To help boost the development of sustainable tourism in Azerbaijan and the country’s rural areas, the Ruralis Tornare project pairs local SMEs with representatives of Italy’s experienced tourism sector.
Azerbaijan’s rural northwest region has all the ingredients of a tourism hotspot: great fishing, local cooking classes, horseback riding and bike tours – all at a competitive price. Although it is becoming easier for international tourists to visit Azerbaijan, further improvements are needed – particularly as to customer service and marketing.
The project, funded by the European Commission within East Invest II and led by EuroChambres, ‘twinned’ the Azerbaijan Young Entrepreneurs Network (AZYEN) with the Milan Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Craft and Agriculture (FORMAPER).
Ruralis Tornare serves as a platform for the exchange of knowledge and best practices between the two countries via the organisation of training courses and visits. For example, representatives from FORMAPER recently visited the Baku Business Factory (BBF), an Azerbaijan company that provides business and financial support to start-ups founded by young people. One of BBF’s key objectives is to diversify the country’s economy, and it views the tourism industry as being full of possibility. During the visit, discussions focused on how to use public relations and communications to brand Azerbaijan as a tourist destination.
Another training opportunity included a study visit to Italy, which focused on improving the marketing skills of tourism managers. ‘We engaged a professional specialist from a digital media consulting company to support entrepreneurs from rural communities to give their business a branding boost by using such digital marketing tools as the internet and social media platforms,’ says Khayala Mammadova, a coordinator with the Ruralis Tornare project. ‘This training helped participants learn more about new techniques for digital marketing and using social advertising to reach an international audience.’
A success story
The major goal of these exchanges is for rural Azerbaijan companies to learn from the experience of successful rural Italian tourism companies. To see how effective this process is, one needs to look no further than Dilara Bakhshiyeva, a female entrepreneur. A craftswoman, she is already applying the new digital marketing skills she learned via the Ruralis Tornare project. “Following the trainings, Dilara was able to enlarge her business network and build good business relations with other project participants,” explains Khayala. “Today, she runs her business online, where she is enjoying increasing sales of her crafts.”
It is because of successes like this that Khayala is very optimistic about the future of Azerbaijan’s tourism industry. ‘We continue to advance new ideas with our Italian partners,’ she says. ‘We will continue to improve the rural tourism sector in Azerbaijan, improving businesses, attracting more international tourists and creating much needed growth and employment in these rural areas.’