Sustainable tourism was the focus of a two-day conference organized by Western University, the sponsor of the inaugural UIAA Mountain Protection Award, in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Among the 20 speakers and 50 attendees were UIAA vice-president Peter Farkas and UIAA Mountain Commission president Linda McMillan, Hussein Bagirov, president of Azerbaijan Air and Extreme Sports Federation (FAIREX), World Wildlife Fund representatives and specialists in ecotourism.
More than half of Azerbaijan is covered by mountains, and speakers discussed “the valuable role of mountaineering and climbing sports for developing sustainable tourism” in mountain regions around the world such as the Caucasus.
The discussion around sustainable tourism is important as Azerbaijan is an example of a country which is rapidly beginning to exploit mountain tourism.
Examples include the first ski resort in the Quba region which opened last year with four slopes. The country has also begun to promote hiking tours in the Altiagach or Shahdag National Park. Nine national parks have been created in Azerbaijan in the last few years where opportunities exist to view animals such as the goitered gazelle, red deer, Bezoar goat, brown bear, lynx and leopard.
Conference organizers agreed that biodiversity in the Caucasus can be an asset to attract tourism but a number of challenges remain:
There is the need to train more instructors and guides for outdoor tourism activities
There is the need to promote awareness about sustainable tourism among local people in keeping with national traditions
There is the need to protect flora and fauna, and the recognition of special animal populations
Ecological laws need to be strengthened
Ease the visa process for tourists from abroad