Azerbaijan’s low-cost airline Buta Airways has announced earlier this week the launch of its Baku–Riyadh and Baku–Dammam routes to Saudi Arabia with the aim to lure more tourists from the Persian Gulf countries.
Flights between Baku and Riyadh will begin on September 18 and run twice per week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Flights to the coastal city of Dammam will begin on October 28, running also two times per week, on Mondays and Fridays.
“These new destinations will contribute to both an additional influx of tourists from the Persian Gulf countries to Azerbaijan, and the strengthening of business ties between the two countries,” reads the company’s statement, according to a report by Interfax.
“Buta Airways is planning to open direct flights to several other cities in the countries of the Middle East anytime soon.”
Every tenth tourist in Azerbaijan throughout the previous year was from a Gulf country, such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.
According to a report released by the European Travel Commission, the Middle East is ranked one of the fastest-growing tourist generating regions in the world. Within the region, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman constitute all together about 60 percent of all outbound travel and about 75 percent of total international tourism expenditure from the Middle East.
After the government lifted pre-visit visa application requirements for visiting Azerbaijan last year, the number of foreigners and stateless persons entering Azerbaijan hit a new record, reaching nearly 2.85 million in 2018 and showing a 5.7 percent increase from the total figure for 2017.
According to the data compiled by the Azerbaijan Tourism Association, the number of tourists who came to visit Azerbaijan this summer increased by 10 percent compared to the same period last year. Russia’s residents topping the list, while the number of those coming from Saudi Arabia has almost doubled.
Nahid Bagirov, who heads Azerbaijan Tourism Association, believes a series of initiatives launched in previous years had a direct impact on the increase in the number of inbound tourists. Included in the list of initiatives is an increase in direct flights.
“AZAL has opened many new regular and charter flights to the Arab countries, six of which to Saudi Arabia – Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah, Medina, Buraidah and Hofuf. Along with this, Saudi Arabia’s leading low-cost airline, Flynas, began operating flights to Baku,” Bagirov said on September 3, according to a report by Novosti-Azerbaijan.
The country's largest air carrier, Azerbaijan Airlines or AZAL, offers flights to 47 destinations worldwide, including locations in the U.S., Europe, Turkey, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, China, Uzbekistan and Caspian region neighbors Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia. In 2017, the company launched Buta Airways, which operates flights to neighboring Turkey, Russia, Georgia and Iran, as well as Ukraine and Bulgaria with ticket prices starting at $31.