Welcome to Baku: Breaking taboos in Azerbaijan’s tourism sector

cooking class in baku
Master chefs: A training course for new cooks in Baku (PHOTO CREDIT: UNDP in Azerbaijan)

Azerbaijan is blessed with all the right features for a picture-perfect tourist destination: rich history, ethnic and religious diversity, safe and fascinating cities to explore, and delicious cuisine.

Despite the enormous potential for a vibrant tourism industry, challenges remain. Attending vocational school to learn a trade was considered a punishment in Soviet Azerbaijan; negative connotations of these programmes remain.

This is, however, starting to change. Vocational schools are slowly beginning to supply qualified workers to private sector  - including tourism.

Highlights

  • Rooms for the project were allocated at the Baku Tourism Vocational School, renovated and furnished with necessary equipment.
  • The curriculum focused on service sector, travel, and cooking. To improve language skills of students, English and Russian classes were conducted.
  • Special classes were held for developing resumes and interview skills of graduates.
  • Two hundred students participated in the project, 143 have already found steady employment.

In 2013, UNDP together with Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism implemented the “Support to Baku Tourism Vocational School” project. The project worked to support the school in ensuring its graduates could meet international professional standards, thus increasing the competitiveness of Azerbaijan’s tourism industry.

The centre's curriculum consisted of on-the-ground trainings for waiters, housekeeping, receptionists, bartenders, sommeliers, travel agents, and chefs. Jahangir Babayev received a certificate of completion for the sommelier course.

“I had a dream to work at a bar in the city, but I could never find such a job as I was not qualified,” says Babayev. “These trainings and certificate made me eligible to find the job I dreamed about. I am now working at a prestigious night club in Baku.”

Dinner’s served

Pilaf with aromatic saffron, juicy kebab flavored with sumac, chicken stuffed with nuts, and minced meat wrapped in grape leaves: These were just some of the mouthwatering foods prepared by the chefs during their training modules.

Studying not only national dishes, but popular European and Asian cuisines as well, prospective chefs were given complete freedom as they cooked. They had more room for creativity – and for fun.

Nijat Gasimov, 23-years-old, was happy with the experience he gained: “The classes are so professionally delivered that you can be confident in creating new recipes. Now, I got an opportunity to work at the Fairmont Hotel.”

Along with certificates, special classes on developing resumes and interview skills were conducted to prepare graduates for the job market.  

“The team worked with me to develop my portfolio and held many mock interviews to teach how to respond correctly. Once I learned these skills, I could find a job very easily. I owe so much to this project”, says Yelena Moskalyeva, a recent graduate.

Economic diversification is vital for keeping sustainability of Azerbaijan’s development. Tourism is one of the most encouraging areas for enlarging the non-oil sector share in country’s GDP. By improving the management system, curriculum and training courses of the vocational school under this project, UNDP aims to increase the competitiveness in Azerbaijan’s touristic industry. For UNDP Project Officer, Elnur Khalilov, the secret to success comes from enjoying what you do:

“The main thing in the service sector is to love your job. The courses are established to motivate students to go for what they love in their professional life. You must understand that you are not just serving to the people, but welcoming them.”

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