Every year Kyrgyzstan takes a range of measures to develop the tourism sector in the country. It is seen not only as a good prospect, but also as an alternative to such giants as Kumtor mining company.

Today, Kyrgyzstan provides a visa-free regime to 45 countries. An electronic visa was made available to the remaining countries in 2017, i.e. foreigners may obtain a visa on the internet, without the need to refer to an embassy and consulate.

At the beginning of this year, the governmental programme on tourism development for 2019-2023 has been approved and a state enterprise Kyrgyzturizm has been established. The new agency is in charge of the implementation of the national policy in tourism and efficient use of state-owned health resorts.

Kyrgyzturizm is responsible for attracting investments to tourism and for marketing. An unprecedented amount of 50 million soms (715.5 thousand dollars) has been allocated this year for the development of the tourism industry. Earlier, the amount of tourism funding was as low as 7-8 million soms (100-115 thousand dollars) a year.

Tourism in figures

According to National Statistical Committee, in 2018 the gross value added in tourism was over 27 billion soms (387.5 million dollars) or 5 per cent of GDP.

By 2023, the government of Kyrgyzstan sets a goal to increase the share of tourism in the national GDP from 5 to 10 per cent.

They are planning to increase the number of tourists. However, the methodology of calculation gives different figures. For example, the National Statistical Committee counts the number of tourists based on guest nights occupied. According to the agency, in 2018 1.4 million people visited the country and 64 per cent of them (over 900 thousand people) visited Issyk Kul. Almost the same number of tourists visited the country in 2017.

However, the tourism department at the ministry of culture, information and tourism doesn’t agree with these figures. The agency counts the number of foreigners who crossed the border and stayed in the country for more than six hours.

“The department does not count the number of tourists. We take this data from border and tax services. We follow the recommendation of the World Tourism Organisation just as the whole world does,” director of the department Maksat Damir uulu said.

His predecessor, Maksat Chakiev, also agrees with him.

“This method is correct because foreigners start using the services of the country after six hours of stay there: they pay for the taxi, for food, etc., i.e. they become tourists,” he said.

Thus, the number of foreigners who visited Kyrgyzstan for tourism increases by 5 then.

From quantity to quality

However, the ex-chief of the tourism department, Maksat Chakiev, said Kyrgyzstan should transit from quantity to quality and focus attention on the spheres where tourists can leave more money.

“We should develop ski touring and medical tourism, which are deemed upmarket. One such tourist will pay more than 10 tourists who stay on the beach,” he said.

Chakiev said Kyrgyzstan, just like any other country in the world, has high tourism potential. However, there are certain factors that hinder its development. According to the expert, they are unpopular country, underdeveloped infrastructure, and a lack of a single national product:

“We could reach the global level with such kinds of tourism as Silk Road and ecotourism. So far, our entrepreneurs work at a local level. The infrastructure in the country is developed irregularly, it is well developed mainly in Bishkek and Issyk Kul district (not a region), and Karakol. The country is not popular so far: some travel products are shaky. The country doesn’t have a solid product.”

In turn, Maksat Damir uulu said that a multifaceted approach should be used to develop the tourism sector in Kyrgyzstan: direct flights should be increased, a list of visa-free countries should be expanded, marketing and infrastructure should be improved.

“To attract tourists to the country, we should improve marketing, services – signs should be installed, infrastructure, services, roads should be improved, etc.,” said the head of the tourism department.

The Kyrgyz government programme for tourism development for 2019-2023 states that tourism infrastructure in the country is characterised by the following issues:

Georgian charm

The tourist arrivals increase since spring in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. The city can boast of picturesque buildings, creative public places and samples of architecture of various ages.

Tbilisi, Batumi, Borzhomi, Signakhi, Telavi, Kutaisi… the list can be continued. Georgian cities and towns attract tourists for a variety of reasons: from diverse types of recreation to affordable prices, as Saba Kiknadze, the ex-head of the tourism department of Georgia, founder of Caucasus Travel company, said.

“The sea, mountains, cultural heritage, food, wine and climate are the things that make Georgia very popular. However, affordable prices are no less important for tourists,” Kiknadze said.

According to him, foreigners pay attention to the infrastructure in the tourism zone and it has played a significant role in the development of tourism sector in Georgia. However, cultural heritage and hospitality of locals are more important, according to the expert.

“There’s an architectural landmark, a place where you can eat delicious food and listen to music within the radius of 10 km from any point in the country,” he said.

The Georgian National Tourism Administration is responsible for tourism promotion in the country.  Open sources report that in 2015, it took part in 26 international and domestic tourism fairs, held marketing campaigns in nine target markets, and organised 64 study tours for the press.

This year, Georgia has allocated about 19.5 million dollars to the development of tourism. They are planning to focus most on the creation of more comfortable conditions for tourists, on maintenance of roads, especially those leading to the cultural sites or places of interest. Moreover, the authorities are going to develop other types of tourism – medical, sports, wine, etc.

The state is planning to turn the country into a place of recreation throughout all four seasons. Today, the majority of tourists come to Georgia in summer and spring seasons. Local businessmen live on money they have earned during the tourist season. Therefore, the authorities have a goal to ensure stable income to people involved in tourism sector by developing winter health resorts in the country.

Record figures

In 2018, the country reached a new record high – the number of tourists reached 8.6 million. This is 25.5 per cent more than two years ago. The country’s tourism share in GDP is steadily growing.

The number of tourists in Georgia is counted as recommended by the World Tourism Organisation – all foreign citizens who cross the border are taken into account. The number of foreign visitors to Georgia is 5-6-times more than that to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Professor of a Georgian university Niko Kvaratskhelia related it to the fact that the tourism industry in the country is very diverse. Tourists come in winter for ski touring and cableways, in summer – for recreation in the Black Sea.

“As to the roads, the country has actually solved this problem by 80 per cent. The railway service has been restored; the Tbilisi-Batumi route now has fast and comfortable double-decker trains. This is really convenient,” Kvaratskhelia said.

The towns of Tbilisi and Batumi, most popular among tourists, have a few high-end hotels, the majority of which belong to Western owners. The service level there meets international standards and is better than that in local hotels, and the brand makes advertising unnecessary.

“Moreover, we have created free tourism zones: private entrepreneurs who have built hotels that cost more than 1 million Lari (356 thousand dollars) on the Black Sea coast are exempted from taxes. However, so far we have fewer investors than we expected. Today, the largest hotels on the Black Sea coast can accommodate 200-300 guests. This is not enough. Newly-built hotels should accommodate 1,000 guests,” Kvaratskhelia said.

Georgia has adopted three different Tourism Development Concepts to develop the tourism industry in the country. The last one was adopted in 2018 with the involvement of local and international experts. It is valid until 2025. However, according to experts, the Georgian tourism has implemented just a few of available options.

“We have a great potential in resort, mountain and therapeutic tourism. We should switch to a higher paid market and achieve quality from a certain quantity. For example, the Maldives make 3-4 times more income from 1,000 tourists than Turkey,” Kiknadze said.

In 2017, revenues from tourism in Georgia were 2.7 billion dollars. In Kyrgyzstan, the same year’s revenue was 418 million dollars, according to the National Statistical Committee.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.