GW plays leading role in tourism development in Central Asia
For 3000 years, camel caravans crossed the golden sands of Central Asia along a route known as the Silk Road. Established around 130 B.C., during China`s Han Dynasty, the Silk Road was actually a network of roads that not only served as a trade route for the exchange of spices, textiles, gems and perfumes but allowed ideas and technological advances to migrate between the East and West.
At the crossroads of the Silk Road was Kazakhstan, which today is the world`s ninth largest country and remains at the center of Central Asian commerce. In March, George Washington University`s Larry Yu visited Kazakhstan`s Abai Kazakh National Pedagogical University (KazNPU) to attend the first International Scientific and Practical Conference on Trends and Perspectives of Tourism Development in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. GW alumnus Kenenbay Mambetaliyev, a faculty member at KazNPU, helped to organize the conference along with George Washington University`s International Institute of Tourism Studies and the Department of Tourism of Alamaty City.
"Most US tourists have not focused on Kazakhstan, much less Central Asia, as potential travel destinations. However that may soon be changing," explained Dr. Yu, who spoke at the conference`s plenary session Tourism as an Engine for Development and conducted two workshops for participants. "While the Kazakh economy has relied on oil and gas exports, tourism has increasingly been recognized as key to economic diversification in the region, which has been hard hit by the fall in the prices of natural resources over the last decade or so."
Not only is Kazakhstan vast but culturally varied, historically rich and teeming with unusual flora and fauna. Take the Aksu Zhabagly Nature Reserve, for example, which is not only home to snow leopards and other rare mammals, but it`s believed that tulips originated there, long before they were introduced to Holland. Or the Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve, famous for its pink flamingos and other bird species. Or the mystifying singing sands of the Altyn Emel National Park, which emit a low-pitched, synchronized musical sound.
To attract more foreign visitors to the region, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have announced a program to allow tourists to travel between the two countries on one visa. The so-called "Silk Visa" is so promising that similar arrangements are being considered by nearby Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan Azerbaijan and Turkey. Since 2017, citizens of 45 countries, have been able to travel to Kazakhstan visa-free for 30 days. As a result, in 2017 alone, Kazakhstan saw almost an 18 percent increase in tourists, achieving a record of 5.8 million foreign visitors in the first nine months of the year. According to a recent TripAdvisor survey, 47 percent of travelers responded that a single visa regime in Central Asia would increase their willingness to travel to the region.
However, visas are not the only the obstacle to tourism development in the region. Flights between Central Asian countries are relatively infrequent. And Central Asia`s proximity to Afghanistan raises safety concerns for visitors. Nevertheless, the Kazakh government is committed to bolstering the country`s tourism sector, a goal shared by the conference attendees, who included university professors, researchers, government officials, industry professionals and students from the US and Central Asian countries.
"Sustainable tourism development has enormous potential for this region," notes Yu. "Visitors can generate revenue for local communities while providing them with the incentive to protect their cultural and natural resources."
The source of information: blogs.gwu.ed