International events held in Baku, such as the 1st European Olympic Games 2015, the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games, and the Formula 1 Grand Prix 2016-2017, are raising the international profile of Azerbaijan as a tourist destination. The Government policy of hosting international business conferences and events, targeted on key sectors continues this trend. As a result, TripAdvisor announced Baku among top 10 world destinations on the rise in 2016, taking the top spot for Asia.
The Government of Azerbaijan has initiated some key improvements to the visa application process. As a result, tourists from most of the countries of the world can apply for a pre-entry visa through the special online ASAN e-visa system. Generally, visas are issued as fast as within 3 working days. This has encouraged a tourism boom, with an 11% increase in tourists visiting from the Gulf, Middle East, and Europe in 2016. The improving transport links with Azerbaijan, resulted in Baku being attractive to 26 cities, with a population of more than 90 million. The World Economic Forum named Azerbaijan the most-improved country in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2017.
To serve the demand created by international sports, business and political events, the tourism and hospitality infrastructure is developing quick-ly. A number of top class international hotel chains such as Four Seasons, Marriott, Pullman, Hilton, Excelsior, Rixos, Fairmont and others operate in Azerbaijan. In 2012, Shahdag Winter-Summer Tourism Complex in Gusar was put into operation. The complex includes two hotels (“Shahdagh” and “Peak Palace”), trade centers, a restaurant, café, game hall, equestrian sports, skiing and other services. Continuously increasing volume of international visitors stimulates direct investment into the development of tourism industry and related services. A new incentive mechanism for investors was put in place in 2016. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, Azerbaijan is placed 17th in the world for the travel & tourism long-term growth forecast 2017-2027 (Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2017: Azerbaijan).
The Strategic Roadmap for the Development of the Tourism industry aims to push the sector into the next stage of development. This includes the promotion of tourism based on national values of Azerbaijan in the international marketplace and locally. Moreover, it includes improvements in the tourism communications infrastructure (including signage), and international hotel certification. This will create opportunities for companies with expertise in the service industry, investing in human capital and practical know-how within the country.