ON PAR WITH EXCELLENCE

Kazakhstan 2016 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Bahtiar Agabekov, Director of Zhailau Golf Club, on the state of golf in Kazakhstan, attracting international interest, and the outlook for the future.

Bahtiar Agabekov

What are the recent achievements of Zhailjau Golf Club?

We opened as a golf resort in 2006. We were inaugurated by the Arnold Palmer Design Company. He himself was a legendary golf player, but he is currently designing and building new golf clubs, and our golf resort is built according to his framework. Since then, we are constantly asking ourselves what we are achieving. First of all, we were providing services to those who want to play golf and also offering restaurants. Step by step, we are developing our project and now we have opened a luxury boutique-hotel on the grounds, as well as a fitness club and a swimming pool. This year, we also launched a spa center.

How have you been attracting visitors to Zhailjau Golf Club, and how will you continue boosting the presence of the Club?

The most important event we host is the Kazakhstan Open, a prestigious competition on the European Challenge Tour. For us, the goal of the Kazakhstan Open is to make Kazakhstan recognizable abroad. The second target is to attract amateur golfers. Last year was the 10th jubilee of the Kazakhstan Open, and we were well prepared with our promotion through different media channels. This year, we are seeing results from that event, because there are a growing number of amateurs coming here to play golf. We even see an increase in the number of international visitors from countries like Korea, Japan, and Europe who have seen our golf course featured on international television. We are in the process of negotiating business partnerships with clubs in Dubai and Turkey to develop our local golfing capacity.

From where do most of your international visitors arrive?

In terms of our visitors coming from abroad, there are two sources. The international championships that we regularly arrange are a big draw, and our President is working diligently to popularize every sport in Kazakhstan—not just golf—and to make us recognizable abroad as a sporting country. People coming here for the Expo are interested in visiting two of our cities. Almaty is considered the cultural capital and Astana is the financial capital, so any visitors in Astana or Almaty that have spare time would like to see both cities. If they come to Almaty, we are a part of the things-to-do, and they often pay us a visit as well

Why are sports emerging as a major industry in Kazakhstan today?

Around 10-15 years ago, our country was still young and our government did not have the time or means to make a concerted effort to develop sports in Kazakhstan. Today, there is a strategic initiative being executed by both the government and the private sector to invest heavily into school sports and teams. Sports can be very representative of a country. There are sometimes iconic athletes that mark a significant milestone or break a record in a sport, and everyone then knows about the athlete's country of origin. Because of that one athlete, suddenly a country will be celebrated and popularized around the world. This mechanism works well, and our officials believe in this as well.

What are the expectations for 2016?

In 2016, we have to understand and consider the current economic situation. It may not always be bright, but we still hope to keep the number of guests and visitors as it is. The best scenario is to increase these numbers, and we are looking to the Expo 2017 to help boost our tourism figures. Apart from that, we will collaborate with Almaty hotels in order to inform their guests about our range of services that they may use. We receive sponsorships from some companies and work closely with airlines and travel agencies. In that way, we hope to maintain and even increase the number of visitors.