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The 11th Azerbaijan International Tourism and Travel Fair, AITF 2012, closed on 14 April.

As the specialized exhibition that reflects the trends in the Caspian regions tourism and hospitality industry, AITF has once again excelled itself, attracting the attention of industry professionals and ordinary travellers.

The evidence of the real role of the tourism industry in the economy of Azerbaijan and the high status of the exhibition was demonstrated by the third consecutive annual visit of the President of Azerbaijan, H.E. Ilham Aliyev.

During his tour the president visited the stands of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan, where he studied the advanced electronic online navigator, as well as that of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which was hosting its own stand for the first time.

President Aliyev also visited the Bulgarian stand, which made its first appearance at the show as the guest country, and Turkey, which for the third consecutive year was acting as the partner country to the exhibition. At the stands of a number of other participants the President was informed about the activities of other nations companies and organizations that offer services in the tourism industry and their prospects for co-operation with Azerbaijan.

Speaking at the official opening ceremony, Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mr Abulfas Garayev noted that the exhibition is considered by many international organizations as the most influential event in the tourism industry in the region. Proof of this came from the letter from the Secretary General of UNWTO Mr Taleb Rifai, which noted that AITF offers great opportunities for tourism development. The role of the government of Azerbaijan, which has continued to focus on tourism development as a key area for economic investment, was highlighted in the message from the Secretary General of UNWTO.

During the exhibition two international agreements were signed. The first one, concluded between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan and UNWTO regards a joint project entitled A Taste of the Silk Road, as part of which an international conference on Food, Culture and Tourism will take place in Baku on 6 and 7 September. The second agreement, on the development of relations in tourism, was signed by and between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Ministry of Tourism, Sport and Economic Planning of San Marino.

There was also a presentation of the Azerbaijan journal, which is a part of an agreement on trilateral cooperation between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Azerbaijan Tourism Association (AZTA) and Atlantis Holidays (Dubai) to promote the tourism potential of Azerbaijan in the Persian Gulf. This agreement was initially signed at last year's AITF.

There was a rich and busy business programme of AITF 2012. Public presentations and workshops certainly contributed to the active interaction of participants and trade visitors, who discovered useful information about developments in the travel industry. One of the most interesting events of the first day of the exhibition was a seminar on Tourism opportunities in the countries of the Visegrad Group, in which representatives from the national tourism offices, large tour companies, hotel chains, resorts and airlines of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic combined to share their knowledge. In addition, presentations on Thailand and Croatia took place, with the purpose of conveying information on tourism opportunities in these countries, which have not yet become popular among Azerbaijani tourists. Of particular interest was the presentation on the new professional service from the Azerbaijani company SW Travel, the ability to book tours online.

As part AITF 2012, the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) gave a presentation which announced the name of the mascot for the Under-17s Women's World Cup, which will be held in Baku in the autumn of this year. The awards ceremony for the winners of the first Azerbaijan online tourism quiz, organized by the Internet partner of AITF, also took place.

Overall 201 companies from 32 countries, representing 62 overall aspects of tourism gathered in the pavilions of Baku Expo Centre for the 11th time - an absolute record for the exhibition. This year the exhibition included 15 national and regional stands from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, the Republic of Dagestan, India, Cyprus, Crimea, Lithuania, Malaysia, Slovenia, Turkey, the Czech Republic, the Emirate of Dubai, the Stavropol region, Croatia, Thailand, Mauritius and the Seychelles. The newcomers to the exhibition were Qatar, Poland, Vietnam, Slovakia and Croatia. For the third consecutive year, Turkey acted as the partner country of the exhibition, while Bulgaria, attending the show for the first time, was the guest country.

The tourism-specific proposals on offer from travel agencies, tour operators, hotels, air carriers and health resorts, suited the needs of all the visitors.

A distinctive feature of the exhibition this year was an interesting and extensive exposition on medical tourism. Famous health resorts and thermal waters were presented by Bulgaria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. On the Stavropol regions stand one could see the offers of the resort cities of Essentuki, Zheleznovodsk, Kislovodsk, Mineral Waters and Pyatigorsk. Ukraine brought details to the show of one of its biggest spa resorts, Truskavets, famed for its variety of mineral waters, and of the famous resorts of Crimea. The Regional Office of Slovenia, known as The Land of Celje, and the Spa Association of Slovenia advertised unforgettable holidays in their spa resorts.

In parallel with AITF, the 6th International Exhibition of Everything for Hotels, Restaurants and Supermarkets, HOREX Azerbaijan, was held, where leading companies from Italy, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Turkey and France demonstrated professional kitchen equipment, laundry facilities, household chemicals, textiles and exclusive dishes for hotels, restaurants and motels. Information technology for hotels, such as online booking and online payment systems, were also on display. The exhibition included well-known brands in the hospitality industry, such as La Cimbali, Santos, Robot Coupe, Rational, Winterhalter, Karma-Global, Rotondi, Scotsman, Modular, Bonnet, Sagi SPA, Rovabo, Danube International, Muehldorfer, Ingrid Lesage Creations, etc.

Since its launch, the exhibition has been officially supported by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan and has received encouragement from UNTWO, Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation (AZPROMO), the National Confederation of Entrepreneurs (Employers) of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Association of International Tourism Fairs.

The exhibition is organized by ITE Group plc and its partner in the Caucasus, Iteca Caspian LLC. The official partners for international exhibitions and conferences in 2012 include the official air carrier AZAL; and the Hilton Baku and Qafqaz Point Hotel as the official hotels. The official tour operator is Greenwich Travel Club. The sponsor of AITF is SW Travel (Azerbaijan).

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