Kazakhstan is committed to the development of domestic tourism, offering a multitude of sacred and culturally significant destinations for tourists to explore. From the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Turkistan, to the landscapes of Lake Balkhash, Kazakhstan's rich heritage and nature captivate travelers seeking unique experiences within its borders.
In his annual address, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has repeatedly emphasized the importance of developing domestic tourism. This commitment encompasses various initiatives such as "Kids Go Free" and cashback programs, prioritizing the construction of essential infrastructure, and the training of skilled professionals to support the tourism sector.
One of the recent events delving into the development of Kazakhstan’s domestic as well as international tourism took place in Turkistan. Held on October 12, The forum titled “Turkistan – Tourist Capital of Turkic World” primarily focused on fostering mutually beneficial cooperation and introducing the historic city as the upcoming capital of the Turkic world in 2024.
The event brought together a diverse array of participants, including representatives from the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the Akimat of the Turkistan Region, tourist administrations from Turkic countries, central and local government bodies, stakeholders in the tourism industry, and public organizations within Kazakhstan.
QazMonitor interviewed some of the distinguished speakers on the significance of the sacred city as a touristic landmark, as well as the current and potential measures to fully unleash the city’s potential as a go-to destination for travelers.
Prioritizing mutual collaboration
Numerous speakers at the forum emphasized the largely untapped potential that Turkistan represents as the forthcoming tourism capital of the Turkic world, highlighting its rich cultural heritage, historic significance, and the immense possibilities it presents as a future tourism hub.
The event was not just a platform for discussing the city’s potential but also a catalyst for fostering closer ties among Turkic nations. Prioritizing mutually advantageous collaboration was a recurring theme, with many speakers stressing the importance of implementing comprehensive tourism initiatives to bolster the tourism sector across the Turkic world.
Discussions extended to the prospect of new flight routes to Turkistan, signaling a commitment to enhance connectivity and accessibility to this culturally enriched city.
New comprehensive measures
During the forum, Vice-Minister of Tourism and Sports, Yerzhan Yerkinbayev, proposed a series of initiatives and comprehensive measures.
1. Expanding Flight Routes: Increasing the number of flight routes between major cities of member states and observer states of the OTS.
2. Joint Tour Products: The creation of joint tour products, intensification of efforts to establish partnerships, and the development of the modern Silk Road tour route.
3. Tabarruk Ziyorat Project: The continued development of the "Tabarruk Ziyorat" pilot project between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
4. Marathon Alliance: Establishing a marathon alliance among the OTS member-countries for the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, cultural exchange, and the stimulation of tourism.
5. Educational Initiatives: Creating a league of universities specialized in tourism and hospitality education within the OTS to bolster the professional competence of students, vital for successful careers in the tourism sector.
6. Marketing and Promotion: Facilitating the exchange of experience in marketing and the promotion of the tourism potential of the OTS member-countries.
Vice-Minister Yerkinbayev concluded his speech by emphasizing the significance of the 'Tourist Capital of the Turkic World' initiative. This initiative serves as a means to unlock the tourism potential of cities along the Great Silk Road and facilitate a deeper understanding of each other's cultural and traditional values, thereby bringing the peoples of Turkic countries closer.
What do experts say?
QazMonitor reporter talked with the forum’s distinguished speakers, delving deeper into the current state of tourism in Turkistan, the experiences of other Turkic nations in the field of tourism, and the pivotal measures required to cultivate and expand the tourism sector within the region.
As the forum unfolded, Asker Piriyev, a member of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan and the Head of the Akhyska Turkish Ethno-Cultural Association in Astana, shared his impressions. He applauded Kazakh Tourism for the organization of the event and praised the distinguished speakers, hailing the importance of these forums in illuminating the untold facets of culture, spirituality, and history in Central Asia and the Turkic world.
In an interview with Qazmonitor, he added that such forums provide an excellent platform for discussing these topics.
What are your thoughts after hearing the speakers' presentations?
To make something positive happen, we need three components: thinking, speaking, and taking action. We have passed the first stage, now we are in the midst of the third, but the second stage is also crucial and should be ongoing. We should consistently discuss this on various platforms and make new discoveries. I saw the statistics from Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan; they demonstrated tourism potential with significant growth. I believe it should be mutual. With shared growth dynamics among Turkic nations, we can unlock substantial potential in all senses: economically, culturally, spiritually and morally. So, let's think positively, speak positively, and turn everything into action.
In your opinion, what travel experiences can we adopt from other Turkic countries to foster tourism development in Turkistan?
Uzbekistan is very close to us, our neighboring country, and I believe they are ahead of us in terms of tourist routes. There is much for us to learn from them.
