The Central Asian region, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, is famous for its picturesque landscapes, diverse cultures and rich history. In recent years, the region has emerged as a promising destination for international travellers seeking unique experiences in remote locations. The cultural heritage, eco-tourism, adventure and wellness sectors will continue to grow and attract new visitors.
The rapid development of tourism is uneven and usually reveals some gaps in the industry landscape and can be used as a point for further improvement of initial plans and strategies.

Most of these challenges are organic to relatively new and rapidly developing destinations, and the only strategy is to turn them into opportunities through long-term planning and systematic implementation. They are clearly recognised by regional governments and key stakeholders, and great efforts are being made to improve them, although it’s a never-ending process.

1) Infrastructure development
Central Asian countries have made significant investments in infrastructure development to improve accessibility for tourists and enhance the overall tourist experience. Airports have been modernised and new ones built, such as Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport in Kazakhstan and Samarkand International Airport in Uzbekistan. Road networks have been improved, making it easier to travel between cities, and attractions and accommodation have been developed. Global hotel chains are already present in the region, with more than 60 properties currently operating and more in the pipeline for the next few years.

2) Heritage conservation
The preservation and restoration of historical sites and cultural heritage is a priority in Central Asia. Preserving and restoring historic sites and cultural heritage is critical to attracting tourists. Governments and organisations in Central Asia are actively investing in these efforts to provide an authentic and immersive experience for visitors. Uzbekistan’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the historic centres of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, have undergone extensive renovations. Kazakhstan’s Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum and Kyrgyzstan’s Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain have also received attention for their conservation.

3) Regional cooperation
Central Asian countries have recognised the importance of regional cooperation in promoting tourism. Initiatives such as the Silk Road Tourism Development Association, which includes member countries and international partners, are promoting cooperation in marketing, infrastructure development and policy frameworks to unlock the region’s collective potential. They focus on joint marketing campaigns, sharing best practice and facilitating cross-border travel to maximise the potential of the Silk Road route.

But none of the above challenges, however important, can be met without mentioning the crucial one – the quality of human capital for the tourism industry and services.

The education system is the foundation for this. While tourism and related sectors are developing rapidly with their needs for professionals, the education system itself is more conservative and not as flexible to respond to the current demands of the industry. Higher education is primarily focused on academic indicators and quantitative parameters rather than the needs of the industry, although some universities have successfully implemented contemporary curricula and collaborated with global institutions for joint programmes and dual diplomas. But the results of this activity won’t be seen very soon, it’s a long-term perspective.

In order to support the industry with quality human capital, educational institutions should be organised as a system, involving young people in discovering and enjoying the tourism, hospitality and service sectors before entering universities. Foundation and induction courses for secondary school students will enable them to make sensible choices for further education and a successful future. But a major role in providing professional human capital for the industry should be played by vocational education and training – with narrower and more practical modules, short-term programmes, industry partnerships and educational support from globally recognised players.
The next issue is that young people often do not see the tourism sector as prestigious enough for their careers and are not satisfied with the offers and salary levels after graduation. In this case, the sooner they start taking real steps into the industry, the sooner they will master their skills and improve their career path.

What is more, once they are in the industry, they will return to education to update and refine their skills, to acquire new relevant tools for their own projects and, for some of them, to continue as certified coaches or trainers.

So, the concept of lifelong learning, truly linked to the specifics and needs of the industry, is the most relevant strategy for the quality of human capital. With this in mind, many new hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and related services will be opened and operated in the Central Asian region in the coming years. And in order to make it happen with a consistently high level of service, we should start today to implement the best contemporary educational practices, involve the young generation to enjoy tourism and create their successful careers, along with building a sustainable future for Central Asia.

by Artem Klykov, PhD, MBA
Professor of Tourism
Silk Road International University of Tourism and Cultural Heritage, Samarkand
SWISSAM University, Saint Petersburg