Ruslan Guliev, Millennium Tourism & Congress DMC: «Tourism is not only the touch of civilizations. It is also great diplomacy and patriotism»

The travel industry in many countries is a system that offers vast opportunities to get acquainted with the history, culture, customs, spiritual and religious values of the country and its people. Besides, apart from being a significant source of income, tourism is also one of powerful ways of increasing the country’s prestige, its authority in the eyes of the world community and ordinary citizens. These and many other issues were discussed by the representative of ABT Newsletter and Ruslan Guliev, the director of Millennium Tourism & Congress DMC, the president of Skal International Baku and the founder of the Medical and Thermal Travel Association of Azerbaijan.

— There are quite a lot of travel companies in Azerbaijan. We would like to know your expert opinion on their work. Is such a large quantity really necessary? Doesn’t their work overlap?

— Indeed, there are more than two hundred travel companies in Azerbaijan. It is a little bit too much for the Azerbaijan market, but we have the market economy when prices are not regulated, so only those can survive who can satisfy the market conditions, have flexible prices and extra services.

I would like to note that there are three main aspects of the travel industry, and if we succeed to settle them within the next three years, we are bound to be a success.

The first is the problem of the travel sector organization in our country (the government, non-government and the private sector). The second is the coordination of these companies and finally the third task is to develop the culture of presentation before we promote tourism.

— Healthcare travel has been very popular lately. People from all the republics have visited Azerbaijan since the Soviet times in order to improve their health — Naftalan, Nakhichevan Duzdag, Dashalty may advertise themselves in the Internet even now. What do you need DMC services for in this case?

— The problem is that health retreats and other health institutions offer only accommodation and healthcare services. And the travel industry offers the whole package of services and has a complex approach. That is a transfer (individual as well as group transfers), air tickets, escort interpreters. Resorts and health retreats find it very convenient to work with travel companies, who play the role of wholesale package suppliers.

— As we know, 2012 was the year of tourism in Azerbaijan. It was rich in large scale projects and events. Has this expiring year been less efficient in this respect?

— Let me not agree with you. We have had a lot of events in 2013 as well. They included infotours for mass media representatives to the regions of Azerbaijan, motor and car tours tens of thousands of kilometres long from Istanbul to Tyanzhu in China, from Malaysia to Mecca. Our experts were responsible for the part of the journey on the Azerbaijan territory — from Balaken Lagodekhi to the border of the Russian Federation. Besides, a unique tour for long-lifers to the Lerik region has always been popular with foreigners. It is there that more than a hundred people aged one hundred years and more and about five hundred people aged 90 and more live. The main aim of this work, as you understand, is promoting Azerbaijan’s culture, history, traditions and economic potential. I am sure that not a single large scale regional project will be implemented without the participation of Azerbaijan. Our country is situated at the turn of the West and the East and we have an advantageous geographic and geopolitical location and excellent facilities, so we should take advantage of them.

— In the beginning of the year a new travel product was launched — online visa issue for foreign tourists willing to visit Azerbaijan. How did it affect your work?

— Of course, in the positive way only. The increase in the number of travellers was 10-15%. Business travel is becoming more and more popular. Our country has started receiving a lot of international events — humanitarian forums, UNESCO sessions, cross cultural dialogue summits after the end of which foreigners can stay in Azerbaijan for some more days and make a tour around the country. Our volunteers, usually students of the Azerbaijan Tourism Institute usually take active part in this work. It is good practice for them.

— What regions do foreigners prefer?

— The regions traditionally include Guba-Hachmaz, Sheki-Zagatal regions, Gabala, Ganja. Those who are interested in healthcare travel can visit our excellent health retreats in Naftalan, Nakhichevan (Duzdag), Dashalty etc. Seasonal fluctuations have not been so evident recently, as we try to promote all year round tourism. And our country has everything that is necessary for it.

— How do you assess the professional level of Azerbaijan experts?

— When the travel industry was only taking shape, there were only 2-3 thousand employees, and now these figures have grown more than twofold. Of course, the quality of their work has increased. In my opinion, the quality level of many hotels in Baku, Absheron, Gabala, Guba, Lerik meets international standards. To a large extent it is due to foreign top managers, who run them, and of course to skill improvement, practical training and educational programs that Azerbaijan experts, volunteers and students of the Tiurism Institute complete in the countries that are leaders in the world tourism.

— There is one question for you as for the president of the only Association of expert travel and tourism professionals on the post-Soviet area, Skal International Baku. What strategic task has this organization managed to solve?

— If we take into account that the main aim of SKAL International Association of Travel and Tourism Professionals, that will be 80 years old in 2014, has always been establishment of close contacts and cooperation with similar clubs from other countries and all kinds of assistance to our fellow travel experts, we have also managed to coordinate our work with our partners — the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan Tourism Association, the Tourism Institute, Baku Tourism Information Centre and other organizations representing the travel industry of our country.

— You have mentioned that business travel has been very popular for the past few years in your country. Is there a need to develop so called economy travel? Hostels, I mean.

— Of course, there is such a necessity. Many travellers and experts who come to our country on business do not really need expensive spacious rooms with extra services that they don’t use. All they need is a comfortable and a neat place to sleep, to take a shower, clean up, have breakfast for a reasonable price. Economy class hotels, i.e. hostels suit this purpose in the best way possible.