WIDE SPECTRUM

Azerbaijan 2012 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Roza Asanbaeva, of the Kazakhstan Tourist Association, on efforts to transform the local tourism industry by emphasizing its natural assets.

Roza Asanbaeva

TBY How should Kazakhstan look into developing its tourism offering?

Around 20 years ago, foreign tourists in the USSR would travel to Moscow, Kiev, Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva. The Kazakh SSR, on the other hand, was associated with the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, Baikonur, and the gulags. We have a lot to do to turn Kazakhstan into a country with developed tourism infrastructure. The country is located in the heart of a rapidly growing global market of tourist flows, which undoubtedly is a great chance to have Kazakhstan occupy its own niche. We need to create new tourism products, as without them we risk missing the chance to attract not only foreign but also domestic tourists. This requires public and private investment. Kazakhstan is a new tourist destination. At one time we lamented that during the Soviet Union the infrastructure was not developed well enough; no good roads despite long distances, and low population density, but eventually we realized that this is in fact an asset. Pristine nature can become the competitive edge of our nascent tourism industry. In almost every region of the country we have unique nature reserves that appeal to many holidaymakers, such as endless steppes, desert crossings, forest oases, majestic mountain ranges with pristine lakes, and extraordinary shorelines.

What is the state's outlook for the development of the tourism industry?

The Ministry of Industry and New Technologies intends to develop a systematic plan for the country's tourism industry, which aims to form the basis for a competitive and economically successful tourism industry and the development of measures to enhance its investment appeal, including tax privileges and preferences, the simplification of administrative formalities concerning the buying and selling of real estate to non-residents, and the implementation of a visa-free regime for the entry into the country of tourists from economically and politically stable countries. In addition to the oil and gas industry, tourism has become another important pillar of the modern Kazakhstani economy as a strong source of job creation, and it is very attractive to domestic and foreign investors. While developing a systematic plan, we need to find a cost-effective growth strategy in order to see what needs to be done to have foreign and domestic investors invest in the building of tourism infrastructure, and what incentives the state can provide.

In what niche areas do you see Kazakhstan developing its tourism industry?

We were once recommended by foreigners not to build such resorts like Kenderli on the Caspian Sea, Burabai in Akmola, or ski resorts near Almaty, but focus solely on eco-tourism, which has big potential in Kazakhstan. Yet, we should keep in mind that eco-tourism constitutes only 7% of the tourism market. We are looking into developing these resorts in a sustainable manner, with the use of alternative energy sources and environmentally friendly building materials preserving our pristine nature. International experience shows that 60%-70% of the world prefers beach tourism, combining it with various other types of tourism. Understandably, not everyone with the same enthusiasm would go for sports like skiing, rock climbing, or scuba diving. The Caspian coast provides a safe and comfortable place for a wide spectrum of tourists. In off-season periods, facilities can be used for MICE tourism, generating revenues for the state budget.

What is the significance of the Kenderli project for Kazakhstan's tourism industry?

Kazakhstan needs to have its own international resorts like Antalya and Dubai. One such project is the construction of an international resort on the Caspian Sea called Kenderli. This project will create 15,000 jobs in a town of 60,000 residents, a farm with greenhouses, and fields for crops of over 200 hectares for the production of agricultural products for sale on the domestic and foreign markets, as well as a farmers' training center. There will also be an aqua park called “Beluga Alemi," which will employ 150 people in the research, conservation, and breeding of sturgeons, which are under threat of extinction. This project is export oriented with an estimated capacity of 3 tons of black caviar, and 100 tons of sturgeon meat a year. It is also going to serve the MICE tourism sector. Soon the power, transportation, and energy infrastructure of the region will be enhanced with new power lines, airports, and roads. We will also have facilities for sewage treatment and desalination. The Kenderli project will be the take-off point for mass tourism in Kazakhstan. Near the resort, there is the village of Seneca where there are sand dunes. This area can also provide opportunities for steppe safaris, and tours to the nearby Ustyurt, which has no counterpart in the world with its white canyons. Additionally, we developed 14 tourist routes. Two-thirds of Kazakhstan's historical and archeological heritage is located in Mangystau. We need service points with fully developed infrastructure to realize this area's full potential.