BISHKEK (TCA) — Central Asia countries possess abundant resources and great potential for tourism development. The unique heritage, nature and traditions of different peoples and cultures along the Great Silk Road attract tourists from all over the world.
All the prime ministers and presidents in the past promised to do their best to attract more tourists to Kyrgyzstan to make it recognizable in the world. The current authorities also intend to promote tourism but no noticeable results have been observed so far.
The first President, Askar Akayev, wanted to turn Kyrgyzstan into a second Switzerland. Later, to promote the country’s international brand, Kyrgyzstan was declared the Land of the Celestial Mountains and the Land of Santa Claus. Finally, the authorities decided to focus on ecological and ethnic tourism, attracting tourists with pristine nature and ancient traditions.
“The share of tourism in Kyrgyzstan’s GDP is 4-5%. Our goal is to increase it up to 10% by 2022,” Kyrgyz Prime Minister Mukhammedkaly Abylgaziyev said.
According to official data, more than 2.5 million tourists visited Kyrgyzstan last year but experts disagree with this figure. All foreigners who crossed the border were considered tourists, while the purposes of visits were different, and not all foreign guests planned to travel and spend their money in Kyrgyzstan.
After the introduction of a visa-free regime for 45 countries with high per capita income in 2012, the flow of tourists into the country increased. MP Dastan Bekeshev proposed to extend or make perpetual the law on visa-free regime for citizens of these states. He also proposed to introduce a visa-free regime for people who have a valid Schengen visa or a valid US, Russian and Kazakhstan’s visa. In this case, tourists entering Kazakhstan could visit Kyrgyzstan.
“Let's make our country open and let tourists come and leave money here. Tourism is the sector where we can create jobs without investing much money,” he said.
MP Makhabat Mavlyanova proposed to cancel the visa regime for tourist groups from China, adding that the Chinese make up 30% of tourists from all over the world.
However, MPs and the public did not support her, fearing that under the guise of tourists, illegal working force from the bordering regions of China would flood into Kyrgyzstan and press local people in the labor market.
The visa-free regime alone cannot significantly improve the situation. To attract tourists, the country should be accessible and safe for them, as well as improve services and infrastructure. For all these indicators, Kyrgyzstan is lagging behind.
Since 2016, after Shavkat Mirziyoyev became the President, Uzbekistan has been actively developing tourism. The authorities have significantly simplified visa laws, introduced free exchange of foreign currency and a more convenient registration system for foreigners.
The introduction of the Silk Road tourist visa is now being discussed by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry reported.
According to Uzbek media, Silk Road, Vatandosh and Golden visas were introduced in Uzbekistan in July 2018. Silk Road visas are for tourists traveling through the Silk Road countries with the recognition of visa marks from other countries.
For Uzbekistan’s immigrants and their family members, a five-year Vatandosh visa will be provided. Large foreign investors will be able to get a 10-year Golden Visa.
Since 2018, a 30-day visa-free regime has been established for seven countries including Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Israel, Turkey, Malaysia, and the Republic of Korea. As a result, the number of tourists from these countries has increased significantly, from Turkey by 95.6%, Israel — 86.2%, Indonesia — more than 3-fold, and Singapore — more than 2.5-fold.
In Japan, there is a huge interest in Uzbekistan. According to the Japan HIS tourism corporation, Uzbekistan ranked second among the most tourist-attractive states for Japanese citizens for the summer period. A record number of Japanese tourists (10 thousand) visited Uzbekistan, 54% more than last year.
Citizens of 39 countries can get visas under the simplified procedure.
The flow of tourists from China, the USA, Canada, and Italy also increased this year, the Uzbek State Committee for Tourism Development reports. From January to August, 9.9 thousand of U.S. citizens visited Uzbekistan, 48% more than in the same period last year.
Uzbekistan plans to introduce additional visa regimes for various categories of foreign citizens.
To attract more tourists, the Cabinet of Ministers excluded some territories from the list banned for visiting — the radio astronomy complex on the Suffa Plateau, Tamerlane Cave, Severtsev Glacier, and sacred site Hazrat Sultan. In Samarkand, it is planned to create an International University of Tourism, which will train professional personnel and conduct research in the international tourism.
In 2017, the share of the tourism industry was 2.3% of national GDP, which, according to forecasts, can be increased to 5%.
Experts from International SOS and Control Risks recognized Uzbekistan as the safest country for travel in Central Asia.
Kazakhstan authorities began to pay more attention to tourism. Experts say that low oil prices are among the main reasons, as the economic growth has slowed down and incomes of the population decreased.
“Tourism is a tool for economic growth even in the period of global economic crises,” President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev said earlier this month. He informed about the five-year tourism development program aimed at increasing the incoming flow of tourists and creating more than 60 thousand jobs, the presidential website reported.
According to the Kazakh authorities, the tourism industry grew steadily in 2017. The number of hotels, campgrounds and sanatoriums has increased by 8.5%. Most tourists visited Astana and Almaty. The recent EXPO-2017 exhibition attracted about four million visitors.
The potential for tourism development is great. In Kazakhstan, the contribution of this industry to GDP is 6%, while the share of tourism in world GDP is 10.9%.
Foreign tourists, mainly Russians from western Siberia, come to Kazakhstan’s Borovoye resort, the Balkhash and Alakol lakes in the summer, and the famous Shymbulak ski resort near Almaty in winter.
Baikonur, the oldest cosmodrome of the planet, is located in Kazakhstan, and the idea of developing space tourism is under discussion. Many cosmodromes in various countries around the world act as attractive facilities for tourists. The launch sites are most interesting at the launch of spaceships. To attract more visitors, exhibitions and scientific and educational expositions at the cosmodromes are often held.
For the first time over its independence, Tajikistan intends to adopt a National Tourism Development Strategy until 2030. The strategy involves improvement of services at airports and other border crossing points, visas and registration, as well as licensing in the tourism industry.
The draft Strategy includes 12 steps which would make Tajikistan a tourism destination country, the document’s authors believe.
It is planned to increase the representation of Tajikistan in the global tourism market, develop an appropriate tourism legislative framework, ensure the safety of tourists, simplify official procedures for foreign travelers to enter Tajikistan, and develop an innovation tourism cluster.
The priority tourism areas are ecological, health-improving, historical and cultural tourism, as well as mountaineering and hunting.
Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov ordered the Cabinet of Ministers to analyze the country's tourism potential and draft a tourism development program, SNG.Today reported. The head of state focused on improving the efficiency of the state bodies responsible for the tourism development.
“There are monuments of world importance in our country, including Ancient Merv, one of the world civilization centers. We also have unique historical and cultural monuments attractive for tourists, and we have all the conditions for their service,” the President said.
The Avaza National Tourist Zone on the Caspian coast recently hosted the International Tourism Fair, which presented tourism opportunities in Turkmenistan. According to arzuw.news, the Government intends to transfer the Avaza tourism center to the country's entrepreneurs. In the future, hotels, casinos and golf courses will be built there.