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Open Sky Policy in Kyrgyzstan in the cards

Kyrgyzstan fighting for survival in highly competitive market

Agha Iqrar Haroon, Former Consultant, Ministry of Tourism, Government of Pakistan  Nov 16, 2011

Kyrgyzstan government is considering introducing an Open Sky policy to enlarge the number of possible routes, raise competition, and to earn profits on airport and air navigation services.

Moreover, after announcing a 90-day, non-visa regime for the citizens of developed countries, Kyrgyzstan parliament is now considering approval of a list of 41 more countries to add to the non-visa list.

Kyrgyzstan is facing serve competition in the tourism market with its neighbors, especially Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and now it needs drastic changes within its system to sustain in competitive market.

According to Central Asian tourism experts, including Emil Umetaliev, President of Kyrgyz Concept Company; Daniyar Kazakov, President of C.A.T. Company of Kyrgyzstan and the President of The Kyrgyz Association of Tour Operators, tourism accommodation cost is increasing every year and only competition will naturalize the situation. For this reason, the country needs more tourists to visit in order to fill accommodations.

Damira Raeva, who has been a source behind community-based tourism, also believes that Kyrgyzstan has to take revolutionary steps to stay competitive within the Central Asian tourism market.

The world tourism destinations list increased by a number of attractions when the former Communist Soviet Union was disbanded and the opening up of new republics reshaped world tourism markets. One of these new destinations is Kyrgyzstan.

Located in Central Asia, landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest, and the People's Republic of China to the east. Compared to its neighbors in the region, Kyrgyzstan is not very large, but its landscape of high, forested mountainsm and lush, grassy steppes have attracted Silk Road travelers thankful for the region's cool climate. This entire country can be Heaven for ecotourism lovers, provided its government concentrates on a better communication network, especially its destinations linking road. It is feared that this country is experiencing an imbalanced growth of community-based tourism (CBT) providers and is facing a serious deficit in the supply-and-demand factor.

The lion’s share of tourists traveling to Central Asia is going to its neighbors due to a lack of connectivity of this country to the rest of the world through air travel, while the national airlines of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are far ahead of Kyrgyzstan Airlines.

Research conducted by the The Region Initiative (TRI) indicates that Kyrgyzstan offers magnificent and unspoiled natural beauty that has, until now, not been encroached by commercial tourism. Its mountains, rivers, and forests are the major selling points for promoting this mountainous country as a cultural and ecotourism destination.

Lake Issy Kul, a biosphere reserve of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program, is the main attraction for ecotourists in Kyrgyzstan. Located at an altitude of 1600 meters among the mountain peaks of the Tien Shen Mountain range, Issy Kul is the world's second largest mountain lake after Titicaca. Encircled by several hotels and health spas, Lake Issy Kul can be an ideal ecotourism getaway in Kyrgyzstan, providing excellent opportunities for activities like swimming, hiking, and mountain climbing.

The mountainous terrains of Kyrgyzstan feature dramatic glaciers and snow-clad peaks, and its high, grassy meadows are the perfect grazing grounds for several wild species including antelope, ibex, rare snow leopards, and brown bears.

Some well-known, eco-tourism locations in Kyrgyzstan include Lake Issy Kul, Bishkek, Osh, Talal, Kazarman, and Irkeshtam. "Kyrgyz" is believed to have been derived from the Turkic word for "forty," in reference to the forty clans of Manas, a legendary hero who united forty regional clans against the Uyghers. Literally it means “We are forty.” At the time, in the early 9th century AD, the Uyghers dominated much of Central Asia (including Kyrgyzstan), Mongolia, and parts of Russia and China. By extension, Kyrgyz is also thought to mean "unconquerable" or "undefeatable." The 40-ray sun on the flag of Kyrgyzstan is a reference to those same forty tribes, and the graphical element in the sun's center depicts the wooden crown of a yurt - a portable dwelling traditionally used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.

In a research background interview, Emil Umetaliev, who has been granted a Presidential Award from the President of Kyrgyzstan this year for his services to tourism, accepted that the supply-and-demand imbalance is creating a price hike of tourism accommodation and maintained that as for the cost of living, it is very high compared to previous years.

By comparison, a double room in a 5-star hotel in Turkey costs $120-140 per night, whereas the rate of a double room in a 4-star hotel in Issyk-Kul is $150.

Mr. Emil is also President of the Kyrgyz Concept Company of Bishkek and runs his own travel and tourism organization. Commenting on tourism revenue and estimation, he said that doubling the number of tourists this year, compared to 2010, is encouraging, and he is expecting a continued increase of tourism in the year 2012. He is of the view that the quality of road networking is increasing.

"The important road between Bishkek, Issyk-Kul, and Torugart (Chinese border) is being renovated and enlarged at the moment. We can roughly say that around 30 percent of the road is of a very high quality as of today, and the works are to be fully finished in 2014. The road in Boom Gorge (between Bishkek and Issyk-Kul) is to be enlarged from 2 lanes to 4,” he said.

Torugart, Issyk-Kul, Bishkek, and Osh will be linked by an international quality road soon. The situation with toilets has been changing over the past 3 years for the better through local entrepreneurial initiatives (toilets are now being provided at cafes along the roads).

Daniyar Kazakov, who is the President of C.A.T. Company of Kyrgyzstan and the President of The Kyrgyz Association of Tour Operators (KATO), confirmed that during the last 4 years, accommodation outlets have increased four or five times more. He said that KATO is expecting around 15 million tourists next year, and they wish to enhance tourism revenue up to $750 million.

Tourism expert, Damira Raeva, who is one of the pioneers of community-based tourism in Kyrgyzstan in particular, but also in other countries of Central Asia focusing on community-based tourism development, is of the view that destination marketing, legislation improvement, coordination of sector development, tourism development strategy, and infrastructure development, especially in regions and service quality improvements - the most important steps Kyrgyzstan should take without delay.

Kyrgyzstan fighting for survival in highly competitive market
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