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“Tourism: The driving force of development in Central Asia”

2018 - February

Regional Institute of Central Asia conducted the Third discussion with the president and founder of Kyrgyz Concept Emil Umetaliev on “Tourism: The driving force of development in Central Asia” on February 24, 2018.
The year 2017 was declared the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations. The Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, Taleb Rifai, called on all countries for closer cooperation to facilitate the contribution of tourism to economic growth, social inclusion, preservation of culture, environment, and mutual understanding, especially during the times of lack of respect and tolerance.
Emil Umetaliev shared the problems and perspectives of tourism development in Central Asia and Kyrgyzstan in particular, what could help in such instances, and why we need to follow certain trends and information.
The first thing he noted was the deficiency of transparent information in general, specifically in the world economic trends and world business. For example, there is little information on where and how tourism develops, what numbers regarding tourism are being monitored by the world business elite. Additionally, there are no full numbers, some of which have not been yet popularized; there are no sufficient analytical forces whose function is to report the numbers to the government and announce them to the public, and who fail to perform.
As an example, Mr. Umetaliev cited data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization that there were 900 million tourists worldwide in 2008, and by 2017 there were over 1,32 billion tourists which are more by 50%. It is expected that by the year 2030 the number will reach 1,8 billion. Tourism is the rapidly growing trend and there are several explanations for such impetuous upturn. It is important to understand that tourism will continue to develop and its proportion in economies of all countries will go up regardless of the fact if it is a backward or thriving economy. Undoubtedly, the tourism will grow better in countries where most aspects of life are developed.
According to a poll organized by TripAdvisor, out of 18500 respondents, 80% know about the Great Silk Road, which is good and bad because it also means that 20% do not know about it, considering the fact that TripAdvisor is used mainly by progressive and literate respondents. Only 41%, which is less than a half of 18500 respondents, would like to visit us, and by us meaning not Kyrgyzstan but the Great Silk Road, which primarily means China, a country almost every citizen of the world would like to visit at least once.
For the past 7 years, annual tourism growth composed 4% globally and 6% in Asia. Such growth has not been observed since 1960. In 2017 the expectations were high, but tourism grew by 7%.
According to the World Tourism Organization, the share of tourism in the world GDP comprises 10%, while in Kyrgyzstan for many years it has been fluctuating at 4% according to the Department of Tourism of the KR.
Today, the most popular trends and requirements are safe, secure, seamless travel experience, and sustainable tourism. These 4 words determine requests for tourism from both suppliers and clients. Only those who manage to grasp the present and future trends will succeed.
According to one of the tourism ratings of the World Economic Forum in Davos, out of the studied 139 countries, the Kyrgyz Republic is on the 115th place. It offered research institutes to conduct a study by what criteria and what requirements it was measured, for instance, by safety and security, what country is on the first place and why. It was also interesting to find out what means the term international openness etc.
The developing countries often make a mistake and attempt to win the market only by dumping the prices but not by introducing technological innovations and new quality standards which as a result leads to the degradation of the economy as a whole. Such fate befell Nepal. Once the Prince of Nepal came to us and warned not to repeat their mistakes when they allowed mass competition in dumping and took a great interest in mass tourism. The problem is that mass tourism attracts insolvent and undemanding to the quality people who leave mountains of garbage after themselves. Conversely, demanding to the quality tourists pay accordingly, respect the environment, local people, and their traditions, they study and help understand the culture, they help create new technologies, master new knowledge, and they respect the local population and help them develop.
Mass tourism has the opposite effect and not only Nepal, but the whole world has noted it and frankly says that you can attract the mass tourist by creating good quality but it will not be your priority. Mass tourism is satisfied with low quality which does not promote economic stability, cultural and educational level of the local population etc. Eventually, it leads to hatred and aversion to tourists.
He also noted the need to exclude the word “tourist” from our vocabulary because the international professional community has begun to claim that the word “tourist” gained a negative image due to mass tourism and the negative consequences of the last several decades, and it does not inspire. For this reason, the international professional community prefers to use words like travel and traveler. Thus, they suggest new requests as safe, secure, seamless travel experience, and sustainable tourism.
Environmental sustainability is of special importance for countries like ours because we possess one factor which is the best of its kind. In fact, Kyrgyzstan represents an oasis of Central Asia, to the north from us there are thousands of steppes of Kazakhstan, to the east the desert of XUAR begins, to the south the Pakistani deserts, to the west the Uzbek and Turkmen deserts. Thereby, Kyrgyzstan is the only geographical natural oasis with the greatest number of glaciers and the largest number of mountain rivers, lakes, and corresponding landscape of flora and fauna. In spite of this great potential, we not only ignore it, but we destroy it. Today, human settlements including Bishkek are considered the worst places for living. It impossible to breathe, and many people suffer from pulmonary respiratory diseases. All of these are the indicators that the city is not ecologically preserved and all the natural potential is ruined before our eyes due to ridiculous politics, therefore we live in disgusting conditions. Travelers are aware of this situation and only those stay who are used to it and are like us, but people coming from the clean environment, residents of developed countries do not stay in Bishkek. They stay for a maximum of one day or half a day.
Residential areas are not friendly in the sense of cleanliness and ecology in general, as well as in terms of psychological comfort due to disaffection on the roads and in crowded places. And the guests notice it.
More on transport infrastructure. Airport services are not developed. We do not fly ourselves and do not allow others to enter because of the regulated air code. This is a residual policy from the Soviet era. If we were thinking globally, we would be using creative solutions and rely on ground services rather than our underdeveloped airlines, attracting those airlines from around the region and globe who wish to fly and fly over us.
Three serious forces hampering this from happening are local business owners who have a conflict of interests and prefer to maintain a monopoly on aviation services associated with political decisions and decision makers, and most likely related to corruption.
The second force is represented by those who stand against of Kazakhstan and Russia filling and monopolization of our space and by those who are against foreign agents and Chinese expansion. In general, these fears, naivety, and isolated thinking do not provide an opportunity to liberate ground services that would bring more benefits to the local population without naive reliance on the strategies of large countries.
World ranking of English language level. All empires have always known the English language, including the Soviet Union, Russia, China because it is necessary for international relations. We need to understand that English has become not only the international language of science, technology, and innovation, but also a recognized language of tourism. We have to accept this. This will give us the opportunity to work with representatives from all over the world.
We have 13 checkpoints where an e-visa can be used. However, there is Karkyra checkpoint which is very important for the Issyk-Kul region and Karakol, but no guest can neither pass nor enter or leave through that checkpoint because an electronic visa cannot be used due to no internet. 14 checkpoints are to appear in the near future.
We need to learn and prepare for the guests’ reception because international ratings include us in the countries that need to be visited.
No government could achieve an absolute success until the local community would regard guests as guests. It will not work until the local population is pragmatic and considers guests’ preferences, relates accordingly to physical, mental, food, and ecological safety. Until then nothing will work. Only people and government can mobilize it.
Where do we invite our guests from? We must follow statistics and study what citizens go to other countries more often and most of all in the quantitative measurement. Surely, it will always be Germany. The second, what citizens invest in their trips? Thirds, what citizens are the most desired travelers? Out of 200 countries in the world, 161 countries have removed all visa restrictions and welcome without barriers citizens of Germany, Singapore, and South Korea. 160 countries welcome without barriers citizens of Denmark, Sweden, Finland, France, Spain, Japan, Italy. 159 countries welcome citizens of Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. 158 countries welcome citizens of Switzerland, Ireland, USA, Canada, etc. And citizens of post-Soviet Central Asian countries are allowed in around 60 countries around the world.