Officials Unveil Visa-Free Plan to Include 100 Countries at Tourism Development Forum in Aktau

AKTAU – Kazakh officials announced plans to expand the visa-free regime for nationals from 80 to 100 countries at the Kazakhstan Tourism Development Forum on Sept. 15 in Aktau.

Kazakhstan Tourism Development Forum gathered top foreign ministry, tourism officials, diplomats and business representatives. Photo credit: The Astana Times.

The forum brings together top foreign ministry and tourism officials, diplomats and business representatives to pave the way for the changes in Kazakhstan’s tourism sector.

Kazakh Minister of Tourism and Sports Ermek Marzhikpayev said that tourism “should be considered as one of the sectors of the economy,” referring to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s statement at the state-of-the-nation-address delivered on Sept. 1.

“Today, we gathered at this forum in Aktau to discuss issues related to the developing country’s tourism sector. The issues arise mostly concerning the liberalization of the visa regime. Today the visa-free regime is open to 80 countries, this number will be increased to 100,” Marzhikpayev said.

According to the minister, the flow of tourists in Kazakhstan is growing.

“Last year over 8.5 million tourists visited Kazakhstan, which is 20% more than the 2021 year level. Of those 930,000 were foreign tourists. And this year, according to the results of the first half of the year, we have more than 3,200,000 domestic tourists and more than 500,000 foreign tourists,” Marzhikpayev stated.

During the first panel session, Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko outlined key initiatives taken by the ministry to support the growth of the tourism sector, including visa liberalization and the launch of direct flights.

Referring to the progress in the national branding index, Vassilenko told the forum participants that Kazakhstan climbed nine positions in the 2023 Global Soft Power Index put together by a British company Brand Finance. “A testament to our strategic efforts,” he said.

Kazakhstan also emerged as the leader among Central Asian states in the latest World Economic Forum (WEF) Travel & Tourism Development Index, ranking 66th out of 117 countries.  

According to him, Kazakhstan is a country with “full of untapped potential” in tourism.  

“Our uniqueness lies in our ‘surprise’ factor. Our breathtaking landscapes, rich culture, and authentic experiences are relatively undiscovered, making us a hidden gem on the global stage. And let’s not forget, Kazakhstan has more to offer than just stunning landscapes: we offer a cultural experience that stretches back thousands of years, including the warm hospitality that is well-known in Central Asia,” Vassilenko said.

Kazakhstan has been making “significant strides” in visa liberalization, Vassilenko said.

Citizens from 45 nations, including all the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and European Union (EU) countries, as well as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Malaysia, Singapore, and Monaco, can visit Kazakhstan without a visa for up to 30 days starting from 2017.

“In 2019, we further opened our arms to the world by adding 12 more countries to this list, including Vietnam, Indonesia, Qatar, among others. Overall, citizens from more than 80 countries can now enter Kazakhstan without a visa. And we do not plan to stop here,” Vassilenko said.

“For those who do require visas, we have adjusted to the modern world. Our electronic visa system, introduced in 2019, streamlines the process for 109 countries, balancing ease of entry with the utmost security. This is a two-way street: making it easier for tourists and investors to enter can only bolster our economy and international reputation,” he added.

Besides offering visa liberalization, Vassilenko said the ministry is working on launching direct air links.

“There are around 600 direct international flights that operate from Kazakhstan weekly to more than 30 countries. Earlier this month, Kazakhstan launched direct flights between Almaty and Tel Aviv. And we plan to launch direct flights to Tokyo, Singapore, and New York in the next few years,” Vassilenko underlined.

Additionally, Kazakhstan’s open sky policy, which lifts restrictions on the number of flights and allows foreign airlines to operate on certain routes, has been extended until 2027.

“Learning from international best practice, we know that tourism does not operate in a vacuum. It is closely tied to other markers like political stability, a robust economy and ease of doing business. These are aspirations that Kazakhstan shares,” the Kazakh diplomat said.

Kazakhstan is doubling down on political, social and economic reforms. President Tokayev’s new economic vision, outlined in his recent address, prioritizes the diversification of the economy and the development of manufacturing.

“President Tokayev further stated Kazakhstan must become a major transit hub in Eurasia, including by developing the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, as well as focus on the green economy,” he said.  

The overall objective is to ensure a steady economic growth of 6-7% and double the economy to $450 billion by 2029, as stated by Vassilenko. 

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