Prior to mid-October, as Andrew Mueller notes in today’s Monocolumn, visitors entering Azerbaijan without visas at capital Baku’s Heydar Aliyev Airport had to engage in a bizarre hop from booth to booth to obtain their visas. First, they had to stand in a line to get a passport stamp, then stand in another line to apply for a visa, then wait for the visa to be issued, and then stand in line again to have the visa inspected.
Unnecessary hassles like these are reminiscent of Soviet-era bureaucracy. They feel to many travelers like punishment, even when the reciprocal hassles (those faced by citizens of the country in question trying to enter the visitor’s country) are harsher and require greater advance planning.
Then, in the middle of October, Azerbaijan suddenly changed its visa regime, requiring visitors to obtain visas at the country’s embassies in advance. This requirement is not particularly annoying for tourists, who usually have time to drop their passports off at embassies prior to travel, but it’s a huge hassle for business travelers who often need to travel at the drop of a hat.
Mueller instructively contrasts Azerbaijan’s visa regime tightening with neighbor Georgia’s loosening of visa requirements. Georgia now offers visa-free access to the country for citizens of close to half the world’s nations, and the length of stay following entrance has been extended to a year from 90 days.
Here’s the rub: Azerbaijan is perfectly situated to take advantage of new waves of tourism. Interest in the country is growing, air routes from Europe are quite good, facilities for visitors are expanding, and oil money has Baku flush with venues for visitors to spend money.
But if the country makes it harder for people to visit, fewer will show up.
For the record, Monocle’s daily Monocolumn is a fantastic briefing courtesy of the magazine’s correspondents and contributors from around the world.