Visa Free and Open Sky — what is needed for successful development of tourism in an exclusive interview with M. Murzamadiyeva

Chairman of the Tourism Industry Committee of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Kazakhstan, Mainyura Murzamadiyeva said what is necessary for the successful development of tourism in Kazakhstan, what is actually being done to increase the country’s tourism attractiveness and many other things in an exclusive interview for

— Mainyura Savetovna, tell us what has been done in the year since the creation of the Tourism Industry Committee?

— 2017 was a turning point for the development of Kazakhstan's tourism. At the beginning of the year, on behalf of the Head of State, the Tourism Industry Committee was formed, which was integrated into the Ministry of Culture and Sports. A renewed, updated concept was prepared for the development of the tourism industry until 2023 and already in June of the last year, this concept was approved by the government decree. In July, the Kazakh Tourism national company was established, and I want to say that as part the project management, the tourism entered the Olympic track.

The industry is facing very ambitious tasks – to increase the share of tourism from the current 1% to 8% by 2025, and also, to raise the employment from 390 thousand people in 2017 to 660 thousand people by 2025. In this regard, last year, the program documents – the Government's decree on the development of the Shchuchinsk-Borovoe resort zone and the Roadmap of Astana were approved.

At present, in order to implement the concept for the development of the tourism industry, we have developed an action plan. And this plan is now at the stage of coordination with state bodies.

Tourism has been developing for many years in Kazakhstan, but it was this year that gave a strong impetus, a powerful impulse to its further development.

— Kazakhstan, having a rich tourism potential, is characterized by an insufficient level of tourism development. What is being done to increase the attractiveness of tourism?

— Tourism is a very highly profitable and promising industry, which attracts more than $800 billion of direct investment. The Head of State pays special attention to the development of tourism. In his Address, the President noted that one of the most promising sources of income is the development of domestic and inbound tourism. The “message" is that in every region it is necessary to develop domestic and inbound tourism, because tourism should become the driver, the main engine of our economy.

A big impulse to the development of tourism was given by the Expo-2017 International Specialized Exhibition, which attracted millions of tourists and certainly promoted the tourist image of the country. Successful holding of the Expo demonstrated first of all that the country is ready to accept large flows of tourists and provide quality tourist services.

To develop tourism in the country, Kazakh Tourism was specially created, where a very strong team of gifted, talented, highly professional, competent specialists gathered, who worked in the tourism industry for more than a year and this campaign is intended to promote tourism products both on domestic and in the foreign market, as well as attract both domestic and foreign investors.

— What problems Kazakhstan needs to fix first of all in order to attract tourists, given that you have worked in such countries as the USA, Holland, Norway, can the experience of these countries be adopted, or do we have our own tourism development strategy?

— If we talk about the successful development of tourism, then it is necessary to solve two things – Visa Free and Open Sky.

In the direction of the Visa Free regime, a lot has been done in our country. We have a visa-free regime for citizens of 63 countries, but since we defined the target market in our concept, priority zones are the countries that are within a 4-5 hour radius from Kazakhstan, these are: Russia, China, India, Iran, the countries of the Persian Gulf. We are currently trying to create conditions for tourists from these countries. Within the framework of the pilot project during the Expo-2017, a 72-hour visa-free transit for tourists from the PRC was launched. According to preliminary calculations, for about three months, about 4.5 thousand people visited and each of them left $200-300 in the economy and about $1.5 million as a whole. At the moment, we are trying to prolong this transit for China and in this year, as well as in work launched the same visa-free transit for tourists from India.

Open Sky is the mode, which was operating here during the Expo. The concept is simple, this is when every international air carrier has the right to fly to the capital, almost seven days a week, but only on one condition that it will not be subsidized by the state, so this is the Open Sky. During the Expo, a lot of airlines were added to our air lines: from Finland, Poland, Hungary and at the moment they also operate their flights and there are no restrictions on flights in the capital, but we will work in other regions.

These two conditions must be guaranteed, and then we can say that we have all the opportunities for the successful development of tourism in the country.

Speaking about international experience, of course, when developing the concept, we studied the experience of countries such as the United States, Britain, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. In these countries, tourism is given a lot of attention, and tourism is the most important and largest sector of the economy in these countries. Assume the same in Turkey, the share of tourism in the structure of GDP is 12%, in Spain – 9%, in Great Britain – 9-8%, if we are talking about the United States, then this country has the largest number of attractions and museums. When we talk about foreign experience, it is clear that we are extracting something useful for ourselves, but we certainly try to develop it taking into account our specifics, features, culture, history and tradition.

