and attract birdwatchers to the country. Collaboration with GNTA (Georgian National Tourism Administration) on cross-border birdwatching cooperation.
Create birdwatching trails and birdwatching sites: ATB closely works with local and international birdwatching experts to create birdwatching trails and identify new birdwatching spots, highlighting the best birdwatching locations and the species that can be seen there. These efforts also include training birdwatching guides and developing birdwatching infrastructure for tourists.
Collaborate with other organizations: ATB collaborates with bird conservation organizations such as OSME and local birdwatching organizations to promote bird conservation and the importance of preserving bird habitats in Azerbaijan.