Mountains in Issyk Kul oblast. Photo: UN in Kyrgyzstan

The COVID-19 epidemic has already had an impact on the global economy and the financial system of Kyrgyzstan, among others. The business sector that has suffered a crisis is trying to restore its business. One of the most affected sectors of the economy is tourism. Travelling to other countries would not be a good idea, even after quarantine restrictions have been lifted. Anyway, it will be necessary to restore business, especially tourism. After all, almost all sectors of the tourism industry have been affected: tour operators and travel agencies, air agencies, hotels, yurt towns, catering and so on. Within the framework of the project "Aid for Trade in Central Asia", we talked with representatives of the tourism sector and asked about the situation of the tourism business in Kyrgyzstan.

"In previous years, the dynamics of inflow of foreign tourists to our country was observed. If the beach tourists coming to Issyk-Kul in summer are mainly tourists from UZ, Kazakhstan and Russia, the active can be attributed to almost all tourists from far abroad who prefer combined tours of the Silk Road countries. This means that a tourist buying a tour of Uzbekistan will definitely visit Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Because of coronavirus, closure of borders, tourism around the world has stopped its activities. And so, I don't think that even after the borders are opened, there will be the same flow of tourists as we predicted this year".

                                                                              Nazgul Estemesova,

President of the Association of Resorts of the Kyrgyz Republic

Nazgul Estemesova, President of the Association of Resorts of the Kyrgyz Republic. Photo: Private archive

The Issyk-Kul beach region lives for a whole year due to the season, which lasts only 1.5-2 months of summer. At present, members of the Association of Resorts of Kyrgyzstan (AKR) are 22 facilities, including: sanatoriums, resorts, hotels, providing treatment procedures. The total number of employees involved in these facilities is 4,000 jobs.

 "We work for foreign guests (inbound tourism) and bring them to the country. Refusals have already amounted to over 80%.  Many are still waiting for the border to open and the situation will stabilize. There is no data yet, when exactly it will be, but we can observe that China and Europe have started to simplify quarantine measures. This gives us some hope that we will be able to resume work soon. But there will be no more (expected) volumes.”

Maksat Konushaliev,

 founder of Makstour

By the way, tourism brings 5% of the country's GDP. Last year, exports of services amounted to $613 million and imports of $379 million (source - Department of Tourism). This year, as noted by businessmen, there were big plans, the number of guests was expected to grow by 15-30% compared to last year. Probably that's why Kyrgyz people will have to spend their holidays at home this year without being able to travel. However, there are pluses to be found here as well. For example, domestic tourism. And as long as COVID-19 indicators do not go down, many people, even with open borders, will not risk going to another country to travel immediately.  This is a great opportunity to explore your home country. By the way, in terms of domestic tourism, entrepreneurs are already developing plans.

Maksat Konushaliev, Founder of Makstour. Photo: private archive

"Many compatriots have been to many cities and countries around the world, but they do not know their country at all. In recent years, Kyrgyzstan has included us in many top magazines and online publications on tourism. Sometimes foreigners complain about the service, but we get exactly what we have paid. The paradox is that many do not want to spend much. I'll say this: in our country, you can have a budget holiday, and with chic. Moreover, we have repeatedly conducted VIP-tours, and clients were very demanding for service and details, but as a result, everyone left very happy.”

                                                                                 Maksat Konushaliev,

 founder of Makstour

 

Abdykadyr Aliyev, Head of the Council for Tourism Development in Southern Kyrgyzstan. Photo: personal archive

In Kyrgyzstan, many companies base their business on personal contacts (reception, provision of documents). Now that all services have been switched to online format to minimize contacts, there is a possibility that local travel companies will switch to digital technologies as well.  Those who will be able to reorient themselves will be able to move forward dramatically.

100% of world tour destinations are banned as of April 30, 2020. Never before in history has this happened recently. Weekend tours and short trips can be one of the solutions. Recently, combined tours have become the most popular. We learned more about them from the Tourism Development Council.

"Tourists who come to Osh want to see several countries at once, and we offer them combined tour packages. These include Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Tourists mainly come from Osh. Under Lenin Peak, we started organizing yak tours. Up to 10 trained yaks, on which they go on tours with guides. Ethno-tourism is developing in the south. Two years ago, a yurt camp opened in Kyrgyz-Ata National Park. There, tourists can feel like true nomads, as the yurt camp has national shows, games and Kyrgyz folklore".

                                                      Abdykadyr Aliyev,

 Head of the Council for Tourism Development in Southern Kyrgyzstan

 The Council is also studying foreign tourism markets.  Adopting the experience of neighbors, and in our country it is planned to introduce a "health passport", a document that indicates the positive state of health of employees. Due to the "health passport", travel companies will be more credible among tourists. And although the restoration of tourism business requires a lot of effort, it is thanks to clear plans, as in our respondents, it is possible to resume their active activities.

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