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Interview on development of tourism industry in Kazakhstan: What attracts foreigners and which region is a leader in ecotourism

Tuesday, 08 October 2019, 11:51:54

The Head of State Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in his Address “Constructive Public Dialogue – the Basis of Stability and Prosperity of Kazakhstan” instructed to pay special attention to the development of tourism, especially eco-and ethno-tourism, as an important area of ​​the economy. Deputy Chairman of JSC Kazakh Tourism NC Kairat Sadvakasov spoke about the work being done in this direction in an interview with PrimeMinister.kz.

— Kairat Serikovich, what are the general trends in the development of the tourism industry. How does Kazakhstan fit into this agenda? What global changes have taken place this year?

— The world is also developing dynamically. Tourism is a priority for many countries. In 2030, a flow of 1.8 billion people is expected. So many people will cross international borders. Kazakhstan is still in a so-called emerging destination. The world is just learning about the possibilities of recreation in Kazakhstan. The country itself, as a destination, has long been known to everyone, but so far, the world has only learned what opportunities are available for various types of tourism, including eco-and ethnic tourism. We have good dynamics. For inbound tourism at an average level of 10% we grow annually. Over the past 5-6 years, the dynamics of domestic tourism is also good — at the level of 10-15%. More and more of our citizens choose vacation spots in Kazakhstan. A lot of people who prefer their only vacation in Kazakhstan. There are people who can afford to travel abroad three times, but they devote at least one trip to Kazakhstan.

If we talk about trends in terms of types of tourism, then ethnographic and adventure tourism in the world is gaining more and more popularity. If eco-tourism and ethno-tourism have always been interesting, the demand for so-called adventure tourism is growing annually to 46%.

— Regarding eco-and ethno-tourism, what major areas can you single out that have already received sufficient development and are most in demand among foreign visitors?

— The most developed region in the field of ecotourism today is the Almaty region. This is the region that is most prepared and accepts the most tourists. There is a tour “Golden Ring of Almaty Region.” It is also called the "Seven Rivers." The tour includes National Parks, Kolsay kulderi, Lake Kaindy, Sharyn, Ile-Alatau National Park. Therefore, there is the greatest concentration of tourists.

Shchuchins-Borovoe resort zone has great potential. Burabay attracts a lot of tourists today. This is not exactly ecotourism. But there are already elements — when people come to be alone with nature, ride horses, drink koumiss.

The East Kazakhstan region has a very high potential. But in view of the fact that places of residence are not always developed, this region is only at the beginning of the journey. Just the other day I arrived from Katon-Karagay. There is a national park. Beautiful places, pantotherapy, medotherapy ... Very great potential. Literally 60 small houses that accept people. In total, their circular potential is 10 thousand tourists. The goal is to increase 10 times in the next 5-10 years. Private initiatives are being created, the Sustainable Tourism Development Fund is emerging. I think that with such initiatives, any type of tourism can be developed by business, society and the state.

Mangystau region has even greater potential for the development of ecotourism. There is more with a focus on Adventure tourism (adventure tourism). Now in the world there is a trend when eco-and adventure are combined. Because adventure does not cause much damage to nature, therefore, eco-adventure tourism will also develop here.

— What should private companies, businessmen who want to actively engage in eco-and ethno-tourism do? Are there any criteria that they should have, what infrastructure should be?

— You know, now this concept is rather vague what is ecotourism, what is ethno-tourism. Everything is mixed up now. If earlier it was thought about ecotourism that these are people who come, do not spend much of the night, or spend the night in tents, remove garbage somewhere and so on, now ecotourism is any kind of tourism that either does not harm nature, or vice versa helps. That is, people do not necessarily live in tents, they can live in guest houses. They can also live in the so-called eco-lodges (an environmentally friendly life created on the basis of eco-technologies). These can be adapted hotels, which, in addition to not harming the environment, also use renewable energy sources. There are many examples in the world when in the middle of the desert or in the forest there is an eco-lodge that not only accepts tourists, but also uses the best practices in the field of renewable energy.

— Returning to the regions, we correctly understand that the Almaty region is a leader in the development of tourism. Over 1.3 million visitors to Lake Alakol last year. Are there any preliminary results for this year, given that the main peak is still in the summer season.

— The season lasts a full two months. Therefore, during this period there is such a saturated flow both from the Almaty region and from the East Kazakhstan region. I think that at least the flow remains at the same level. We are now waiting for the data. But according to preliminary information, we can say that the flow increased after the summer season.

