Inbound tourism: what makes foreigners visit Kazakhstan
First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev in his State-of-the-Nation Address “Growing Welfare of Kazakh Citizens: Increase in Income and Quality of Life” instructed to pay special attention to the development of inbound and domestic tourism and use Kazakhstan’s rich natural and cultural potential. In the exclusive interview with Kazakh Tourism Chairperson Urken Bisakayev, the Strategy2050 Information Agency knew about main reasons that make foreigners visit Kazakhstan and the country’s peculiarities that will help develop inbound tourism.
- What are the top 5 tourist destinations famous among foreigners in Kazakhstan?
- From the standpoint of promotion, Almaty and Almaty region, Nur-Sultan and the Burabay resort, alongside Shymkent and Turkestan are considered most readily tourist destinations of the day. 80% of all the efforts to attract foreign tourists will focus on these destinations, 20% - elsewhere.
The top 5 attractive tourist destinations are as follows:
1. Almaty and Almaty region – the megapolis with its exceptional ambiance and urban life and the region with its natural diversity from sandy deserts to icy peaks;
2. Nur-Sultan and Burabay – the young capital with the modern architecture and the resort zone with picturesque landscapes;
3. Shymkent and Turkestan – unseen hospitality, rich gastronomic experience, an opportunity to dip into the past and experience the history of the Great Silk Road;
4. Mangystau region – the coastline of the Caspian Sea and Martian landscape of the Ustyurt Plateau;
5. Eastern Kazakhstan – incredible nature of the Altay mountains – the cradle to Turkic civilization with ancient kurgans and sacred sites.
- How should Kazakhstan deal with the issues of tourism to reach the world average?
- Talking of the tourism sector, it is not about one major issues, usually it is about a set of issues. Tourism relates to many other sectors coordinated work of which defines the effectiveness of the sector.
The Government actively works on this area, for instance, take the initiatives included in the sectoral tourism state program for 2019-2025, particularly:
the roll-out of e-visas enabling relaxation of receiving entry visas in Kazakhstan. The system will continue being worked out and improved, but that is a start;
in certain cities and regions with bigger tourist flows tourist police is allowed to serve not only to ensure safety of foreign and domestic tourists, but also to provide professional consultations on different issues, navigation and interaction with other police units and other structures to deal with the issues tourists might face;
the implementation of the initiative to subsidy free-of-charge air travel of children under 16 years old 1+2 Kids go free (2 children for 1 parent) provided in holidays at Kazakh resorts. Such a measure will allow a family of 5 people to save 100 thousand tenge on average when resting within the country.
This will also be the case in border checkpoints intended to be as effective as possible when passing neighboring borders.
The 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index ranked Kazakhstan 81st from 136 countries, gradually improving its position (85th – in 2015, 88th – in 2013) and showing the favorable business doing environment of the country. There have been improvements in health and hygiene over the last years, and the country is now more competitive in terms of prices and security.
While, weaker positions are due to lower rates in terms of international openness, effective marketing and branding, quality service, effective natural resources use, State aid and priority of the tourism sector, transport infrastructure, and so on.
This ranking embraces the aspects in need for improvement. It is also of special notice that the 2017 ranking used the data of 2016 as it comes out once in two years. Accordingly, on certain pillars such as international openness the position is improving through the visa-free regime and 72-hour transit introduced in 2017-2018. Also, there are improvements on State aid and priority of the sector.
It is also important to aware would-be markets as it is often reiterated that tourists who are familiar with our country have no idea on something to do in Kazakhstan.
We believe that a focus should be placed on promoting, upskilling the market players, as well as creating the conditions to attract investments and digitalization.
We recognize that there is a lot of work that remains to be done, as well as many issues to be solved. Tourism is not only about beautiful places but also about quality service, security, and many others.
- Is the marketing campaign going well? How actively tour operators are engaged in promoting the image of the country?
- It is of great importance to actively promote Kazakhstan as a tourist destination in target countries through state-of-the-art communications tools: from traditional ways – magazines, television, outdoor advertising to digital channels – social networks and tourist websites.
We can observe the successful experience of our neighbors such as Azerbaijan, which within a short time got fast results by means of advertising on television and internet media, anchor events, as well as through the heavy branding of the country.
There will be 360-degree work so as to embrace the entire route of the potential tourist. That is the only way foreign tourists become aware of our country, get interested, buy tours, arrive and discover it. Now Kazakhstan is terra incognito on the world map of tourism.
In 2017, Kazakhstan hosted the Winter Universiade in Almaty and EXPO 2017 in Nur-Sultan. These two events significantly boosted the sector’s development, it is primarily because Kazakhstan became recognized as a tourist destination.
Since then National Company Kazakh Tourism has been established which is responsible for promoting the country. Great work has been done within a year and a half, with key events held, as well as info-tours, blog-tours and expeditions involving over 30 travel bloggers from different countries, 3000 images and 5 hours of footage were collected, the country-specific tourist website Kazakhstan.travel was restarted and much more. The video on Euronews, the programs on Kazakh TV, NTV, Russia 1 and other TV channels should be singled out for mention. The total budget was at around 1.2 million US dollars.
