Tourists in Azerbaijan may soon find it easier to navigate their way through the historical sites and natural landscapes of the South Caucasus region country, located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia along the western shores of the Caspian Sea.
The Azerbaijan State Tourism Agency is discussing with the Ministry of Internal Affairs creating a tourist police service that will cater exclusively to the needs of visitors.
"There is already a legal agreement on this,” said Kanan Gasimov, the Chief of Staff at the State Tourism Agency, according to Oxu.az. “The initial agreement on the functioning of the Tourist Police in special uniforms in the city has been achieved. The idea has already been approved," he said, referring to starting the service in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.
Gasimov said a telephone hotline will also be launched for managing services that are intended for tourists, and that standalone service centers will be set up throughout the city.
“Tourists will be able to find answers to questions and solve problems by contacting the hotline. Thus, they will have a connection with the state, and problems will be solved faster,” he said, according to Sputnik.az.
The central government in Azerbaijan has been making concerted efforts in recent years to boost the tourism industry, in a country whose economy has been very reliant on fossil fuel exports. And according to government data, those efforts have been paying off.
In 2018, roughly 2.85 million people from 196 countries visited what is predominately Muslim state, but constitutionally secular. Between January and April of 2019, 848,000 foreigners from 170 countries visited Azerbaijan, Aznews.az reported.
Drinking alcohol is not forbidden in Azerbaijan, shopping is practically a popular pastime, and historical buildings with a distinctive architectural style are combined with modern skyscrapers that dot the coastal landscape.
Establishing a special police force that addresses only tourist’s concerns – the likes of which is not available in cities like New York or Chicago – is expected to only make Azerbaijan a more attractive destination for foreign visitors.
The idea is not new for Caspian region countries. Russia, for example, has tourist-specific police units in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In Iran, police assistance is available for tourists at any time through a special “Call 1-1-0” service.
For its part, Kazakhstan introduced a tourist police service in April. Officers are charged with advising and informing tourists about issues of concern to them, and ensure their safety. Members of the force are required to speak Russian and English, and know about Kazakhstan’s history and attractions, to help guide visitors. Police are also equipped with video recorders, hand-held tablets and radios to make their jobs, and the tourist’s experience, easy and enjoyable.