TOURISM IN THE KYRGYZ REPUBLIC
Like Hawaii is to the United States, the tourism sector of theKyrgyz Republic is very important to the central asian nation and hasconsiderable prestige throughout the former Soviet Union. During the yearsit was part of the U.S.S.R., it was ranked among the most desirable ofSoviet tourism destinations, right up there with places like the Crimeaand the Black Sea.
A plethora of tourist accommodation facilities abound;hotels, pensions, rest homes, children's camps, students' and sportscamps, trekking bases and lodges, mountaineering bases and camps,sanatoriums, and health resorts. As the amount of these facilitiesincrease, so too will the tourism industry grow in the Kyrgyz Republic.
From the State Tourism Agency of the Kyrgyz Republic, there are 61hotels, 64 pensions, 13 rest homes, 35 children's camps, 13 students' andsports camps, 16 trekking bases and lodges, 3 mountaineering bases andcamps, and 23 sanatoriums and health resorts. Seventy percent of alltourist accommodation is offered in the Issyk-Kul area, a popular placewithin the Kyrgyz Republic. Since the 1970's, more than 500,000 touristscame to Lake Issyk-Kul every year, with the exception of 1991, which hadhalf as many tourist come due to the dislocation and economic hardshipthroughout the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that year. Most ofthe tourists that travel there came from the former soviet republics, sothe economic shock that year to the tourist industry was not surprising.However, there has been a sharp decrease in tourists for children's camps,students' and sport camps, and sanatoriums, as the "number of visitorsto these facilities in 1997 was about one-tenth of the 1988 level." (OECD,p.129) Tourism spots in the southern part of the Kyrgyz Republic, whichusually appeals only to people from countries in Central Asia, are alsovery sensitive to economic instability in the former Soviet Union.
Although the number of visitors has fallen sharply, the overalleconomic health of tourism facilities is difficult to determine. Around 90percent of the facilities remain in the hands of state bodies thatsubsidize them from other income. This is considered a drain on nationalbudgetary resources and an invitation to slack, inefficient andunimaginative management. The government is thus eager to promoteprivatization, in the belief that this will promote diversification andimprove services and efficiency while also reducing budgetary liabilities.Caution in privatization of tourism has also been driven "by anunderstanding that the Kyrgyz Republic's tourism properties are among thenation's most precious -- and most irreplaceable-- endowments." (OECD,p.130) Research has been conducted into the possibility of encouraging morebusiness from Western nations. The best bet for tourist growth is probablythe mountaineering and other adventure tourism. With the Kyrgyz Republic'smountains and valleys and relatively dry and sunny climate,travelers can see "lawns covered with edelweiss, watch the ibex andthe legendary Marco Polo sheep and - although with some good luck,gaze at the rare snow leopard." (www.bishkek) Tourists can also cometo the Kyrgyz Republic for trekking,climbing, hunting, horse riding,skiing, white water rafting and heli-skiing. With its position on the SilkRoute and the possibility of regional vacation trips which travelthrough the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan and China, its tourist industrycould be revitalized. (OECD, p. 131)
However, these adventure and business tourism trips are relativelyexpensive for Western travelers, due to the location of the KyrgyzRepublic. Just the air fare alone limits the kind of travelers this nationcould cater to. Thus, this market is small and appeals mostly to therelatively affluent. Yet, the Kyrgyz Republic has already started to caterto this market by way of the new Ak-Keme Hotel in Bishkek, a hotel thatwas built for the rich. (OECD, p. 131)
Western standards of service in tourism are relatively rare in thecountry, and a number of tourist services companies have sprung up, somewith foreign participation, who have spotted a gap in the tourist market.Many cater not only to the holiday tourist, but also to the businesstourist, "offering car-hire, visa services, short and long termaccommodation, translators and interpreters, and general informationservices." (OECD, p.131) These enterprises are in effect importingwestern standards of service and doing very well. Helping them areimproved air routes by airline companies. There are now direct scheduledconnections to major cities of Europe, like London, Frankfurt andIstanbul.
The contribution of western companies in the airline, rent-a-car,hotel industries in the Kyrgyz Republic is very important. From thesecompanies as well as the established accommodation facilities, the level ofservice associated with western-style tourism will spread into all thetourist locations within the Kyrgyz Republic. Tourist spots like Lake Issyk-Kul will be very popular to attracting investment from companies,and hopefully this will promote investment in other areas that theKyrgyz government would like to see, such as in infrastructure and foreignaid. Thus we finally observe how important the tourism industry is to theKyrgyz Republic, as it is an impetus to other forms of foreign investment.
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