How do economic difficulties impact the choices of Kazakhs regarding travel destinations? What are the prospects for stronger domestic tourism development? What are attractive elements of visiting Kazakhstan for foreigners? Which destinations are expected to increase in popularity with Kazakh vacationers this year? First Vice-Minister of Investments and Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan Zhenis Kassymbek answered these and many other questions in the following interview.
Let’s start with an issue that is a concern for many in Kazakhstan. In your opinion, what impact will the difficult situation in the world economy have on the choice of Kazakhstan’s citizens on travel destinations? Will our citizens have to limit their holidays abroad?
According to the data of the Border Service of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee the number of our citizens travelling abroad for tourism purposes has been decreasing since 2012. For instance, if in 2012 it amounted to 373,407, then in 2013 the figure was 311,152, and in 2014 it was 287,526. In other words, in 2014 the number of citizens travelling abroad as tourists has fallen by 85,881 against the year 2012. We expect the continuation of the tendency towards reduction of visitors due to the unfavourable global economic situation. According to representatives of the Kazakhstan’s tourism industry, sales of foreign tour packages dropped by 80 percent. Citizens of Kazakhstan, travelling for tourism, traditionally prefer Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, as well as Turkey, China and the United Arab Emirates as destinations.
So, all those who do not go abroad to rest, can they find suitable alternatives in Kazakhstan? To what extent has the number of internal tourists increased over the last few years?
The number of visitors, served by the domestic tourism industry, is growing year by year. If in 2012 the number of Kazakh residents using tourist accommodations amounted to 2,507,005, then in 2013 the figure grew by 214,709 and equalled 2,721,714 visitors, and in 2014 it reached 3,129,876. Thus, in 2014 the number of visitors served within the domestic tourism industry, increased by 15 percent compared to 2012. According to data coming from nine months of 2015, the number of people engaged in domestic tourism reached 2,385,023.
In the current economic situation, the ministry forecasts further expansion of domestic tourism, in other words, more travels of Kazakhstan’s citizens inside our homeland and an increase in a number of tourists visiting from Russia, China, India and Iran.
In this case, are local resorts ready for a massive influx of holiday makers?
Local resorts are ready to accommodate holiday makers within the framework of their recreational capacities and number of bedrooms. In this regard, business needs to pay more attention to further improving the infrastructure of hotels and recreation facilities and foreign language training for staff.
Over nine months of 2015, Kazakh resorts had served 451,217 domestic visitors. In particular, the most popular resort areas are the Lake Alakol area, Almaty and Shchuchinsk-Borovoye. These regions received 261,838 visitors over the nine months of 2015, in other words 58 percent out of total number of holiday makers.
The number of tourists, visiting Kazakhstan from abroad, is also growing from year to year. If in 2012, the number of non-residents served by accommodations was 519,222, then in 2013 it increased by 66,816 and was 586,038 visitors and 679,018 in 2014. This means that the number of incoming tourists, serviced by hotels, motels, recreational facilities increased by 30.8 percent as compared to 2012. In the nine months of 2015, the number of incoming tourism visitors received by accommodations was 504,215.
So where do you recommend to holiday in Kazakhstan? Are there new specific destinations, places in the country that you would draw our readers’ attention to?
Demand for services of the domestic tourism industry is growing on a yearly basis, and a number of progressive and far-seeing tourist companies are developing their own routes and products.
Annually, new tourism facilities, hotels, entertainment centres, restaurants and others are put into operation; overhauls of existing facilities are done. The state conducts work on a regular basis towards improving road-transport infrastructure, which gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to expand the range of tourist services countrywide.
Tourist companies in Kazakhstan constantly develop new thematic products for foreign guests. Visits to the space port Baikonur for rocket launches, development of industrial-technical tourism – tours to formers facilities of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, beach tourism and many others are very popular among foreign tourists.
It is important to advance ethnographic tourism in Kazakhstan, since foreign guests are interested in the traditions, customs, social life and cuisine of the Eurasian nomads. To this end, businessmen begin to actively implement new projects. Whereas Astana is a Eurasian capital with modern buildings and infrastructure, it is crucial to have ethno-auls (or skansens) near the capital, where it can be possible to submerge oneself into an atmosphere of an ancient civilisation of the Great Steppe.
In order to advance this area, akimats of regions and cities of Almaty and Astana develop media plans to further promote tourism in regions, within which events being conducted to make progress in the ecotourism and ethnic tourism.
Ecotourism groups are formed to foster a proper tourist culture and environmentally-conscious behaviour principles among children and youth. Environmental actions, expeditions, festival-fairs to study the tourist-recreational potential are being carried out. Skansen-type ethnographic centres are being developed. It is an essential segment in the development of ethnographic tourism.
What are the most popular routes in Kazakhstan?
The notion of “popular routes” is a very conditional one, because each location has its own weekend routes. For example, the Almaty region has the Charyn Canyon, the Turgen waterfalls, the Kolsai lakes, short trips to the famous Medeu skating rink, ski resort Shymbulak. The Karaganda Oblast has Lake Balkhash, while Kyzylorda has Lake Kambash, as well as traditional favourites of the Caspian Sea and the Shchuchinsk-Borovoe resort zone. Kazakhstan has plenty of places for recreation so the list can be continued.
Will flights to Lake Alakol be launched in 2016?
For the summer period, the ministry subsidises Almaty-Urdzhar-Almaty flights, as well as flights to Lake Balkhash from Almaty and Astana twice a week.
What will be the average expenses per person for a domestic tourist on a holiday to be spent in Kazakhstan in 2016?
As reported by the statistical bulletin “On Travel Expenditures of Households in the Republic of Kazakhstan” of the Statistics Committee of the Ministry of National Economy, in 2014 travel expenditures of 21,000 households were examined. The number of domestic tourists was 31,845 and domestic tourism expenditures constituted 1,000,240,000 tenge (US$2.79 million). Consequently, the average cost for recreation in Kazakhstan per person was 31,409.6 tenge (US$88) in 2014.
Where can children best spend their vacation in Kazakhstan? What sport, educational and other recreation zones and camps for children are recommended by the Ministry of Investments and Development of Kazakhstan?
A nationwide tourist expedition “Menin Otanym – Kazakhstan” (My Homeland is Kazakhstan) is popular among students and many akimats (local government bodies) implement this programme. Contests, all-round tourist, mountain hiking and trekking championships are regularly being offered in all the regions. Annually, tourist gatherings are also held to support children-oriented domestic tourism industry, tourist camps for schoolchildren are arranged, extra-curricular child-youth tourist institutions are opening including special tourist facilities for children and youth, tourist clubs and children’s camping sites.
What revenues does tourism bring to Kazakhstan?
The revenues from sales of products and financial-economic services in the tourism industry in 2014 totalled 205,564 million tenge (US$570 million). The sum includes revenue from activities of tour operators, tour agents and other organisations, rendering of services in the sphere of tourism (29,586 million tenge/US$8.09 million), from accommodation services (83,896 million tenge/US$234 million), from recreational, entertainment, cultural and sport activities (89 million tenge/US$248 million). Compared to 2013, the total revenue has increased by 30 percent and by 60 percent when compared to 2012.