The main purpose of this thesis is to embark on seasonality research in Azerbaijan, which has been neglected due to several reasons, for example, lack of sufficient data and interest from the industry. The lack of prior studies regarding seasonality in Azerbaijan furnishes originality to this thesis. The research seeks to find out seasonality patterns in Baku, the causes and effects of seasonality and possible actions against it. It must be also noted that Azerbaijan is at the beginning of tourism development and seasonal patterns are likely to change over the years thanks to huge investments and far-reaching changes.
5.1 General findings
In order to prepare theoretical foundations of the research, a wide-ranging literature review has been performed. Main causes of seasonality – natural, institutional and other factors were elucidated. The impacts arising from seasonal patterns were depicted. At the end of theoretical groundwork management strategies were given. Such theoretical foundation helped later to investigate the seasonality patterns, causes and effects and develop a strategy in Baku against seasonality.
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Having established conceptual framework, an empirical study has been undertaken in order to explore seasonality in Baku. The research area, Baku, Azerbaijan was introduced. In order to answer raised questions, a survey with both quantitative and qualitative questions was designed. The questionnaire was emailed to a total of 83 accommodations and resorts operating in Baku. However, 27 emails were bounced back and considered as non-delivery. 12 respondents filled in the questionnaire and returned. In spite of low response rate and reluctance of businesses, the answers provided important data which facilitated addressing the research problem.
The survey revealed many facts which were not clear before this research. Based on survey results, the research questions were answered. It was found that autumn, spring as well as Novruz holiday was peak season for accommodations in Baku. Summer, winter and New Year break are low demand season. Most accommodations operating in Baku do not suspend their operations in off-season period. However, their income substantially falls. While majority of accommodations increases prices in high demand season, slightly less than half keep the prices the same. Pricing is also used in low demand season, this time through reductions. It must be noted that most respondents found price decrease practical for tackling with seasonal fluctuations. Though not expected, none of respondents dismiss employees during low seasons, as they do not hire temporary workers but keep stable personnel. The results also cleared that contrary to the underlying assumptions, seasonality does not affect the quality of services in accommodations in Baku. It was discovered that the accommodations do not have any special offer or strategy regarding seasonality, apart from price decreases, which should be counted as discount rather seasonality measure.
The main causes of seasonality in Azerbaijan were also established. Climate and weather patterns and also tough competition with other countries were found as crucial factors. A possible strategy against strategy should include price decrease from businesses, offering new services, finding new markets and also government support to tourism businesses, which can take place in different forms, such as tax cuts, loans, marketing activities abroad and etc. Furthermore, the government should diversify tourism services in Baku and all over the country, and especially develop winter tourism. Though Azerbaijan is already offering sun and beach tourism, the quality and environmental issues do not permit attracting huge number of international tourists. Government can also play a role in scattering holidays throughout a year and avoid high seasonal concentrations. Besides, seasonality can also be positively utilized for educational purposes, especially given the fact that most tourism personnel lack adequate training in Azerbaijan.
The overall impression from survey is that Baku experiences a medium level of seasonality. There are many facts that justify this statement. First of all, the businesses did not unanimously consider seasonality as a problem for themselves. One fourth of the respondents either did not agree or were uncertain. Secondly, the overwhelming majority do not shut down during low seasons. Thirdly, employee dismissal, which is deemed as serious problem arising from seasonality does not take place in these accommodations. And finally, these businesses did not confirm the negative impact of seasonality on the quality of their services. All these arguments provide ground for the conclusion that Baku undergoes only an intermediate level seasonality. The reason is that Baku as a city has many advantages. It is a capital city, with the biggest international airport, and also business centre of the country. The city has a lot to offer to tourists due to its cultural and historical heritage as well as location. It can also be argued that the tourism potential of Baku has not been properly utilized. For example, though Baku can be an international sun and beach destination in summer, it is far from this. Even international tourists prefer travelling to Baku in spring and autumn in order to avoid high temperatures.
The findings of this thesis can be used both by academic circles and also professionals. This study can serve as a source for researchers, especially for those who investigate seasonality or explore tourism in Azerbaijan. Seasonality is closely related with demand forecasting. By exploring the subject matter the businesses can also benefit from seasonality research in many ways. For example, the businesses can roughly calculate guest numbers based on demand forecasting, take steps to lower the imbalance between seasons.
5.2 Limitations of the study and further research
The research has come with several limitations. First of all, the survey was carried out only among accommodations and resorts. It is obvious that the list of accommodations operating in Baku is not complete, though the one used is much more wide-ranging and broad in comparison with other sources. Albeit email was sent to 83 businesses, 27 of them immediately bounced back and the same happened with follow-up emails. Some of these emails were traced to other sources or the website of accommodation, if any. Moreover, while tabulating results, 56 accommodations were taken as whole surveyed population.
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Secondly, the results of survey among accommodations cannot be easily generalized to the whole tourism industry of Baku. Therefore, the findings of this research may not agree with the results of similar survey among other tourism businesses in Baku. Especially tour operators and travel agencies can bring about a totally different seasonality patterns, causes and effects. While the use of accommodations by local people is likely much lower than international visitors in Baku due to high prices and stay at relatives’ place, accommodations mainly provide information on inbound international tourists. However, tour operators and travel agencies operate different kind of businesses throughout country. Their services are widely used by outbound tourists, which in this case are local people. Since the seasonality patterns between inbound and outbound tourists can considerably differ, there is a probability that the seasonality patterns of accommodations can also significantly disagree with that of travel agencies, tour operators and other tourism businesses.
Thirdly, the answers to the quantitative questions were of nominal and interval scale. However, these scales do not provide precision for making a decision (Colton and Covert, 2007, p. 80), such as determining the level of seasonality.
Finally, although the respondents have in most cases shown their names and positions while returning the questionnaire, it is unknown that to what extent the answers are correct. Names or even positions do not tell much about the knowledge or capacity of the person who filled in the questionnaire. Therefore, a close look at the businesses such as face-to-face interview could provide more reliable data. Furthermore, since respondents usually show reluctance with regards to qualitative questions, quantitative questions with answer options were extensively utilized in questionnaire. However, in order to make in-depth analysis of the issue, qualitative methods should be in place. But comprehensive qualitative answers could be obtained through interviews instead of email attached questionnaire. Moreover, a higher response rate could be achieved in case of interviews.
Apparently, a totally different seasonality pattern could be found out in other regions of the country. Hence, the results cannot be extended other locations. However, there is an utmost need for raising seasonality issue and addressing this concern in regions, even more than Baku. Other cities and tourism spots are likely to incur a higher seasonality level than Baku, as they attract less international tourists and focus on summer tourism activities.
Further research should be done to exactly calculate the seasonality level in Azerbaijan, Baku and other regions, based on the monthly data provided from the State Statistics Committee, when available. Most researches on seasonality are quantitative and ascertain seasonality level by computing Guini coefficient, seasonality ratio and/or coefficient of seasonal variation. However, to date the tourism figures have been collected on a yearly basis rather than monthly in Azerbaijan. Therefore, exact calculation of seasonality is currently not possible. Furthermore, decomposition based on country of origin and other criteria should be performed, which will help to tailor a strategy in accordance with more detailed seasonality patterns. Subsequently, the effectiveness of these strategies can be examined in other studies. A research on forecasting tourism demand would also be very useful, particularly for businesses.
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