Millions of tourists want to visit New York, it is the Big Apple City, of course the inexperienced tourist will always be interested where the birthplace of apples is, and the birthplace of apples is in Almaty, so we plan to hold international events like Apple Fest, Apple Blossom festival, to promote these points of attraction. In Europe, many are surprised when they learn that the birthplace of tulips is Kazakhstan, this is our Zhambyl region, and we also want to promote this topic so that many tourists can come and see the true deposit of these beautiful flowers. And of course, there are many such places in the north of Kazakhstan, there is Botay, where the horse was first domesticated, we have a whole cosmic industry on Baikonur, sacred places, and therefore, we have the conditions, it only remains to develop everything and show it as the tourist product to attract tourists.

— Speaking about the Concept for the Development of the Tourism Industry of Kazakhstan, tell us about the main directions of improving the legislation in the sphere of tourism? What will change?

— The concept is a fundamental program document and legal basis is the law on tourist activity. First of all, when we were established, we conducted an inventory of all legislative acts for updating, and developed a draft concept of the draft law on amendments and additions to the legislative acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on tourist activities.

Why do we do this? Because in the new concept we defined new directions, this is the development of trophy-hunting tourism, medical tourism, sports tourism, and youth tourism. Therefore, we need to amend the law to expand the subjects of tourist activity. We also want the tourism industry to be a priority when the investor arrives, we want him to know what benefits, preferences he has here in Kazakhstan. In this regard, we have a special group PTEG (Public-Tourist Expert Group). At the moment we are coordinating with the public, with tour associations, tour businesses, deputies, government agencies, and we hope to submit the draft concept to the Ministry of Justice in February, to the Government in March and to the Parliament in May to approve the Plan of legislative works.

— Tell us about the promotion of the national tourism product, what measures have been developed to increase the level of the country's attractiveness for inbound tourism, attract investors.

— In Kazakhstan, we plan to form a tourist product in two directions: ecotourism and ethnotourism, and for this we have all the conditions. We have a unique nature: magnificent mountains in the south for the development of ski tourism, wonderful lakes such as the Caspian Riviera, Kapchagai, Alakol, Markakol for the development of beach tourism, and of course we have beautiful national parks.

The development of ethno-and ecotourism will contribute to the development of event and entertaining tourism. We believe that the development of these kinds of tourism has a social dimension, because young people will not move to the city, they will be interested to stay in the village, where the production of handicrafts, souvenirs will grow, guest houses will be developed, it will be interesting for young people: to find a stable work and as the local guide who knows his district, the region better and only they will stay and provide employment for the population. In these areas we work closely with all regions.

In the light of Digital Kazakhstan, we are currently working on the Digital Portal project, an electronic system that gives you access to information, and you can book tickets, book hotels and have feedback while sitting at home. It will also be easy for tourists to get directions to attractions to visit our beautiful places.

— Tell us how the infrastructure develops in the tourist facilities of the republic. How are things in such projects as Shchuchinsk-Borovoe resort area, ski area near Almaty, as well as a master plan for the cluster program of tourism development in EKR? What other projects are planned?

— In order to implement the Concept for the Development of the Tourism Industry, a roadmap is being developed in each region to develop tourism in a particular region. The program for the development of the Shchuchinsk-Borovoe resort zone (SBRZ) consists of 34 events. First and foremost, this is the development of the tourist potential of the SBRZ, the development of infrastructure projects and transport and logistics infrastructure. In the Almaty region, there are many opportunities for the development of ski tourism. EKR is a pearl of Altai, and it is certainly the beautiful Alakol and Markakol lakes, and the akimat of this region works very actively. In 2017, all roads that are suitable for these attractions were reconstructed and the coast of Lake Alakol was refined. In this regard, all the conditions for staying there are created for our citizens of Kazakhstan.

We have big plans for 2018. We continue to work systematically to develop infrastructure around growth points, and we continue our work to develop roadside service. This year we will work more actively with the Ministry of Agriculture, specifically with the Forestry Committee in order to develop tourism in national parks. Kazakh Tourism, which works abroad, promotes the tourist product and plans to hold seven international exhibitions, various press tours with the participation of foreign journalists, and events will be held within the framework of celebrating the 20th anniversary of Astana. It is planned to continue work on development of Shchuchinsk-Borovoe resort zone, tourism in Mangistau region, and construction of an entertainment park in Almaty region.

In conclusion, I would like to say one thing. To implement all the tasks set by the Head of State and the Government, the Committee will exert every effort to make a significant breakthrough in tourism, so that tourism actually becomes a driver of the economy and that it takes a worthy place on the world tourism map.

— Thank you for the interview.

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