Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan
Kazakhstan is the land of “wonders” and “replica” of Switzerland in Central Asia. It has vast steppes, ancient culture, as well as the first world’s cosmodrome Baikonur.
It is a country located in the heart of Eurasia, where ancient culture meets modern and oriental traditions coexist with Western culture. The centuries old culture and unique nature of Kazakhstan provides for a larger than life experience for tourists of every age.
Despite limited political uncertainty of March 2022, Kazakhstan is still a great travel adventure destination. It has about 9,000 archaeological and historical sites (the biggest in the world) some of which has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its ultra-modern capital Astana and the other Soviet-era cities, the country have great tourist attractions which showcase nature and impressive biodiversity.
In this connection, it offers countless opportunities of hiking in the high mountains and green valleys. It is an ideal destination for the search of wildlife on the lake-dotted steppe. It is enjoyable hub of home-spun hospitality in village guesthouses. It is a great place for deserts and remote underground mosques.
Kazakhstan, the 9th largest country in the world, having a rich history of nomadic civilizations, a large natural diversity and being a part of the famous Silk Road, still attracts many tourists from around the world.
In this context it offers a complete package of soul searching and beautiful remote western peninsula of Mangyshlak along with nomadic traditions in the villages and nomadic life in summer in the mountains. Moreover, it traces of the Silk Road and the Turkestan Mausoleum of Ahmed Khoja Yasawi in the south. It has rocky oasis and Soviet heritage in the center, including remnants of prisoner camps and nuclear test sites. It has glimpses of the shrinking Aral Sea with its notorious ship graveyards and the Baikanur Cosmodrome in the center-west. Last but not least, the new capital Astana with its modern and outstanding architecture; the cultural centre Almaty with a skiing resort and surrounding varied landscapes.
Thus the Republic of Kazakhstan is the land of “natural beauties”, unlimited “treasures”, unexplored & unexploited nature/biodiversity, ancient culture and modern centers, nomadic traditions and modern styles of hospitality, deserts and ideal destinations, series of famous mountains and unlimited human modesty, attracting lakes and parks and an ideal lustrous country of high infrastructural development.
Simply but splendidly from the Altai Mountains in the East to the Caspian Sea in the west and Russia in the north to China in the south, Kazakhstan in Central Asia is also termed as the world’s largest landlocked country. It has an array of majestic canyons, seamless deserts, arid plains, colossal glaciers, and ancient structures account for popular Kazakhstan tourist places making it a hot destination. It is indeed a vacation paradise for the tourists.
Obviously, the situation in Kazakhstan is stable, safe and the country’s travel and hospitality industry has resumed its activities. In this regard, all tourism and hospitality facilities, including hotels, resorts, and restaurants function as usual throughout the country. Furthermore, railway traffic has been fully operationalized. Domestic and international flights have been fully activated. All international airports of the country are operating normally.
Moreover, according to the Decree of the Government, previously imposed restrictions on visa-free entry to Kazakhstan have been lifted. So citizens of 54 countries can visit Kazakhstan without a visa and with special permission from the Interdepartmental Government Commission on Covid-19.
To further showcase the real potential and beauty of Kazakhstan tourism its Ministry of Culture and Sports announced comprehensive plans to develop budget programs to fund infrastructure projects in tourist areas. Most of the expenses are directed to the development of priority tourist areas such as Mangistau and Shchuchinsk-Borovoye. In this connection, the government adopted a law on tourism, which consolidates the activities of the Kazakh Tourism company and provides new incentive measures of government support for tourism on April 30, 2021,. Last year, the Ministry of Culture and Sport introduced the “Kids Go Free program” that provides free tickets for children aged 2 to 17 as part of a domestic tour package.
Currently, the Kazakh Tourism has been developing the Grand Tour of Kazakhstan and has already planned its routes. It will consist of three phases firstly, the identification of attractive routes, landscaping, and the development of the content of the routes. Secondly, the promotion of the developed Grand Tour in target markets and thirdly, product-oriented marketing will be pursued and implemented accordingly. Thus, the government is planning to develop the infrastructure in tourist areas to attract more tourists. In the last three years Kazakhstan has implemented a total of 80 infrastructure projects including the construction of roads and engineering networks, added Amanbayev.
