“We will probably double the number of tourists in 2018. This is a great achievement for us”. This is how my conversation started with Abdulaziz Akkulov, the new Acting Chairman of the State Committee of Uzbekistan for development of tourism, during the First International Tourism Investment Forum (19-20 November 2018).
“We organised this 2 days event in order to expand international cooperation in the tourism development, attract direct investment and promote the country’s tourism opportunities among potential investors and guests of Uzbekistan” explained enthusiastically Akkulov.
During two days, business representatives from 48 countries and 30 international media had the chance to discover over 500 investment projects from the 12 Uzbek regions.
“In Samarkand we have currently 36 projects in the field of tourism. Hotels, sports and health centers, theme park, eco park, polo clubs. You name it and we have it“ said Dilshod Narzikulov, First Deputy Director from the Samarkand Region.
Samarkand is currently the second most visited city in Uzbekistan. The first one remains Tashkent. In 2017, the country welcomed 2.69 million tourists. In the first 9 months of 2018, the number of foreign visitors amounted to 4.4 million people compared to 2.2 million in the same period of 2017. The goal remains to pass the 5 million figure. The ambition of the country goes way beyond. Uzbekistan plans to bring the number of foreign tourists visiting the country to 9.09 million by 2026, according to a presidential decree.
In the last year, the country took many steps to in order to make it easier for visitors to come. The most emblematic example is the introduction of electronic visas last July 15, 2018. This measure became a significant impetus for the development of inbound tourism in Uzbekistan. In just 4 months of operation, about 195 000 electronic visas were issued to citizens of 49 countries.
Another interesting measure is the Silk Roads Visa. “This is an analogue of the Schengen visa, only between the countries of Central Asia” stressed Akkulov. This measure will allow to target a specific audience willing to discover the Silk Roads cities – such as Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara. There is also room for those who seek to experience a night in the Uzbek desert, like the nomads did in the glorious period of the silk roads. That is what Dilbar Karimberdiyeva, owner of the Ayaz-Kala yurtcamp, is trying, with success, to recreate.
2018 will remain as important year in the Uzbek collective memory. This is the year where they became the main touristic player in Central Asia.