Tourism in Kyrgyzstan: ambitious goals, poor roads and safety problems

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BISHKEK (TCA) — Considering that the World Nomad Games are to be held in 2018, it is expected that there will be a deficit of Kyrgyzstan’s state budget in the second half of the year, the Eurasian Development Bank said in its monthly macroeconomic review.

World Nomad Games

According to the Finance Ministry of Kyrgyzstan, it is planned to spend 306.3 million soms for the coming World Nomad Games (WNG) to be held from September 2 to September 8 on the Lake Issyk-Kul coast.

Earlier this month, the WNG organizers asked businesses and state organizations to provide voluntary financial support for the event. The State Ecological Inspectorate is still the only state agency that has allocated money for the Games. The Inspectorate’s employees transferred their one-day salaries to the account of the World Ethnic Sports Confederation in favor of preparations for the WNG 2018.

Meanwhile tickets for the third World Nomad Games are already on sale. Entrance tickets are strictly individual, with QR-codes. Tickets should be bought only for the opening and closing ceremonies (from 400 to 4.9 thousand soms). Entrance to other events will be free.

Deputy Minister of Culture, Tourism and Information Ainura Temirbekova believes that the upcoming competitions will outperform the past ones in 2014 and 2016.

At Kyrchyn jailoo, an ethno-town is being constructed. From 3 to 6 September, a cultural program will be held there including national songs and dances, clothing and food exhibitions, theatrical staging of Kyrgyz traditions and customs, yurt design and assembling, and folk crafts contests.

The WNG organizers will try to surprise and delight the guests. In 2016, the appearance of a thousand of komuzists at the arena of the hippodrome caused the spectators’ admiration. Komuz is an ancient Kyrgyz string instrument.

Foreign guests were more interested in customs and traditions of nomads than sports competitions. Therefore, this year the organizers decided to improve the cultural part of the program focused on both the external attributes of the nomadic life and the inner world and spirit of nomads.

However, the lofty intentions to hold a high-level international event are not fully implemented.

Scandalous road

Scandals are continuing around the construction of a ring road around Issyk-Kul Lake, on the shore of which the WNG will be held. Recently, the Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a criminal case related to the construction of the Balykchi-Korumdu road. According to the investigation, the Transport Ministry illegally used budget funds in attracting consulting services.

Construction of this road, estimated at 6.8 billion soms, is the only major project financed from the state budget. The construction project which began in 2015 and was due to be completed in December of 2017, was accompanied by corruption scandals.

In April of 2016, the scandal over this road led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Temir Sariev and Transport Minister Argynbek Malabaev.

The total length of the Balykchi-Korumdu road is 104 kilometers, and only a section from the 33rd to 104th kilometer has been completed.

Travel safety

The incident that took place on July 9 during rescuing tourists at the Southern Inylchek base camp of mountaineers revealed major shortcomings in the tourist sector in Kyrgyzstan. As a result of the helicopter crash, a mountaineer — a foreign citizen — suffered.

The Mi-8 helicopter, which belonged to the air defense forces of Kyrgyzstan, carried out a rescue operation. It had to evacuate climbers from the slope of the Khan-Tengri mountain peak. When landing, the helicopter fell on the port side due to a strong side wind.

The Khan-Tengri peak is located in the Issyk-Kul province of Kyrgyzstan, on the border with Kazakhstan and China, and belongs to the mountains of the northern Tien Shan. The South Inylchek base camp of mountaineers, from where the helicopter was supposed to evacuate the mountaineers, is at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level.

According the General Staff of Kyrgyzstan’s Armed Forces, a tourist company asked them to deliver help, medicines and food to tourists on the glacier. Helicopters of the Armed Forces should not be used to rescue tourists, this is the responsibility of the Emergency Ministry, but its only helicopter went out of order.

Losing image

Earlier this month, at a press conference in Bishkek, tour operators warned that due to the lack of helicopters, the tourist season could be frustrated, and mountaineering in Kyrgyzstan would lose its popularity. This year, there are no helicopters to ensure the safety of tourists in mountainous areas. Such a situation is developing for the first time for the 26 years of the country’s independence, they said.

Every year, more than 20 rescue operations are implemented during the summer tourist season, but now travel companies cannot provide them. Kazakhstan agreed to deliver tourists with its helicopters to the peaks of Khan-Tengri and Pobeda, but the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Kyrgyzstan did not allow this.

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country, so many tourist routes pass through mountain areas. Currently, trekking and mountaineering tourism is gaining popularity but Kyrgyzstan must ensure the safety of tourists. Helicopters are also necessary to deliver tourists to the mountains, and tourists are ready to pay all expenses for helicopter services. In addition, there are tourists who would like to look at the mountains from the air.

About five thousand tourists from 18 countries applied for mountain programs in Kyrgyzstan this year. Tour operators fear that now tourists can include the country in their blacklist because it cannot ensure their safety.

Not only the tourist season may fail but the positive image of the country, worked out over the years, will suffer.