Destination Central Asia

With increasing air connectivity to the Middle East, Central Asia is making its natural attributes accessible to an even wider audience. Panayiotis Markides reports.

Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are three countries dominated by vast mountainous expanses, set between the immense continent that is Asia and influential Europe. With an inspiring collection of natural offerings, tourism is growing in the region with the countries seeking out new avenues to promote to key markets, such as international events, along with remaining faithful to its tried-and-tested segments such as adventure, eco-tourism and winter sports.

With this in mind, TTG sought to discover how these three destinations of Central Asia are showcasing themselves and how they are going about this task.

Travel Forward 20

GREEN ASSETS

Honing in on Tajikistan, despite being landlocked, this mountainous destination clearly draws adventurers to it, the world over.

General manager, Sheraton Dushanbe Hotel, Mazen Kaddoura told TTG: “Tajikistan is a blossoming tourism destination with many opportunities for adventure and eco-tourism.” He noted however that the hotel mostly specialises in diplomatic travel.

Kaddoura added that the property does capitalise on the natural offerings of the country, which he informed is more than 90 per cent covered by mountains. He remarked: “Tajikistan is known for high-altitude trekking and hunting. Other popular activities in Tajikistan are white water raft¬ing, kayaking, paragliding, mountaineering, jeep tours and mountain cycling.”

Elaborating on Tajikistan’s eco-orientated leisure attractions was sales and marketing manager, Dushanbe Serena Hotel, Sulhiya Khaidarova: “Tajikistan’s leisure tourists are targeting Zaravshan Valley and Pamir.”

Khaidarova added that the trend at the moment is for leisure travellers to stay in the capital for an average of one day, with most opting to experience the great outdoors.

Meanwhile, nearby Uzbekistan is looking to its cultural scene to reel in visitors, according to managing director, Anur Tour Central Asia, Mumin Raubaev, who remarked that this is the main attractor, as the tour operator works to give tourists the opportunity to visit Uzbekistan’s historical sites as well as take part in master classes for ceramics and embroidery.

“We try to introduce them to our culture, life and, of course, to our historical monuments,” he said.
However, as these destinations seek to continue to bolster their tourism product, they indeed search for new ways to allow the destination to shine.

General manager, InterContinental Almaty, Hakan Demirceken revealed to TTG: “The most important projects we are preparing for are Universiade 2017, a multi-sport winter event being held in Almaty, and Expo 2017 in Astana. Both events present a great opportunity for Kazakhstan to shine on the global stage.”

Regional manager – Gulf and Indian Subcontinent, Air Astana, Karlygash Omurbayeva added that Almaty is bidding to host the 2022 edition of the Winter Olympics (for which the successful candidate will be announced in July).

NEW APPRECIATION

With Central Asia attracting more traditional markets such as the US and Europe, it is now looking to tap into the lucrative and unique MENA markets, and allowing it to do so have been the increasing air links between the two regions, according to stakeholders.

Khaidarova commented to TTG: “Tajikistan is taking steps to activate both business and tourism ties with the Middle East. flydubai started its operations in Tajikistan in 2013.” She said that currently Air Arabia also operates a chartered flight to Tajikistan.

Khaidarova added that to assist in creating these links between the two regions, a familiarisation trip for travel operators from Kuwait was organised by the Embassy of Tajikistan in Kuwait.

Omurbayeva additionally shared with TTG how Kazakhstan is enabling MENA travellers to travel to the destination. “MENA is an important market for Air Astana. Since September 2014, Air Astana has been operating daily flights between Almaty and Dubai, and four times a week between Astana and Abu Dhabi.”

She added: “Kazakhstan’s Visa Waiver Programme introduced in mid-2014 includes 11 nationalities, including the UAE, and we expect that our region will become an increasingly popular destination for leisure travellers.”

Three countries boasting enviable scenery and a vast range of leisure offerings are undaunted in their ambitions to build a strong tourism industry and are making all the right moves to achieve this.