BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Attendees discussed at the Discovery Central Asia Travel Forum 2012 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the need for a single entry visa for all Central Asian republics and the formation of a Central Asian Tourism Board (CATB) to mitigate implements being faced by Central Asian countries in the field of expansion of their tourism base.
The ex-President of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, gave the keynote address to 300 delegates from 15 countries representing 200 organizations at the opening ceremony of the Discovery Central Asia Travel Forum 2012. The forum took place on April 28-29 at Bishkek, in Kyrgyzstan, and is considered to be the first ever travel forum held in the Kyrgyz Republic.
The proposals of a formation of a Central Asian Tourism Board (CATB) and single entry visa for all Central Asian Republics was forwarded by The Region Initiative (TRI) in a paper presented by TRI Country Representative of Kyrgyzstan Mr. Marat Daniel.
Attendees from Australia to Japan and Tajikistan, from the USA and the UK to Uzbekistan, also heard from the Deputy Minister for Culture and Tourism of the Kyrgyz Republic, Bakyt Kenenbaev, and 28 other speakers proposing new ways to develop Central Asia’s visitor economy.
The forum was divided into four themed sessions on education, inbound tourism, outbound tourism, and hospitality. Ideas suggested included:
– Collaboration between airlines and tour operators offering Central Asian students discounted flights paid for by internships in the tourism industry
– Making use of free social media such as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to help better shape Central Asia’s external narrative, in the absence of major investment in international marketing
– Improving facilities and infrastructure at tourist destinations
– Promoting and distributing Central Asian products around the world to help improve the appeal of the region
– Greater emphasis in the region’s universities on Turkic peoples’s studies, to promote academic collaboration
– International literary and art festivals, celebrating local icons such as Igor Savitsky and Chyngyz Aitmatov
There were presentations on outbound tourism tendencies, as well as opportunities to visit Italy, and educational opportunities abroad for Central Asian students.
Problems in the current visitor economy that were discussed included difficulties for Central Asians in obtaining visas to travel, while for foreign visitors the idea of a single regional visa was raised, as well as the inability to book online in advance at mini-hotels. In the proposal of The Region Initiative that was written by its President, Agha Iqrar Haroon, and presented by Marat Daniel, it was said that one visa regime for North Americans, Australians, and Europeans can boost Central Asian tourism and multiply tourism revenue of all Central Asian republics.
The proposal further maintained that this is possible if there is strong connectivity among tourism ministries of all these countries, and this can be achieved by setting up a Central Asian Tourism Board (CATB) comprised of tourism authorities of all Central Asian countries.
The global lack of awareness about what Central Asia has to offer was also discussed, as was the need to attract more international educational experts to assist local students, and difficulties in supplying universities with textbooks in English and for tourism studies.
An exhibition of arts and crafts was also a part of the forum that included a photographic display. Both days of the forum concluded with fashion shows, which included Central Asian ethno-graphic designs.
The Discovery Central Asia Travel Forum 2012 was organized by Silk Road Media, a London-based international company, which dedicated the forum to ten years of Discovery Central Asia, the company’s first publication that brought Central Asia to the world, later followed by further travel magazines, digests, and travel guides, as well as the publication of Central Asian literature in English.
Marat Akhmedjanov, publisher at Silk Road Media, said: “It’s been over 20 years since the independence of the Central Asian states, which are now among the fastest-growing economic regions in the world, and with young populations. We need to make sure that different sectors work together to help realize the incredible potential of the people, culture, and landscapes of this region.”
Attendees and support came from a wide range of organizations, including Mir Television; the Ural State University of Economics; Namba Media; the American University of Central Asia; K2 Sport Club; bmi airlines; Coca-Cola; News-Asia; the Kyrgyz Academy of Tourism and Sport; The Region Initiative; Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan; Supara Ethno Complex; the International Association for Science; Economics and Commercial students (AISEC); Kyrgyz Youth Resource Centre; Bishkek Business Club; Kyrgyz Association of Tour Operators (KATO); Tajikistan Association of Tour Operators (TATO); Kyrgyzstan-Turkey Manas University; Pamirs Eco-Tourism Association (PECTA); Helvetas Swiss Inter-cooperation; Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA); Avalon Historico-Geographical Society of Kazakhstan; and Air Astana.