Tourism in Central Asia: Open for Business


The world appears to grow smaller every year tourists become more adventurous, looking for evermore interesting destinations allowing their spirit of adventure to blossom. Be it the gap year student on a tight budget or the “Grey Pound Market” with time and money, they are all looking for that special experience. The combined countries of Central Asia, the five “Stans”, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan may be one of the last remaining frontiers for the new tourism experience.

This vast expanse of land, almost double the size of Europe, can offer those with a taste for adventure and excitement a new alternative. The region is collectively promoted as “The Silk Road”, a reference to the trading route to China made famous by travellers such as Marco Polo. But in fact “The Silk Road” is only one of many trade routes running through Central Asia.

At the moment tours organised in the West are specific to particular areas of the region and tend to include only two or three countries due to the visa restrictions in place across some of the countries. But it is now time for governments of the individual countries to recognise the importance of tourism and look at the potential for tourism development.

We must look at how important tourism can be to the economy of the countries of Central Asia. Many established governments see tourism as an additional source of income and growth without realising the true potential to cultural and financial growth. Tourism is an industry that touches almost every aspect of daily life, providing jobs, creating foreign revenue and boosting trade with other countries. It affects banking and finance, construction and hospitality, as well as highlighting a country’s history and cultural identity to the rest of the world.

There are already a number of projects and incentives that have been created by governments of the five “Stans” such as the redevelopment of the international airport at Dushanbe in Tajikistan and the new agreement between Turkmenistan and China to develop rail links and infrastructure between the two countries. In Kyrgyzstan the “Community Based Tourism” (CBT) programme brings together local government and businesses to promote the interests of particular areas of the country and to provide guides and facilities for tourists. These investments are vital not only to local initiatives but also to the development of a strong and lasting infrastructure and the growth of the industry.

However, more must be done by the governments to make access easier and to encourage more inward investment from foreign investors. Respective government departments with responsibility for tourism, along with their embassies across the globe need to engage with western expertise to ensure that the true potential for tourism across the region is delivered and maintained at all levels.

It is important to point out that although the countries of Central Asia may not attract mass tourism such as that of the Mediterranean, the region and the countries within the region can find their own niche market. Traditionally the bulk of tourism movement came from North to South. Now with the opening of the East there are new opportunities to attract tourism.

All of the countries in Central Asia are unique in their own way and have the ability to promote themselves on a variety of tourism platforms such as adventure, sports, eco-tourism, walking, nature and skiing as well as the historical and cultural aspects. The variety of holiday in Central Asia is enormous and the unspoilt and breathtaking sights and scenery across the region can deliver special travel experiences. We are seeing small independent tour operators rise to the challenge of delivering this message. Companies such as Silk Road Tours, Native Eye and Dragoman all offer packages to the region and some of the countries themselves have taken initial steps by appearing at trade shows around the world.

Another area of tourism we have not discussed is that of the corporate and business meeting market. The natural resources of Central Asia have already seen a stream of western business people travel to the region for meetings and trade and to attend the many trade shows organised in the major capitals. This can be a new dawn for the tourism of Central Asia and a new experience for the west to discover more and uncover the hospitality and individuality of these fascinating countries. It is also an opportunity for the governments to increase their standing in the global market as a place where business and investment can grow.

Much has already been done in the UK to build on the trade links already established through associations such as the Central Asia and Trans Caucasus Business Information Group (CATBIG) and British Expertise (a body that links UK businesses with initiatives across the world) as well as the respective Embassies and Anglo Associations working to develop relations between the UK and the countries of Central Asia. Now the “Stans“ have to continue to support what is already in place by working with western consultants with interests in the development of Central Asia.

Together we can deliver the message that Central Asia is open for business.
George Smith – F. Inst. TT is a UK consultant
on Travel and Tourism lecturing
at UK Universities and Colleges, KiSt
Tel: 0044 (0)1634 310586
Mobile: 0044 (0)7757 942392

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