ASTANA – Just a few years ago, the Mangistau region could attract visitors only for its wilderness. Now, it is receiving significant investment to create infrastructure and make it a popular destination.
The region, on the shores of Caspian Sea, offers numerous historic tourist and pilgrimage sites such as Beket Ata, the famous underground mosque. Despite the excellent potential for tourism, the infrastructure was extremely underdeveloped. There were no roads and travellers always stressed the anti-sanitary conditions. Yet, foreigners were still attracted to the region, as it offered the unique experience of visiting exotic and pristine natural areas.
“They like the absence of roads, a journey accompanied by difficulties. For them, this is an extreme kind of tourism. They are tired of services using advanced technologies, when they receive everything at the touch of a button,” Gulmira Suyuova, regional tourism department deputy head, said in 2015 as quoted by Azattyq.org.
Mangistau has finally received the government’s attention. To date, 78 accommodation spots have been built, 16 of which are certified hotels and two affiliated with international networks, Holiday Inn and Marriott Renaissance.
The number of tourists increased by 7 percent from 2016-2017, reaching 205,904, with the volume of services rendered by local places hiking 5 percent to US$4.2 billion. Tourism represents a 1.2-percent share of the gross regional product, reported Kazinform.
A 485.2-million tenge (US$1.34 million) tourist complex recently opened offering additional swimming pools and water attractions. Local authorities believe such large expenditures are fully justified, as last year the complex attracted 87,000 bathing season visitors.
The regional akimat (administration) and tourism committee are also working on projects to enhance and adapt Aktau’s beach, this year extending the sand’s tourist-friendly zone from just 1.5 km to 7 km. Authorities predict the entire beach line will be adapted for guests by 2019.
The project’s main focus is Rock Trail (Skalnaya tropa), a 2.2-km pedestrian crossing over the steep cliffs connecting the city’s promenade and beach zone. Experts feel the site makes Aktau unique and is key to attracting tourists. President Nursultan Nazarbayev showed this trail to his counterparts from other Caspian littoral states during the Aktau summit on Aug. 12.
The coastline still needs more attention, however, as only three of its 29 recreation centres meet comfort standards. Construction to provide the entire zone with access to electricity and water will begin next year.
Plans through 2023 allocate 18.5 billion tenge (US$51.2 million) for tourism infrastructure, with the hope of attracting 20 billion tenge (US$55.4 million) in private investments to build 32 hotels and recreation centres.