Winter in Astana has its own special attractions. But there are very few of us who live here who don’t look forward to the chance to feel the sun on our faces and the warmth on our backs. The opportunity to sit outside and walk about easily changes the nature of our city and palpably lifts spirits.
It’s not only Astana residents who have been smiling over the last few weeks now that summer has arrived. Walking round the city, it has been notable to see an increase in the number of foreign tourists. Many are from Russia or our closer neighbours, but more than in the past have travelled here from farther afield. It’s a very hopeful sign for the future.
We have, of course, a very long way to go. Tourism in Kazakhstan is still very much in its infancy. We have barely scratched the surface in terms of harnessing the country’s rich potential as a tourist destination.
But the increasing number of foreign tourists in the city is a sign that Kazakhstan’s attractions are finally becoming more widely known. This is potentially a breakthrough year for our tourism industry.
After all, by this time next year, EXPO 2017 Astana will be in full swing. As well as seeing the latest developments in green energy and sustainable living, visitors and exhibitors will see for themselves a remarkable new capital city with much improved transport links and hotel facilities, but which has retained an old-fashioned tradition of offering hospitality to strangers.
Expo will follow the 2017 Winter Universaide in Almaty that will see a record 64 countries sending their top young winter sport athletes to compete. Over 30,000 students, spectators, officials and media will enjoy these winter games which will take place in staggering scenery on the doorstep of Kazakhstan’s lively second city.
The investment to ensure both events are a huge success will provide an exciting springboard for the country’s tourism industry. It is being matched with targeted efforts to enable visitors to more easily enjoy Kazakhstan’s amazing natural wonders.
Getting this right, as the government and tourism chiefs are determined to do, will bring huge rewards. Rising living standards, speedier and easier transport and an appetite for adventure is driving a global industry which saw nearly 1.2 billion people make international trips for business and pleasure last year. That is a 4 percent increase – 50 million more people – than even the year before.
It is big business. International tourism now represents 30 percent of the world’s exports of services and 6 percent of overall exports of goods and services. In fact, tourism ranks fourth after fuels, chemicals and food in terms of export value.
The impact on local economies is great. According to the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, income generated by international visitors on accommodation, food and drink, entertainment, shopping and other goods and services was over $1,2 trillion a year. It directly supports well over 100 million jobs and many more indirectly. This is not a sector any country can afford to ignore and particularly one with such assets and attractions as Kazakhstan.
Our geography may once have put us at a disadvantage in attracting foreign visitors compared to other regions. But as prosperity spreads to new areas, an increasing number of international tourists come from Asia or the Middle East, while more and more travellers from more developed markets want to see new countries and places.
As part of the country’s drive to reach and inform some of these travellers about the opportunities available here, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has just launched a new app, Kazakhstan: Land of the Great Steppe. Available from the App Store, Play Market and in a web version, it contains relevant information for tourists as well as interactive 3D experiences that enable those thinking about visiting the ability to experience some of our greatest landmarks before they reach our country.
Kazakhstan has so much to offer. At a time when travel to an increasing number of places in the world seems riskier than ever, it is a country that is safe and secure. Add in breathtaking scenery, an abundance of wildlife, a remarkable history and an outgoing, friendly people, and we should expect the foreign tourists now enjoying the sunshine in Astana will be the advance guard of many more to come.