— The results of various social surveys suggest that people are leaving the country in search of better infrastructure. We have comprehensive work underway. Could you tell us more about this, in terms of tourist destinations?

— Yes, comprehensive work is being done. A state program has been adopted where we are consolidating in 10 priority areas. This territory, in addition to the cities of Nur-Sultan and Almaty, is captured by Turkestan, most of our National Parks, Burabay, Bayanauyl, Sharyn, Mangistau. In these 10 territories the greatest development will occur. There, the state will direct funds for the development of infrastructure, which in turn will lead to private business and investment. Hotels will begin to develop.

— Who is involved in infrastructure development today? This is the competence of the local executive bodies, or it comes from your initiative.

— Now the Ministry of Culture and Sports has this competence to a lesser extent, to a greater extent - the Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development. And, of course, with local executive bodies. Most of the roads that are of republican significance are being repaired and built at the expense of Kazavtozhol. Local roads leading to local attractions are the responsibility of the Akimats. Well, any other local infrastructure on local roads is under the jurisdiction of Akimats and National parks, if it is within the nature protection territory.

— What are the infrastructure standards now? Given the development of international standards, are you initiating any legislative changes?

— Today there are standards for roadside service. They were developed a few days ago and there is a gradual transition to these standards. Unfortunately, not all existing roadside service points comply with these standards, but work in this direction is underway. There are a lot of standards: in hotels, in campsites, and so on. But the problem is that many standards are advisory in nature. Now we are considering the possibility of strict adherence to standards. This work is also being carried out within the framework of the bill, which is now under consideration in the Majilis. Even within the project office of the Office of the Prime Minister.

— Tourism is for our country a more or less new industry. Developing. How active is domestic business in this area? Is there data on the number of new jobs being created? How employees are trained in this industry? There are a lot of students now studying tourism, but they do not all understand for themselves where they will be employed.

— Now we are monitoring the development of 100 projects, half of which will be completed by the end of next year. These are various campsites, placements, parks. The work was started before the adoption of the state program. The implementation of these projects will give an additional 6-7 thousand permanent jobs for 2 years. Speaking about the industry as a whole, today direct employment is literally 120 thousand people. This is if you take the hotel, travel agencies and accommodation. If we take a more extended list, where we will consider transport, culture, accommodation, then here we say about 300 thousand people work. Upon completion of the state program, we plan to add about 70 thousand new permanent jobs. It's about the horizon — 2025. As new investments come, new objects will be built, new jobs will appear.

We train personnel in several universities. This year, the International University of Tourism and Hospitality was registered and will soon begin to work. The prospects for young people are very large. If earlier people came to tourism for some benefit or because a certain exam is easier, today there is more recruitments, now we are increasingly seeing a conscious choice. Young people come, see the dynamic development of the industry, the flow of foreigners, international events. More and more people want to come and become truly industry professionals.

— What are the benefits and preferences for small and medium-sized businesses today? How will these directions develop regarding new travel agencies? Will you initiate legislative changes?

— In general, both state policy and our desire is to increase the component of small and medium-sized businesses. The participation of business in the tourism sector is just at the level of small and medium-sized businesses. Big business is single, there are not so many cases when very large investments come. At the same time, small, medium and large businesses have a number of preferences. For example, to work in a large business, the construction of ski resorts, a roadside service network, hotels and so on will be possible to get preferences in the form of tax exemption for up to 10 years, customs duties, receive a grant in the form of a land plot, and so on. The program “economics of simple things” also operates. There already small and medium-sized businesses can receive financing at a reduced interest rate for the opening of campsites, hotels, theme parks, ski resorts. Priority is given to those territories that are included in the Tourism Map, the top 10 that we have chosen as part of the state program.

— Is there a body in Kazakh Tourism or the ministry that interacts with entrepreneurs?

— In the structure of our company there is no separate division yet. Because this work is carried out directly on the ground. Akimats help entrepreneurs in the framework of the Damu Fund program and the regional representative offices of Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs. In principle, in the regions there is someone to work with business representatives. However, we also remain open. They also come to us, turn, we give advice, direct where to move further. Our task here is to create conditions for business. Further, the business on existing tools can apply and receive the necessary assistance.

— Recently, we very often hear about the national tourist product. Could you explain to our viewers what it is, how it should be developed, what work is being done to promote Kazakhstan tourism products on the world market.