Interestingly, the number of regional as well as international tourists in the country is on the increase due to the recent ease of COVID restrictions. According to Kazakhstan official data (January 2022) on weekly average there were 3,600 foreigners registered in Kazakhstan. Increase the number of flights and trains to resort areas in the coming tourist season would be a value addition.
In this regard, the government is set to ensure daily trains from the capital to Almaty and resort areas as well as to increase the number of flights to the cities of Aktau, Turkistan, Usharal, and the village of Urdzhar.
Interestingly, in the 2020 Global Peace Index, Kazakhstan ranks 70 out of 163 countries when it comes to safety and peace in the country. According to the study of Global Finance (2019), Kazakhstan was ranked 44th in the World’s Safest Countries 2019 ranking. Furthermore, according to the government travel advisory of the USA, EU, CIS, UK, China, India and other countries, Kazakhstan has been among the safest and peaceful countries in the world. Kazakh Tourism National Company JSC as the National Tourism Board of Kazakhstan reassures that Kazakhstan is a safe destination for international travellers.
Surprisingly, Kazakhstan is blessed with 5 climate zones and has 2 time zones. It has vast geographical diversity and natural biodiversity which makes it an ideal destination for tourism.
It has international tourist attraction places like Almaty, Astana, Central Kazakhstan, Eastern Kazakhstan, Northern Kazakhstan, Southern Kazakhstan, and Western Kazakhstan. Precisely Astana stands for modernity, transformation, lavish hospitality and affordable and meaningful services that is why is now called as “The Changing Face of Central Asia”. Almaty is famous for diversified cultural and traditional places. It is also termed as “Kazakhstan’s Biggest Cultural Hub which is full of life, colors, excitements, diversity, decency, and development. And Aktau is the “Pretty Town by the Caspian” which has immense tourist attractions.
On the other hand, Taraz welcomes the tourists to the Ancient City in South Kazakhstan. Lake Balkhash is the 15th largest lake in the world. Baikonur is famous as city of spaceport, rockets, and spaceships. Semey as ancient & historical city, Turgen Gorge as amazing place for trekkers, Lake Kaindy as a natural dam, Tamgaly-Tas as a sacred sanctuary, Nomad’s Land and last but not least, Shymkent as getaway to the heartland of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan’s travel and tourism industry, to include authentic cultural tourism; nature-based activities, including ecotourism and bird-watching in national parks and protected areas; skiing or trekking in the mountains; water sports, sunbathing, and swimming in the many lakes and rivers of Kazakhstan; and many others. It seems that the country’s tourism industry has great potential; however, considerable development is necessary.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the tourism industry represents 10 percent of global GDP and 7 percent ($1.5 Trillion) of global exports and 30 percent in services exports. The number of international tourists increased by 4.6 percent and reached 1.2 billion visitors and the average annual increase in tourists in the world is 3-4 percent.
In Kazakhstan the largest number of tourists is lavishly served in the cities of Astana and Almaty, East Kazakhstan, Karaganda, Almaty, Atyrau and Akmola regions.
Keeping in view socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic importance of country’s tourism it has now become a top priority in Kazakhstan, which has been ranked 81st in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index of the 2017 World Economic Forum. Nevertheless, the tourism attraction and treasures of Kazakhstan are rich and diverse and offers a unique opportunity for development in almost all forms; from cultural and historical to the business ones, from outdoor activities and winter sports to other alternative forms of tourism and ecotourism.
According to official statistical data of Kazakhstan (March 2022), the number of domestic tourists in Kazakhstan increased by 35 percent to reach a record 6.9 million people choosing to vacation in their own country over the past year compared to 2020’s rate. According to the Kazak National Company, 5.14 million people stayed in hotels and 320,000 people stayed in health resorts. A total of 1.44 million tourists visited specially protected natural areas.
Following the growth of the domestic tourism rate, some 172 new accommodation places were built in 2021 in addition to the previously existing 3,514 places.