Another example is Azerbaijan hosting Formula 1 races in Baku. Such significant international events are vital for us. Perhaps, we may not need to host such events in Turkistan itself, as the city itself is full of history, it is a complete encyclopedia. Our focus should be on enhancing [tourist] routes, improving infrastructure, and offering convenient opportunities for visitors.
Tourism is already on the rise, with no decline, we observe only positive dynamics, but our continuous efforts are necessary to support it.
Sevda Aliyeva, the Director of the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau, shared her experiences with Qazmonitor and offered practical insights into how to boost tourism in Turkistan.
In your presentation, you discussed Shamakhi's experience in tourism. How do you think this experience can be applied in Turkistan?
I believe that raising awareness among potential tourists about what Turkistan has to offer should be the first step. To achieve this, various informative events, festivals, exhibitions, familiarization tours, and media tours should be organized. Perhaps, you could consider introducing sports-related events, like the marathon discussed during [the 8th meeting of tourism ministers of the OTS countries] yesterday. Another measure is to plan an ideal route for runners and organize a complementary program to combine everything. Informative brochures and websites should be created, and then this content can be used on international and regional platforms to spread information.
What kind of people do you think should be invited?
Begin with the media, particularly targeting tourism media, bloggers, tourism experts who sell packages, travel agencies, and promoters. Start with this audience, and then move on to actual tourists.
What is your impression of Turkistan and the forum as a whole?
I have visited Kazakhstan several times, and I have always been impressed by the hospitality and the exceptional organization of events. I thought it would be hard to surprise me even more in Kazakhstan, but Turkistan managed to do so. I was impressed by the way we were welcomed, and by the educational, cultural, and entertainment program they organized for us.
I loved the city, especially the people and the atmosphere. The forum itself has been very productive because we discussed all the important issues within the framework of the OTS. I believe that the recommendations and all the projects that we discussed will benefit all the member states of the OTS.
Aiko Token, the Founder of Visit Turkistan, talked to QazMonitor on the current state of tourism in the city and the initiatives that are currently being implemented in Turkistan.
In your speech, you mentioned that you have already trained 50 tourist guides in Turkistan. Can you tell us more about how you involve local residents in tourism?
We have a program where we train local residents. The photos I shared during my speech were from our pilot project, ‘Raziya Apay's House’. Raziya Apay, a local resident, had a shed that she used for storing old summer kitchen equipment. It had a very rustic feel, with wooden windows and a furnace, like in traditional villages. I told Raziya Apay, "Let us help you renovate, install air conditioning, and you can gather ethnographic materials from the village."
We divided the tasks, she collected everything, and now we bring tourists there. She invites them for tea, shows them her antique album, and shares stories. Naturally, she is compensated for each such visit. On one hand, it provides her with an additional income on weekends, and on the other, she gets to interact with people. We are implementing a similar model with a workshop that produces tandoor ovens in Turkistan and we are currently working on a similar project with local craftsmen.
What tangible results of tourism development do you currently see in Turkistan?
From what I personally observe, there has been good progress in the corporate sector. Last year, we launched ‘Kazakh Quest’, a form of corporate team-building. Honestly, it was an experiment for us, but Kazakh Tourism has been a great help. Over the past year, 200-300 people have attended our full-day corporate events in Turkistan. It takes place at the archaeological park, where they complete this quest. On the one hand, they delve into history; and on the other hand, they engage in team-building exercises.
What are your goals for Visit Turkistan in the next few years?
For us, Visit Turkistan was a way to create a sustainable business that allows us to conduct research. Essentially, we commercialize research through tourism.
We hope that a significant number of people coming to Turkistan understand why they are visiting. You cannot come here, simply walk up to the mausoleum, stroll around, and then turn around and leave. That would be sacrilege. If you scratch the surface, everything here breathes history. I hope many people will come here for that very reason.
What does this forum mean for Turkistan?
In the wake of the ‘Turkistan - Tourism Capital of Turkic World’ forum, it is evident that a dynamic synergy between nations of the Turkic world is on the horizon. This gathering laid the foundation for productive partnerships, harnessing the untapped potential of cultural, spiritual, and historical treasures across Central Asia. This potential and the unique blend of ancient traditions and modern opportunities for tourists make it obvious why the city is getting more international exposure and acclaim.
On October 11th, during the 8th meeting of tourism ministers of the OTS countries, the proposal designating Turkistan as the capital of the Turkic world for 2024 was approved. The official announcement of this decision is scheduled for the upcoming Summit of the Heads of States of the OTS.