— By national tourism product we mean the most distinctive tourism products that are currently offered. Here we concentrate on four main areas: ecotourism, ethno-tourism, (entertainment), events. We combine these four areas in the concept of four E. In the framework of this concept, we are trying to lay down all existing products. Due to the fact that the territory is large, the landscapes are different, climatic features, a very large selection, a large cultural scene. Given that we have 130 nationalities living, this is a very big fusion in terms of cuisine, languages ​​and so on. From this large variety, it is rather difficult to choose something narrowly focused, to focus. Therefore, we have chosen four directions. If we talk about ecotourism, these are our National Parks, adventure tourism. If we talk about ethnicity, this is living in yurts, falconry, gastronomic tourism. This product that we have, we believe that it will be different from others. It is centered around the so-called sub-brands. Kazakhstan is the birthplace of apples, tulips, this is the Silk Road, this is the place where the horse was domesticated. In this vein, the national tourism product will develop. It remains to improve and promote this product.

— Kairat Serikovich, there has been a lot of talk lately about the legend of historical places. For example, the city of Turkestan on behalf of Elbasy and the Head of State is developing as a historical and cultural center of the entire Turkic world. What work is being done in this direction? Is there a vision of how many tourists this facility will attract annually?

— Today, much attention is paid to the Turkistan region, directly to the city of Turkistan. Next year it is already planned to launch the airport. This will be the main driver of development. The current flow to Turkistan comes from Shymkent. Many tourists are either day visitors or pilgrims who come to visit sacred places. The main task is for people to start coming to Turkistan directly with an overnight stay, stay for a few days, spend money there, buy souvenirs, eat at restaurants and so on. For this, a base is now being created. In addition to the airport, hotels are being built, then it is necessary to put permanent railway and bus connections. Here you need to understand that Turkistan and Shymkent will in any case develop hand in hand. Because there is a large domestic market. Shymkent hosted a stream of business tourism. Turkistan is a new place, but already quite promoted. Therefore, here these two destinations will need to work together, develop a unified marketing program, a unified infrastructure development plan, so as not to repeat each other somewhere. In general, the potential is very large among the Turkic-speaking world, among other countries of the Islamic world. For example, Malaysia, Indonesia, where this product will be very interesting.

— One of the key issues is the availability of tourist destinations. What work is being done in conjunction with other departments to facilitate transport costs to the most popular places in Kazakhstan, visa fees, and regulation of hotel rates?

— At the moment, travel companies work in the environment that exists. Their main task is to create a tourist flow with the least expenses and with the greatest comfort. And while doing something else to earn. The state helps those that have subsidized flights to socially significant cities. In addition, subsidized flights will increase in the top 10 destinations that we want to develop. Where there are airports already. This is Usharal, Urjar, speaking of Alakol. In Bayanaul, an airport is also currently being launched. Pae will be subsidized flights to these key destinations. In addition, now there is such a new Kids Go Free system, when we will allow children to travel with their parents for free. Here the state subsidizes this. In this case, the return will be, firstly, in the fact that many people will prefer to rest at home, given the fact that children fly for free. Accordingly, the money will remain in the economy. Now the mechanism is being worked out. I think that by the next season we will launch this program.

— Will Kids Go Free be available only in some specific areas?

— These will be specific destinations for a particular season — during children's vacations.

— In anticipation of the upcoming winter season, can you tell us how ski tourism is developing here?

— Ski tourism is developed in our region in Almaty and East Kazakhstan. We see the flow both from the side of residents of Kazakhstan and from abroad. Moreover, those countries where there is no winter are showing interest. From Malaysia, India come. Now a visa-free regime has opened with another 12 countries. These are just the countries of Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, the countries of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE. These are countries where snow is a curiosity. Therefore, I think that the flow will continue to grow, but it needs to be increased, because now the existing resorts, especially Chimbulak, operate at their maximum capacity in season. There is an initiative to expand the ski resort in Almaty. This is the Turgen Gorge and others. I think that with the current flows, the growing interest in the winter type of tourism, as well as with the further assistance to business, this type of tourism will continue to develop not only in Almaty and East Kazakhstan regions. In the south of Kazakhstan, in the Turkistan region, there is a very great potential.

— Your company probably does an analysis of the priorities of foreign and domestic tourists. What can you advise our domestic companies that want to increase performance in the tourism sector. How to attract more tourists?

— Firstly, it will be necessary to hone the skills of working with foreign clients. The ability to sell, legend, correctly present information about your tourist product. Great advice to many is to go online. We did our analysis, which showed that there are practically no tour operators who have their year-round regular tours, an online platform where they could sell their tours. There are attempts to create an aggregator that would sell for everyone. Unfortunately, not all tour operators can work with this online platform. A big wish is to go online. Not only conduct sales on your own website, but also register on all kinds of international sites.

— Thank you for the interview!


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