As people grow older, they feel more of an urge to visit their ancestral homelands: the house or the village where they or their parents were born, or to get acquainted with the culture and history of their homeland.
Nostalgia tourism can help make these dreams come true. There are studies devoted to the development of tourism that follows ancestral roots. Many tourist agencies worldwide are organizing such tours. But what about Azerbaijan? Does nostalgia tourism have the potential to develop in Azerbaijan?
Experts at the Public Association of Azerbaijan’s National Development Project believe the country has a lot of potential to develop as a tourist destination. In addition to the capital city of Baku, Absheron and Nakhchivan regions, with their natural landscapes and well-developed railway and road connections, have good potential to attract visitors.
The tourism industry of Azerbaijan has grown in recent years, and the number of different routes used by tourists has grown significantly.
"Tourism has recently become one of the leading areas in the diversification of the Azerbaijani economy," said Nazim Samadov, Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism. "The number of tourists visiting Azerbaijan in 2017 grew 20% compared to 2016, to over 2,477,000”.
He noted that foreign tourists spent 1.3 billion USD in the country, in comparison Azerbaijani tourists spent 1.2 billion USD abroad: "The surplus of $100 million generated in this sector is worth mentioning”.
Experts believe that development of tourism is of particular importance for Azerbaijan, where 75% of the budget revenue comes from the oil and gas sector. Dependence on a single industry can pose serious threats for any economy.
But development of the tourist industry needs the creation of new tourist destinations, where geography and ethnic diversity is taken into consideration. Experts believe nostalgia tourism is the answer to this problem.
Nostalgia is considered one of the main motivations for tourism. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in early 1990s, interest in this form of tourism has increased. Wars and ethnic conflicts have forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homelands. These people and their offspring are a huge displaced population, which led to the emergence of the nostalgia tourism.
The elderly population is the demographic that is most interested in nostalgia tourism. They appear more eager to visit places where they used to live. Accompanied with the younger generations, they bond together with their ancestry with which they had lost contact years ago.
But how much information about this type of tourism is available in Azerbaijan? Can travel agencies find customers if they offer such tour packages?
Even though this type of tourism in Azerbaijan is not known as "nostalgia tourism”, more people are beginning to visit the places of their childhood and their ancestral homelands.
Experts point out that sense of loyalty in Azerbaijan is deep. People are tied to the place where they and their kin were born. They often regard visiting those places as their tradition and commitment to the homeland, its values, and its roots.
People often do not consider visiting their birthplace or birthplace of their relatives is tourism. But studies show that creating opportunities that meet people's needs can be profitable for the tourism industry. Experts say that if such routes are offered to people, they will welcome it.
Ruslan Guliyev, president of the Azerbaijan Health and Thermal Tourism Association, believes nostalgia tourism can be offered to people of all ages.
"This is one of the most attractive and effective types of tourism," he said. "When people reach a certain age, they travel with their family members and talk about their memories. They also recommend their children to go.”
He says nostalgia tourism already exists in Azerbaijan, but that it needs to be organized in a more professional way. "I believe this type of tourism will generate considerable income for the tourism industry,” said Guliyev.
"We need to develop this type of tourism in our country," said Muzaffar Agakerimov, advisor to the chairman of the Azerbaijani Tourism Association. "If this type of tourism develops, Germans can visit Ganja, Tovuz, Goygol, Aghstafa, and Shamkir and other historical German settlements.” According to Agakerimov, it will also be very popular with the ethnic Azeri population living in Iran.
There are millions of Azerbaijanis living all over the world, which can create a large market for such tourist destinations.
As Muzzafar Agakerimov points out: "There are always those who want to travel to the past, and want to return to their memories".