Being a historical crossroad of the ancient Silk Road, Uzbekistan has always had a competitive potential in the tourism sector due to its architectural and cultural heritage well-maintained throughout the centuries and authentically passed over to new generations. After becoming an independent state with the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Uzbekistan opened its gates to international travelers from all over the world, welcoming more and more visitors to its historical monuments and sites.
However, with the world economic crisis in 2008 and the complication of the visa procedures due to the closed political approach of the ex-government of Uzbekistan, the country slowly started losing its attraction in the sight of both the world tourists and foreign investors. By failing the European travelers inbound market mainly consisting of large group tourists from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, as well as significant volumes from Japan, the USA, South Korea and other developed countries, Uzbekistan tourism sector got replaced by lower cost group-travelers from India and Pakistan.
Nevertheless, with the election of the new government headed by the current President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his remarkably open policy not only in the field of investments, international relations, but also the tourism industry with the neighboring, as well as all other countries of the world, Uzbekistan slowly started opening its doors to passionate travelers again.
How it started?
In the first place, with the aim of making traveling to Uzbekistan less bureaucratic by reducing the hassle of paperwork and long duration process of obtaining an entry visa to the country, thus raising new open policy awareness in international visitors’ minds, new government started easing visa procedures staring 2016. Since then, Uzbekistan has introduced a visa-free entry to 86 states of the world as of today, while applying considerably relaxed visa application process to others than before.
As the visa procedures started easing for foreigners in 2016, a huge flow of tourists already boomed the inbound market in 2017 continuing through the next period of 2018-2019. While trying to boost the industry in a short term, the country did not consider providing appropriate volume of services to the visitors, which caused a great lack of accommodation units, as well as the shortage of guides and tourism professionals in the country. This made the travel companies and the industry service providers turn down the requests coming from those willing to travel to Uzbekistan, as the demand was exceeding the supply, when the market was not yet ready for a rapid boost so soon.
This made the government take additional measures and find a quick resolution for the issue, such as announcing benefits and incentives for tourism sector investment. On January 5, 2019 the President of Uzbekistan issued the Decree No. PP-4095 "On Measures for Accelerated Development of the Tourism Industry”, which aimed at stimulating further development of entrepreneurial activities in the sphere of tourism infrastructure development, the implementation of investment projects for the construction of modern hotels and sanitary facilities.
In order to supply enough travel industry professionals and guides in the market, schools, academies and training exchange programs for local tourism experts are being organized in Uzbekistan in collaboration with foreign partners.
What is being made today?
Today, additionally to the activities mentioned earlier, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Uzbekistan headed by the Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Aziz Abdukhakimov is actively working on both designing new tourist destinations in the country, as well as promoting Uzbekistan’s tourism potential in the international market.
Among the measures of creating new travel destinations in the country, ecotourism, winter sports tourism, gastronomy tourism, village tours, pilgrimage tourism and others could be highlighted. In order to promote the existing and newly developed tourist routes, as well as other activities in this regard, representatives of the tourism industry of Uzbekistan are actively participating in international fairs, exhibitions and other events all over the world. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Uzbekistan has also started actively collaborating with well-known international publications, magazines and mass media channels, such as BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian and as well as famous Instagram and YouTube bloggers, where you can find a series of informative and promotional illustrated articles, news video materials dedicated to the travel industry of Uzbekistan now actively spread throughout the internet and media channels to easy and broad access of the world audience.
Being known for high costs of international flights due to the monopoly and lack of competitiveness in the market, Uzbekistan was not able to offer better rates for international passengers. To be able to provide more affordable rates to visitors, negotiations on cooperation with new international airline companies are being held today, including low-cost airlines companies such as Pegasus, SkyUp Airlines, Fly Arystan, FlyNas, Windrose Airlines and others.
Based on the intensives offered by the government, along with famous international hotel chains opening not only in the capital city Tashkent, but also in the regions of Uzbekistan that previously lacked high level hotels, a number of hostels and guest houses are also being created to fit unique preferences of all kinds of travelers. Now adventurous travelers willing to experience the local culture and everyday lifestyle of Uzbek people have more options and opportunities to explore local culture in its pure and genuine way, while low-budget tourists can save their budget for their next destination.
Among the well-known international hotels Hyatt Regency Tashkent, Hilton Tashkent, Wyndham Tashkent, Courtyard by Marriott Tashkent, Ramada by Wyndham Tashkent and others could be listed.
Handling the pandemic
As the COVID-19 Pandemic entered our doorsteps unexpectedly, like the rest of the world tourism community, Uzbekistan also started taking necessary measures by being both creative and efficient in providing health and safety measures for travelers during these fragile period. One of such projects include introducing “Uzbekistan. Safe Travel GUARANTEED” international certification program to ensure tourists remain safe during their visit to historical and cultural objects of the country. Unlike some other destinations, Uzbekistan chose to stay flexible in approach to the visitors PCR test requirements upon arrival at the airport / medical centers in addition to the one made 72 hours prior to the flight by canceling them, unless such a necessity occurs.
When to expect the results
As a result of active and aggressive measures on promoting the inbound travel market of Uzbekistan worldwide, the growth of tourist flow had quickly and significantly enhanced by the years of 2018-2019 already. However, with the unexpected strike of the COVID-19 pandemic in all over the world and due to the major economic crisis it has caused to the businesses and civilians, the volumes decreased down to 100% are now slowly recovering by 10-20 % in average only. According to the data received by the local experts and tourism industry representatives in the local market, the plans and bookings of tourists are being made for the year of 2022 mainly, rather than 2021.
While future results of the government’s measures are subject to the general stabilization of the financial and safety conditions like in all other destinations and industries, Uzbek government is not giving up on putting efforts and investing in project with the aim of boosting the tourism industry of the country regardless the pandemic situation remaining stable in the world.
Hopefully, with the vaccination of the majority population on the planet and step by step stabilization of the economic situation in the countries, Uzbekistan will start harvesting the fruits of its contribution to the industry with the start of the next year 2022 and on.