SHYMKENT – The ancient city of Turkestan has great potential for the development of tourism which is not currently being used to the fullest. Akim (mayor) Bakhytzhan Ashirbekov told about measures taken by local authorities for the development of the tourist cluster.
According to Ashirbekov, the infrastructure and standards form the base to develop tourism, with the additional need to create the hotel infrastructure, entertainment industry, sports and other tourist activities. With regard to standardisation, it is necessary to create a tourist service corresponding to world standards. The only way to win the competition for tourists is to meet international standards. One monument of cultural heritage, even one with such global importance as the Mausoleum of KhojaAkhmet Yassawi, is not enough to attract tourists. Tourism is a whole sector of the economy, which requires investments.
What is the current income to the local budget from the tourism industry and how important is its development for the city’s economy?
Last year, the contribution of tourism to the regional economy amounted to 83 million tenge (US$456,112). Of course, it is a very small sum, taking into account that Turkestan has great tourism potential. It’s not just that the mausoleum of KhojaAkhmet Yassawi was included in the UNESCO list of the world’s cultural heritage in 2003.
Thus, the Turkestan archaeological expedition of the Margulan Institute of Archaeology excavated the most ancient layers of the citadel. The excavations near the mausoleum opened an architectural complex of the ancient citadel, the structures of which were surprisingly well preserved. Now there are four-metre adobe walls with arched doorways on the site of the Kultobe hill. According to specialists, this cruciform building with slotted loopholes in the walls was the most ancient nucleus of the city.
No less interesting is the Sauran complex, located 40 kilometres from Turkestan. It is mentioned by all medieval authors who wrote about the events in region near the Syr Darya River and the Kazakh steppes. Even today, its ruins and walls attract attention as they rise above the steppe.
At the end of last year we commissioned the Centre of Craftsmen. It was designed as a tourist site, but at the same time has applied value. There are shops with local artisans in one of the three blocks of the building. Their skill level is very high. For example, potter Abaikhan Ryspayev and jeweler Kasyl Khalmurzayev are certified by UNESCO. Here you can buy any favourite thing or souvenir in memory of your trip to the ancient city.
We have much to surprise not only pilgrims and tourists interested in the history of the middle ages, but also supporters of ecological tours. Ten years ago we created a nursery for breeding deer just 30 kilometres from Turkestan, in the floodplain of the Syr Darya River. At the expense of the World Wild Fund we brought two female and one male of this endangered species from the Almaty zoo. Now its population is 64 animals. This nursery may well be included in the tourist route and I’m sure that many tourists will enjoy seeing how these precious animals live in their natural habitat.
Unity with nature, long walks in the mountains along the wild alleys of ash and hawthorn thickets, bathing in a mountain stream and even climbing the Khan’s throne are offered to tourists in the Karatau State Nature Reserve. It is the youngest reserve in the country, established in consultation with the Global Environment Fund.
We also recently opened the Centre of Tourism Service. The project’s cost is 405 million tenge (US$2.2 million) and occupies an area of 1.4 hectares. This is a big service centre for pilgrims, including a hotel with 200 rooms where accommodations cost only 1,500 tenge ($US8.24) per day. There is also a cinema, library, parking lots and ceremonial sites. The staff will also help visitors make an individual or group programme of visits to historical and archaeological sites and natural reserves.
What is the number of tourists per year who visit Turkestan?
Their number is growing from year to year. Statistics show that in 2012 about 612,000 tourists visited the region; last year this figure was already 701,326. According to data from Azret Sultan, the state historical and cultural reserve museum, the number of visitors exceeded 564,323 in just the first half of this year. This is 65.3 percent more than last year. Of course, there is still little share of foreign guests among them. But we must recognise the fact that we’re not quite ready to receive this category of tourists, first of all for the shortage of hotels and quality of service in them. Today they number 11, differ in comfort and service, and definitely do not comply with the level of foreign hotels.
We have conducted an analysis and found that most of our guests usually limit their stay in the town to one day, without staying overnight. Now we are thinking about a special programme to attract tourists and arouse their interest to extend their stay in Turkestan. In cooperation with the Azret Sultan and Centre of Tourism Services we intend to develop a two-day programme – ziyarat – a rite of worship to sacred places. If pilgrims spend at least one night in the town, the city’s economy will only benefit from that and residents who work in the tourist service will have additional jobs.
But the situation is gradually changing. The owners of the hotel complexes are actively engaged in repair, for which they use modern materials, install mod cons and pay more attention to training personnel.
It is very important for us, because the city’s population over the past decade has increased by 50,000 people and is about 150,000. The annual birth rate is 7,000 babies. On the basis of this dynamic, we expect that by 2030 the population will reach 250,000 people. Internal migration has also had an impact on the increase in the number of inhabitants. Our city has a relatively cheap cost of living, so no wonder that many residents from Kyzylorda and Zhezkazgan come here for shopping. As it is known,the city is located on the Silk Road and was historically the centre of trade. Our people tend to provide services – they have an entrepreneurial streak. And this is a very important aspect for creating a tourism cluster here, even more especially now that the transport corridor from Western Europe to Western China runs through Turkestan.