Tourism is among the priorities of Kazakhstan’s State Programme of Accelerated Industrial and Innovative Development. The government’s new concept for the development of the tourism industry through 2020, plus ongoing work to promote and improve Kazakhstan’s image and tourist infrastructure, is intended to give a big boost to this important but underdeveloped sector.
The new concept, adopted a month ago, envisions large-scale transformations, including the creation of five tourism clusters and a range of measures aimed at strengthening the investment attractiveness of the industry. It contains specific measures to create a favourable investment climate in Kazakhstan and creates five special tourist zones around Astana, Almaty, East Kazakhstan, South Kazakhstan and West Kazakhstan.
The concept of tourism development also implies the abolition of visa regimes for citizens of economically and politically stable countries, as well as changes in the legal framework of tourism, the introduction of tourist certificates for domestic tourism, the development of an internal market of transportation and subsidies for internal air routes. It is expected that in the near future, these measures will help remove the main administrative, financial, tax and other barriers to the development of inbound and domestic tourism, and will strengthen the position of small and medium-sized business involved in infrastructure development.
Some improvements have been already been made and their impact has been noted: on the Competitiveness Index for Tourism, Kazakhstan moved five positions between 2011 and 2013, to 88th place.
According to the Kazakhstan Industry Development Institute (KIDI), in 2012, extensive studies of the tourist industry were carried out at the national and regional levels. The work of the Tourism Council under the government was intensified and tourist departments were established in Almaty City and the Almaty, Akmola, Mangistau and South Kazakhstan regions.
In addition, the Tourism Industry Committee is also working to promote the development of the industry through national contests like last year’s Myths and Legends contest and the recent Best Regional Tourism Startups contest.
Domestic tourism, however, is facing difficulties due to poor infrastructure
“The lack of consistency in services, poor quality of transport infrastructure, noncompliance of statistics with international standards, insufficient funding of tourism in the regions, lack of a scientific research base, weak marketing and noncompliance of prices with quality of services are the main things hindering the development of domestic tourism,” said Director of the Kazakhstan Tourist Association Rashid Shaikenov.
About 60 percent of travel agencies operating in the country (of which there are more than 1,000), are focused exclusively on outbound tourism, and the remaining alternate outbound and inbound tourism, offering places like the Alakol Lake resort area, the infrastructure of which is still in an “embryonic state.”
The situation is slightly better in some other places: the famous Charyn Canyon, also called the Valley of Castles, is just a dozen kilometres from the main road, but because its access road isn’t paved, there are clouds of dust in the summer and impassable mud in the offseason.
The Mangistau region, the leadership of which for several years has been developing its tourist opportunities, is one bright spot of positive change. In February this year, they held a large-scale meeting on the development of domestic tourism in the region. Following that event, Vice Minister of Industry and New Technologies Nurlan Sauranbayev and Deputy Akim (governor) of the region Rakhymbek Amirzhanov signed a memorandum of cooperation in tourism between the ministry and the regional administration.
The Mangistau region has 11,000 historical monuments under state protection. According to statistics, tourism revenues last year reached 4.7 billion tenge ($25.6 million) and 4,615 people, 2.9 percent of all employed people in the region, are employed in the industry.
The Kenderli international recreation area now under construction is expected to take a leading role in the sector, with year-round attractions and activities planned. The Swiss-Spanish company THR, part of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), recently joined the project. The resort area needs an additional $3.2 billion to develop all its intended projects, said THR President Eulogio Bodas, and the company is ready to try to attract another 5-10 big investors.
The ecological situation and environment will also improve because traffic by vehicles with internal combustion engines will be forbidden at the new resort and overall traffic will be limited. Visitors are expected to come mainly from Russia and eastern countries, with about 15 percent from Asia. The Ministry of Industry and New Technologies and the Mangistau oblast administration will closely cooperate in the development of domestic tourism, including in activities aimed at improving the country’s image and the quality of tourist products and services, as well as in investments and training of employees in the tourism sector, noted Chairman of the Tourism Industry Committee Marat Igaliyev, In addition, special tourist products will be developed as part of preparations for the international exhibition EXPO 2017.
Promotion and presentation activities are another important area of work, and this year Kazakhstan is promoting its tourist opportunities at a number of international exhibitions. This May, the Tourism Industry Committee presented a Kazakh stand at the international tourist exhibition Arabian Travel Market 2014 in Dubai, which resulted in signed agreements on cooperation in tourism. More than 20,000 people from more than 135 countries took part in the exhibition.
Business is also growing in the regions of the country. Not long ago, the Akmola regional tourism department, with the support of the regional administration and the Tourism Indsutry Committee, held the tourist fair Tourism. Recovery. Travel 2014 in Burabai village.
The East Kazakhstan region will implement the Golden Altai – Wealth for Regional Development project proposed by the Slovak association Swallowtail International and supported by the East Kazakhstan regional administration. The project will be implemented between 2014-2016 and the EU will provide 350,000 euros in financing for the three pilot districts – Katonkaragai, Ridder and Kurchuem.
Some 550 companies from more than 40 countries took part in the recent 14th Kazakhstan International Tourism Fair (KITF) 2014, in Almaty.
The main obstacle to the full development of tourism in Kazakhstan, said the vast majority of respondents to a survey conducted during the event, is the lack of adequate infrastructure, low quality of services, high prices in hotels, limited choice of airlines, complicated visa procedures and corruption. Nevertheless, in light of recent positive changes, only 15 percent of respondents were pessimistic about tourism. Others think the prospects for the development of Kazakhstan’s tourism are good, given the tasks set out in the new concept.
The total budget of 16 regional administrations in 2014 allocated to promote tourism is more than 553 million tenge ($3 million). According to the Ministry of Industry and New Technologies, the income of organisations that provide services in tourist activity over the past five years has increased by 95 percent and amounted to 151.6 billion tenge ($826 million). As a consequence, the number of tourist firms grew by 767 to 1,994 companies last year.
Chairman of the Board of KIDI Azamat Akhmerov says they have already developed system plans for the Shchuchinsk-Borovoe resort area and a package of clear rules covering ownership and responsibility issues for investors. The Burabai resort area will be transformed over the next few years into a modern, all-seasons resort of international class, capable of handling much larger amounts of tourists. Annually more than 3 billion tenge ($16.3 million) is allocated from the state budget for this purpose.
“Tourism should be a priority sector of the economy,” said Deputy Prime Minister Asset Issekeshev at the government meeting in May this year. “It’s time to withdraw the industry from the social sphere and the category of non-core assets. The tourist branch can develop and grow faster than the GDP and one job in this industry costs 10 times less than in the manufacturing industry. Tourism in the global economy is one of the leading creators of jobs; it creates over 75 million vacancies in the world. Every 11th or 12th employee works in this sector and international tourism provides employment, first of all for youth and women.”