Kyrgyzstan developing rural and mountain tourism

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BISHKEK (TCA) — Karakol city in the Issyk-Kul province of Kyrgyzstan has become the contest winner in the nomination “The best place for tourism development in Kyrgyzstan”.

The contest “Kyrgyz Tourism Awards 2017” was organized by the Tourism Department of the Ministry of Culture, Information and Tourism jointly with the Kyrgyz Association of Tour Operators with the support of USAID.

The contest aimed to identify the most interesting and successful projects in the tourism development and promotion, and to create an interested attitude to such projects and events from government authorities and the general public. The contest was held in 17 nominations, such as the best innovative project, best tour operator, best hotel in Kyrgyzstan, etc.

Karakol, a great tourist destination

In the near future, Karakol will be an example for other cities in Kyrgyzstan which intend to attract tourists, experts say.

First and foremost, it is necessary to improve the infrastructure of the city. The Karakol administration plans to repair the roads to the ski resorts and other places that are attractive for tourists. Tourism centers and other tourism facilities will be developed, too.

Karakol has been dynamically developing in recent years. Over the past five years, the city has implemented several USAID projects to improve the environment and to involve the local population in the tourism development.

The Karakol ski resort is increasingly popular among tourists, and as a result, more and more tourists stop at hotels and guest houses in the city. The information center for tourists is successfully operating in Karakol.

River Park, one of the USAID projects, was opened in Karakol recently. It is located on both sides of the river and is divided into children’s and sports zones, as well as sites for social events.

The park will provide space for community events, and serve as a new venue for recreation and relaxation by the city’s many tourists and residents alike. The USAID renovated the riverfront area as a part of its broader efforts to promote job creation and higher incomes through increased international tourism in Karakol and throughout Kyrgyzstan.

“Karakol is already a great tourist destination, but the new River Park will be a beautiful public space that will transform Karakol’s riverfront into an inviting place for year-round social activities, events, and festivals,” Alan Meltzer, Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy, said at the opening ceremony.

The idea of building a park came from a group of tourism service providers, which later grew into a large association – Destination Karakol – a union of 35 tourism businesses. USAID partnered with Destination Karakol and local municipal authorities to make the idea a reality. The park will provide one more reason for tourists to extend their stays in Karakol before heading to the surrounding mountains, ultimately leading to higher incomes for local businesses and residents.

State’s goals

Tourism is among the key sectors of Kyrgyzstan’s economy. The main goal of the State is to create favorable conditions for organizations and enterprises operating in the tourism industry, to improve legislative and regulatory framework that ensures the dynamic development of this sector, Deputy Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Cholpon Sultanbekova said on September 27 during the Kyrgyz Tourism Awards 2017 ceremony.

Kyrgyzstan plans to develop ecotourism, mountain tourism, ethnotourism, sports tourism and medical tourism, as well as to improve the sanatorium and resort sector. To do this, it is necessary to significantly improve the infrastructure and the work of national airlines. To make the sanatorium and resort sector profitable year-round, support from the state is needed.

Experts propose to revive rehabilitation medical tourism. In Soviet times, Kyrgyzstan was famous for its health resorts that received cosmonauts, athletes and ordinary workers from all Soviet republics. Promoting the medical tourism, the country can increase the flow of vacationers to health resorts located in various regions of the country and to significantly increase state budget revenues, experts say.

The Jergalan resort in the Issyk-Kul region is famous for its unique mineral water springs which come to the earth surface from a depth of more than 1.5 kilometers. The Jalal-Abad resort, in the south of the country, is famous for its mineral thermal springs. The Jeti-Oguz resort at Issyk-Kul is widely known for its radon water. There is also the Chon-Tuz speleological sanatorium in the Naryn province.

In 2016, the state budget received more than 100 million soms from the tourism sector. Investments in tourism increased by 1.5 billion soms compared to 2015, amounting to 15.3 billion soms last year.

Jailoo tourism

Local citizens have already understood that the tourism industry can bring them good income, and most of the population is involved in this process, but the insufficiently developed infrastructure, poor quality of services, and lack of clean drinking water slow the development of the industry.

This year, the influx of tourists is expected to increase, the Department of Tourism said, adding that investments will also increase because the jailoo (alpine summer pasture) tourism and mountain tourism are gaining popularity with foreign tourists.

In the last two years, more tourists came from Saudi Arabia, and tourists from India and other countries show interest in Kyrgyzstan. The Tourism Department is drafting a tourism development concept of the country, based on the development of mountain, cultural and jailoo tourism.

The Department named the reasons to visit Kyrgyzstan. Firstly, the country is a picturesque region of celestial mountains with 29 mountain peaks, that is, the Land of Celestial Mountains.

Secondly, there are many mountain lakes in Kyrgyzstan, and it is a country of extreme sports. There are 13 ski resorts here. Kyrgyzstan is a country of the Great Silk Road, which for centuries has linked countries with trade relations. In addition, Kyrgyzstan is a country of rural tourism, which is actively developing.

It is important that Kyrgyzstan is an open country, with a visa-free regime for many states.

Kyrgyz villagers have begun to realize that to attract tourists, they need to improve their services. Families of shepherds live at jailoo for up to five months a year, and all this time they can receive guests and earn money. It is necessary to train rural people in agricultural tourism.

According to the Government’s program “Forty steps to the future”, the tourism industry development is among the main steps for sustainable development of rural areas and job creation there.