Responsible tourism: Azerbaijan small group holiday
Most of the time on this tour is spent in towns and cities, but we also visit the extraordinary landscapes of Gobustan, where mud volcanoes belch from the earth to create a very unusual phenomenon. We brief our travellers to stick to the trails so as not to disturb this unique landscape and leave it for others to enjoy. Elsewhere at Gobustan are a remarkable collection of petroglyphs and prehistoric rock art, which are particularly susceptible to damage, and again we ensure our travellers do not damage these. Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union and as such western European norms regarding the environment are not so well entrenched, therefore it is quite common for local people to dispose of rubbish simply by throwing it out of the window. We operate a strict no litter policy on our tours, and work to educate our drivers and other service providers so as to avoid contributing to this problem.
Similarly, in conjunction with our local team we work with hotels and guesthouses to implement best practices when it comes to environmental matters – in some places this is far behind what we might be used to in other parts of the world. This includes basic things like not replacing towels each day, as well as saving electricity and turning lights off – small things but Azerbaijan, especially outside of Baku is not as used to tourism as countries in western Europe.
On all of tours we strive to include a strong focus on local communities and we are firm believers that tourism should have a positive impact on the places visited. On this tour we try to allow our travellers to gain a real insight into the traditional customs of the country; a good example of this is on our Nakhchivan Extension where we visit the pilgrimage site of Ashabu Kaf. We join local people at the mountain and travellers are explained the complex customs here which intertwine Islam with older beliefs. We ensure that our travellers are appropriately briefed in order so as not to offend local sensibilities. This also applies to the churches, mosques and that we visit on this trip; Azerbaijan is a religious country and it is important that we respect these traditions.
We also stop to visit communities of Armenia’s ethnic minorities including the Jewish community of Krasnaya Sloboda. We only visit villages that are pleased to receive us – it is important that we do not treat such communities just as ‘exhibits’, and we recognise that some traditional groups prefer to be left alone.
We visit a number of sites and monuments on this tour that do not necessarily receive much funding from other sources; the entrance fees that we include help to maintain the heritage of this country for future generations – not just western travellers but more importantly to local people to whom they have far more cultural and historical significance. We use locally owned suppliers and our partners here are deeply involved with the preservation of the culture and heritage of the country. Many of Azerbaijan’s sites have been poorly maintained in the past and entrance fees play an important part in their restoration and conservation.