As for foreign tourists, the number reached 330,00 people an increase of 31 percent compared to 2020 travelled in the country.
a. There is an urgent need to completely overhaul in the nation’s branding marketing strategies to make it more attractive, positive, productive and participatory tourists destination in the region and beyond.
b. The Kazak tourist authorities should establish a new brand policy for Kazakhstan as a tourist destination by creating a number of tours that relate to this, and promote them heavily, with the aid of Kazakhstani and foreign tour operators and travel agencies.
c. The diversity of Kazakhstan should be the essence of this new brand, incorporating in the new programs attractions like Astana with its architectural gems, Almaty and its cultural life, remnants of the Silk Road in the south, and of course the natural diversity of the country, including steppe, high mountains and mountain lakes, all of which can be found in both the Almaty and Altai region in relatively compact areas. Thus it needs comprehensive road map and holistic policies to reinvent the branding techniques, marketing strategies and human gestures to promote international tourism in the country.
d. There is an urgent need to develop homestay tourism by involving all main departments, stakeholders and local communities in the country that would be hopefully create more opportunities of new businesses and jobs.
e. Kazakhstan is a liberal country with a peaceful, harmonious blend of people and religions, Asians and Europeans, Muslims and Christians should be attracted for country’s tourism. Thus Kazakhstan’s rich and diverse multiculturalism and ethnic diversity should be streamlined, systematized and properly highlighted.
f. There I urgent need to develop and provide ample infrastructural development in the country especially in tourism.
g. Declining domestic and FDI in tourism sector must be ratified as soon as possible through meaningful incentives, state protection and having ideal public-private partnerships in the country.
h. Cluster priority areas should be immediately identified at the national level. It should include business, environmental, cultural, educational, events and extreme forms of tourism throughout the country.
i. Lack of a wide range of animation activities and, as a consequence, of attractiveness of Kazakhstan as a touristic destination should be improved as soon as possible.
j. The insufficient development of the tourism and transport infrastructure that involve inaccessibility to historical and environmental sites must be developed and coordinated as soon as possible.
k. The low level of training, retraining and skills development and poor quality of services in the hospitality sector should be improved as a foremost national policy to attract more and more international tourists.
l. The diversity of Kazakhstan’s natural should be highlighted in all the regional TV channels or through integrated social networking because it has rich flora and fauna, habitat for about 122 mammal species, 500 bird species, and 107 fish species; in addition, over six thousand species of plants grow in the region.
m. Suitable preservation of rich world of plants and wildlife, a network of national parks and nature reserves has been established in the country which should be further developed by involving local communities and private sector in the country.
n. There is an urgent need to real beauty of Aksu Zhabagly Nature Reserve, which is home to snow leopards and other rare animals, and is also known as the “Kingdom of Tulips” through informative videos and small documentaries, articles, features and news items on regular basis in the country. Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve is famous for its pink flamingos and other rare species of wildlife and is popular among bird-watchers; Altyn Emel National Park is interesting for its mystery of Singing Dune; and Katon-Karagay National Park is a habitat of marals (red deer) thus all these paradises on earth should be properly and heavenly highlighted in all the regional, national, and international media outlets through rigorous cultural diplomacy.
To conclude, Kazakhstan is more than its steppes and mountains. It is also a country of rivers and lakes. A lake among the steppes can be like an oasis among empty deserts.
It suggests that the ministry of tourism should take a joint effort and integrated work mechanism along with local executive bodies in the implementation of measures for improving the tourist environment. In this regard, the regions should contribute to the development of tourism by improving the quality of services, training guides, developing new tourist products, and conducting information tours in the country.
Kazakhstan has unique culture is which always fantasizes all tourists travel to Kazakhstan. In this connection, everywhere in the country, a international tourist may easily be mesmerized with lavish Kazak hospitality, traditions, rituals, art, and culture. It can include museum complexes, ethno villages depicting the traditional lifestyle of Kazakh people, historical sites of medieval cities, and much more.
Moreover, the tourists may easily experience to traditional lifestyle of Kazakhs, local foods, and to interact with the local people in Shabanbay Bi Village, situated in Kyzylaray Mountains, Central Kazakhstan. Zhambyl Zhabayev museum complex in Almaty region includes a house with a garden, where the poet lived in XIX-XX centuries and a mausoleum may also be the hot attraction for them. South Kazakhstan is famous for ancient cities located at the routes of the Great Silk Road with historical monuments and other sites.
(The author is Director: The
Center for South Asia & International Studies (CSAIS) Islamabad
Regional Expert: Kazakhstan & CIS)