Fruit of the Year of Tourism
Economic reforms in Azerbaijan in recent years have concentrated on sustainable development to reduce dependence on the oil sector. The tourism industry plays an important role in this diversification of the economy and in the State Programme for the Socio-Economic Development of the Regions. When Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev declared 2011 the Year of Tourism, this gave a boost to the sector. Famous-name hotels came to Azerbaijan, to the regions as well as Baku, and work began on a range of tourist facilities.
Thousands of visitors
Tufandag, whose name translates as Blizzard Mountain, lies on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus, just 4 km north of Qabala. Its proximity to the town of Qabala is one of the resort’s great advantages, as visitors do not need special transport to get there.
Work started on the Tufandag resort two years ago. President Ilham Aliyev and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva officially opened the first phase of the resort on 3 January this year. In the six weeks since then, visitors have been flocking to Tufandag, a representative of the resort, Samir Jafarov, told us.
Tufandag Summer and Winter Resort has the capacity to receive 3,000 visitors per day. Although we opened only in early January, visitors have shown plenty of interest. During the month and a half, 5,000 tourists, 1,000 of whom were foreigners, have visited Tufandag.
We wondered where the visitors came from. Samir Jafarov again: People from Thailand to Austria and countries in between have come to the resort. Many of our guests are from Russia and Ukraine, but there are visitors from south-east Asia too. Of course, the foreigners who come here are mainly from countries closer to Azerbaijan.
Qabala’s worldwide reach is encouraging, but how does someone in Bangkok find out about a resort in Qabala? Samir Jafarov provided the explanation: We cooperate with 11 travel companies and agencies. Azerbaijan’s travel agencies have plenty of information about the Tufandag resort. And tourists living abroad find out about the resort through local travel agencies. Many people from Azerbaijan itself come here individually and with their families. You just have to look at the number of visitors to realise how great interest is in this beautiful place. Many people come here from the universities – both staff and students. We have discounts for group visits.
Tufandag and Shahdag – national assets
Samir Jafarov is understandably proud of Tufandag: Our winter sports resort meets modern requirements. Our ski equipment and infrastructure are of a high standard. At Tufandag, both amateur and professional skiers can enjoy the same level of service as at European ski resorts. Everything looks ideal here, but we are very keen for visitors who have been to other resorts to tell us of any shortcomings or areas where we could improve.
The Shahdag mountain resort near Qusar, which opened two years ago, was the first winter sports resort in Azerbaijan. How does Tufandag view its competitor? Samir Jafarov was relaxed about it: Mountain tourism is a new sphere in Azerbaijan. The Shahdag resort is already up and running, but we are taking our first steps. We do not see ourselves as rivals of Shahdag, as both Shahdag and Tufandag are national assets. We may just compete with them in terms of services provided, their quality and range. We do our best to satisfy our clients.
Make it snow
Samir told us that Tufandag has a chairlift and ski run that are now fully in use. The chairlift, which at 2.5 km is the longest of four chairlifts at the resort, begins at the lowest Riverside station in Qabala. This station is also the entrance to the resort. Visitors can hire skis and clothing here and visit a shop and café.
The completion of four chairlifts, covering 5.8 km in all, and five of ten ski runs are part of the first phase of construction at Tufandag, which will end in October. A major selling point of Tufandag will be the range of pistes available. The resort will cater for experienced skiers looking for challenging slopes and absolute beginners too. Professional instructors are already on hand for both adults and children. Skiers need not worry about a lack of snow. Snow machines have been installed in case of milder weather. As the snow produced by these machines is softer than natural snow, it makes an ideal skiing surface.
Visitors can enjoy Tufandag’s stunning scenery in both winter and summer. A trip on the chairlift costs 10 AZN, while children under six go free. Ski equipment (skis, boots, trousers, jacket, gloves, goggles and helmet) can be hired separately or altogether. A set of skis costs 7 AZN for half a day and 10 AZN for a full day. If you hire a full set of equipment, you enjoy a 20% discount, making the rental cost 21 AZN for half a day and 33 AZN for a full day. A half-day’s skiing costs AZN 10 and a full day AZN 15. (One Azerbaijani manat is worth approximately 1.27 dollars or 0.93 euros.)
A three to four-hour drive west of Baku, Qabala makes an ideal weekend getaway from the bustle of the capital. With the opening of the Tufandag resort, Qabala is now an excellent destination for active holidaymakers and those seeking peace and quiet in winter as well as summer.