Alatai Nature Park in Toktogul district of Jalal-Abad region. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Every year, World Tourism Day is celebrated on September 27th. On the eve of this holiday, we spoke to experts to find out how the tourism industry in Kyrgyzstan can become a profitable business again.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a global economic crisis. It has practically brought the world economy to a halt. And according to world experts, it’s the tourism sector that has suffered the most. In Kyrgyzstan, representatives of all tourism sectors say that tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs. 

According to the Department of Tourism of the Kyrgyz Republic, the share of tourism sector in the national GDP in 2019 was 5%. Last year, exports of services amounted to 613 million dollars and imports 379 million dollars. However, this year the tourism industry is facing a serious challenge - the rapid worldwide spread of COVID-19. As a result, countries' borders were closed, air and rail traffic stopped, and a quarantine regime was introduced in many cities, which led to a significant drop in sales volumes in the tourism industry. Hotels, health resorts, holiday homes, tour operators, travel agencies and all types of tourist traffic stopped.

Ainur Bukayeva, manager of Advan Tour, noted that coronavirus has paralyzed the work of all travel agencies in Kyrgyzstan.

"Due to the crisis, we considered switching from external to domestic tourism but decided that for several reasons it was more profitable for us to wait. Usually, tours in Kyrgyzstan are bought by foreigners, but due to the current situation, sales have dropped to almost zero. Currently, we are starting to prepare for a new season, but there are no hopes.”

Aisuluu Bukayeva. manager of Advan Tour

Kyrgyz-Ata Nature Reserve, Osh Oblast Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Under these circumstances, it has become imperative to find a solution out of the crisis, which will depend heavily on the effectiveness of support measures.

Director of the Tourism Department, Kyyal Kenzhematova noted that the government is actively working to restore the tourism sector.

"Now we are preparing for the gradual opening of the borders of the Kyrgyz Republic for foreign citizens. The reestablishment of regular flights within the country will also contribute to the development of domestic tourism.

The Cabinet of Ministers has already approved the program "Financing of business entities”, which is designed, among other things, to provide preferential credit resources for entrepreneurs in the tourism sector".

Kyjal Kenzhematova

Director of the Tourism Department of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Information

Amidst the pandemic, development partners continue to support the tourism sector. For example, the UNDP Aid for Trade project launched a sub-project this year to strengthen adventure tourism value chains. This will help develop adventure tourism and transform the country's regions into sustainable, inclusive and competitive centers.

Urmat Takirov, head of the Aid for Trade project, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the tourism sector in Kyrgyzstan. The number of tourists visiting Kyrgyzstan was expected to increase in 2020. However, the coronavirus has halted all the plans.

"In 2020, we launched a sub-project "Adventure Tourism", which aims to support entrepreneurs and improve services for export. In this way we will be able to increase tourism sectors’ productivity and teach them how to use innovative technologies".

Urmat Takirov, UNDP Aid for Trade Project Coordinator in Kyrgyzstan

Urmat Takirov in the UNDP office. Photo: personal archive of Urmat Takirov

The overall objective of the project is to strengthen the sustainability of adventure tourism and its competitiveness. Adventure tourism can also be called "green" tourism, where tourists take a break away from their busy lives for a while to get in touch with nature, eat natural food, and immerse themselves in the traditions of a region (participate in local holidays, festivals and rites). The concept of this project is to strengthen value chains so that all contributors and business processes are developed. Despite the crisis, tourism experts note that there is hope for restoring. This is because, in addition to traditional forms of recreation, there is a fairly high potential for other types of tourism in Kyrgyzstan.

"Kyrgyzstan has unique architectural and historical locations: the famous Sulaiman-Too, a shell mountain in Batken, the mysterious Tash-Rabat caravanserai and so on. Besides, our mountains and alpine meadows offer a special type of ecotourism. Active types of tourism include trekking along the peaks of the Tien Shan, hiking tours, horseback riding tours, rafting in mountain rivers, mountaineering and much more. Kyrgyzstan is also a place for ethno-tourism, where people can see how carpets, knives, pottery are made, how rice is planted and cotton is harvested. And of course it’s also great for photo-tourism. All this diversity, including mountaineering, speleo tourism and canyoning, can be a stimulus for domestic tourism, especially for urban residents”.

Aisha Mambetalieva, tourism expert

 

Aisha Mambetalieva at Lake Merzbacher, south Engilchek Glaciers in the Tian Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Stephen Lioy

 

Abdykadyr Aliyev, Head of the Council for Tourism Development in Southern Kyrgyzstan, agrees with this opinion:

"We are actively developing ethno-tourism with yurt towns where Kyrgyz folklore, cuisine and equestrian games are demonstrated. We even have yak tours and the opportunity to visit Muslim holy places. In short, there is much potential for domestic tourism”.

Obviously, we should not wait for the development of inbound and outbound tourism now. Despite the gradual restoration of air travels with other countries, post-coronavirus tourism changes have been introduced almost everywhere, so that all travelers go through a 14-day quarantine. 

Consequences of forced lockdown due to the pandemic have been experienced by the entire tourism industry, but the trend towards a gradual decrease of COVID-19 in Kyrgyzstan gives hope that the restrictive measures will soon be lifted and the tourism industry will be on the road to active recovery.

 

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