Observations made in the field prove to be important in enhancing our understanding of the issues and often direct our strategy in choosing interview and focus group subjects and participants. These nimble adjustments on a short turnaround were only possible because of how quickly Impl. Project teams are able to view patterns in the data coming in.
After learning about the struggles with the tourism industry, Justin and I were curious about how the hotels dealt with this issue. While driving in Astara, we found a beautiful four-star hotel in the area and decided to try our luck speaking to a hotel employee and getting some insight. I must admit, it was one of the saddest moments during my journey as we spoke with our interviewee.
We were fortunate to meet with the hotel owner at the front desk who was pleasantly shocked to find tourists. It sounds ironic, a hotel owner who was shocked to see tourists, yet it was a dismal reality. Although his hotel was located a stone’s throw away from the turquoise waters of the Caspian Sea, he said he only received a few Iranian and local guests who were in transit to Iran or back. The most heart wrenching statement was when he told us that he had to submit employee payroll in ten days and did not know how he would come up with the money.
We later headed to another hotel, this one in a rural area. My mind was still stuck on the last hotel owner. I was reluctantly preparing myself to see another struggling hotel with a worried owner but instead I was shocked. We found a massive 4-star resort in the mountains with well-kept facilities and manicured lawns. Once again, we were able to meet with a group of workers and gain some insight into their lives and the tourism industry.
Surprisingly, we were told that they were fully booked during the summer and had a very good number of guests year-round. They were very far from struggling. However, we were told that the hotel opened after the country’s president visited the area and saw that it was underdeveloped although beautiful, and thus decided there should be a hotel there. This hotel provided jobs for locals in the area although, two of the three seasonal golf cart drivers we interviewed had a University degree and were clearly underemployed. Most wanted to move to other parts of Azerbaijan or migrate to another country for better and more stable employment.
Based on my observation, I noticed that there were hardly any small businesses in the area and I enquired whether they had considered starting a business. Most told me that they did not have the finances nor did they want to borrow from financial institutions because the interest rates were exorbitantly high. While this information was useful, and I would have liked to conduct further research and analysis on the business environment in Azerbaijan, we had to stick to the task at hand.