The south Caucasus region, which consists of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, has recently started gaining popularity among UAE residents as one of the most preferred destinations for short vacations, supported by aggressive promotional campaigns by travel agents and tour operators. With Azerbaijan being the largest destination for UAE travellers to that region (and in the top 10 globally), this article focuses on recent trends and developments in the UAE - Azerbaijan tourism corridor with the aim of highlighting potential opportunities for Dubai based tourism organizations.

Up and coming travel destination

Azerbaijan has quickly become a popular tourist destination for UAE residents, which is manifested in the high number of tour packages offered by tourism agencies, as well as airlines themselves through their holidays subsidiaries.

Attractive holiday-packages prices were made possible with the increase in number of carriers (4) serving this corridor, namely, Flydubai, Air Arabia, Etihad, and the national carrier Azerbaijan Airlines; with increased competition resulting in lower prices.

Another crucial factor that stimulated UAE residents’ demand for holiday packages is the exchange rate of the Azerbaijani Manat (AZN), which lost -54% of its value against the UAE Dirham since 2014 to settle at AED2.13 by 2017.

As illustrated in figure 1, the number of UAE travellers was low and flat prior to 2015, hovering below a thousand travellers per year. However, as the Azerbaijani Manat exchange rate depreciated following the fall in oil prices, UAE residents’ demand for trips to this destination boomed immediately, to reach 102.4 thousand travellers by 2017.

Figure 1: The Manat and outbound UAE travellers

 

Source: DCCI, UNWTO, Central Bank of Azerbaijan

The following sections look at detailed figures for outbound UAE tourists visiting Azerbaijan, and inbound tourists visiting UAE from Azerbaijan.

Outbound tourism (through agents)

Out of the 102.4 thousand UAE travellers arriving in Azerbaijan during 2017, around 5,009 tourists booked their trips and activities through Azerbaijani travel agents and tour operators.

As seen in table 1, not only the number of tourists increased since the currency depreciated, but also the length of their tours increased as well from an average of 3.8 days back in 2014 to 5.7 days by 2017. It is worth noting that the figures provided by the statistical committee of Azerbaijan cover less than 5% of total UAE travellers arriving in Azerbaijan in 2017, which implies that the majority (potentially excluding some business travellers) of the remaining 95% managed their trips and activities either through a UAE based agent or did it themselves (i.e. online).

Table 1: UAE tourists in Azerbaijan - by travel agencies and tour operators (number of persons)

 

2014

2015

2016

2017

Number of tourists (person)

12

55

1,262

5,009

Number of tour-days (person-day)

46

203

6,510

28,521

Avg. number of days per tourist

3.8

3.7

5.2

5.7

Source: DCCI, Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan (2018)

Inbound tourism (through agents)

While the weaker Manat was boon for UAE travellers, Azerbaijani tourists arriving in UAE - through Azerbaijani agents and tour operators - suffered a mild decline in numbers, as well as in the length of their tours and activities (see table 2).

Table 2: Azerbaijani tourists in UAE - by travel agencies and tour operators (number of persons)

 

2014

2015

2016

2017

Number of tourists (person)

6,376

4,485

4,307

5,332

Number of tour-days, (person-day)

42,519

29,804

22,326

26,615

Avg. number of days per tourist

6.7

6.6

5.2

5.0

Source: DCCI, Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan (2018)

Nevertheless, although the exchange rate has not improved, more Azerbaijanis arrived in UAE during 2017 compared to 2016, albeit for a slightly shorter period of stay, which resulted in a net increase in the number of tour-days. With the increase in the availability of budget hospitality options in Dubai, the numbers of Azerbaijani visitors are likely to continue recovering.

Regional peers lagging

In addition to similarities in natural scenery and culture across the south Caucasus region, a major thing all three countries have in common is their visa on arrival or visa waiver scheme that grants access to UAE residents, or holders of residence visa.

Nevertheless, as seen in figure 2, Georgia and Armenia could not keep up with the booming flows of UAE travellers to Azerbaijan, as they jointly received 1/5th the figure of Azerbaijan.

Figure 2: Outbound UAE travellers to the region (000)

 

Source: DCCI, UNWTO

Unlike the case of Azerbaijan, their currencies did not drop as much as the Manat, with the Georgian Lari losing -33% of its value during 2014- 2017, and the Armenian Dram weakening by -12%, putting them at a competitive disadvantage cost-wise, against the Manat, which declined by -54% turning the country, which already has better tourism infrastructure, into a more affordable destination. Moreover, with Azerbaijan being the only Muslim country of the three, the availability of halal food and mosques, or praying facilities, are deal breakers for many UAE based travellers.

That being said, it is likely for Georgia and Armenia to continue seeing growth in their UAE tourist numbers, especially as they start benefiting from the spill-over effect of the boom in UAE tourist flows targeting Azerbaijan; as more UAE tourists already familiar with the south Caucasus region’s nature and culture through their previous trips to Azerbaijan seek to explore other countries in the region.

Outbound tourism is often overlooked by tourism businesses in Dubai, beyond travel agencies and tour operators. Hotels for instance, have a great opportunity to leverage their brand awareness already known by UAE residents and expand to the South Caucasus region, starting by the more popular Azerbaijan before targeting the rest of the region. Additionally, the provision of halal food, particularly in Georgia and Armenia, remains lacking, making it worthy of exploration by Dubai based food suppliers.

Meanwhile, the increasing availability of budget options in Dubai’s hospitality scene, along with the increase in frequency of flights operated by budget airlines are likely to help stimulate demand for inbound UAE trips.

 

Source: Dubai Chamber

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