Most events were done on a partnership basis without spending budgetary funds, including starting programs of Kazakh ambassadors, advertisements at train stations and airports of Kazakhstan, creating “acquaintance with Kazakhstan” headings in the on-board entertainment programs of Air Astana’s aircraft and trains of Kazakh Temir Zholy (Kazakhstan Railways – author’s note), and others.
To forward the country great attention and coordination of spending are needed, as well as cooperation with regional tourism offices, consolidation of efforts, joint participation at exhibitions, road shows, and so on. Coordinating efforts with other central bodies and national companies to some extend relating to our potential audience is also required. Such work has started and will be strengthened once the State program’s implementation starts. Indeed, the promotion funds have to meet the current realties of global competitiveness. By comparison, Australia – 130 million US dollars, the UAE – 40 million US dollars, Iceland – 105 million US dollars and Georgia – 14 million US dollars, in percentage term, the mentioned countries’ promotion spendings are up to 4-5% of the overall revenue from inbound tourism, meanwhile Kazakhstan’s promotion spendings are less than 1% at central and regional levels.
As for tour operators, those engaged in inbound tourism are not many, whilst their number is growing. And it is not their work to promote the country’s image as they are busy forwarding their tour products. It is possible on the global scale if only players – tour operators’ representatives, hotels, thematic parks and shopping malls form the so-called DMC (Destination marketing company) by attracting foreign partners. Such companies are showing up in Almaty and Nur-Sultan.
- How much does a Kazakh citizen spend on vacation on average in Kazakhstan and abroad?
- The data on spendings of household on trips in Kazakhstan for 2017 (the selected sample followed by the frame: visitors number – per population, expenditure data – per householders number) from the Kazakh National Economy Ministry’s Statistics Committee indicate that on average a Kazakh citizen when planning a trip abroad spends around 160 thousand tenge, 85 thousand tenge of which is spent before travelling (i.e. within Kazakhstan). And, on average 61 thousand tenge is spend on rest in Kazakhstan (per 11 552 053 people, including 8 602 769 domestic trips and 2 949 284 exit trips).
- Among known definitions of travel are backpacking, downshifting, volunteering, hobo, hitchhiking, hiking. How can you describe Kazakh tourism?
- To describe Kazakh tourism, the so-called 4-e concept can be used stemming from four types of tourism:
Eco – ecotourism which combines active and adventure rest;
Ethno – ethnographic tourism based on the rich culture and traditions of our people, cuisine, and so on;
Events – event tourism, that is visits to different festivals, conferences, exhibitions and other events;
Entertainment – entertainment tourism.
- What is the level of responsibility of English-language tour guides in Kazakhstan?
- An English-language tour guide has to combine the professional skills of an interpreter and a tour guide. On top of excellent language knowledge, the tour guide has to be well informed of the history, national and political circumstances of the country he does tours. The guide’s knowledge has to be sufficient to be able to adequately and correctly respond all questions of tourists.
Kazakhstan lacks tour guides and their preparation quality remains among the issues of tourism development. Special attention should be placed to the lack of qualified guides with foreign language skills. On top of that, guide-interpreters still provide their services illegally in Kazakhstan, which are not supervised.
To increase the level and quality of tourist services, including these of tour guides in Kazakhstan, 20 March 2019 in Nur-Sultan under the governmental decree non-for-profit joint stock company International Tourism and Hospitality University using examples of the best world universities was established.
As part of the state program’s implementation, upskilling is planned to be done through seminars and master classes for guides, hotel business workers to train them new competences and skills, introduce compulsory certification for guides, guide-interpreters, and listing specialists in tourism in the Bolashak internship program.
This year Kazakh Tourism embarks on conducting training sessions in a pilot mode among hotel and restaurant workers, further expanding it, as well as opening training centers at each of the top 10 priority tourist areas.
- How does Kazakhstan cooperate with Central Asia region’s countries for developing tourism?
- The modern trends show there are no boundaries for tourists. They head for Europe, Asia, Africa, and pick several destinations over a certain country. Many also are interested in visiting the countries along the Great Silk Road or Central Asia, not separately Kazakhstan. Therefore, we actively work with our neighbors.
As you know, the 2018 year marked the year of Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan and celebrated several events, including tourism development, resulting in operating trans-border tours. This can be considered a beginning. We should focus on the routes, that could link Kazakhstan with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and other countries.
Also, last year as part of the meeting of tourism ministers of the Turkic Council’s member countries, a dialogue took place to launch and start commercializing the draft joint tour product “Modern Silk Road”. The unified visa “Silk Road visa” along the Silk Road is under negotiation.
In late 2018 the Forum of Inter-Regional Cooperation of Kazakhstan and Russia with the Heads of State in attendance was held with tourism co-development at stake. It is also planned to carry out joint projects, among them staring Caspian Sea cruise trips.
- What about Kazakhstan and cities’ rates in security of foreign tourists?
- The late January 2019 Global Finance survey revealed Kazakhstan was placed 44th in the rankings of the safest countries in the world, behind Japan (43rd), Bulgaria (42nd), and Botswana (41st) and Italy (40th).
The ranking shows Kazakhstan is ahead of the USA (65th), China (81st), Turkey (107th) and Russia (108th).
Kazakhstan is positioned as a country with the stable political and economic situation. Another thing is how we spread this information to potential tourists.
- Tell us the most popular expectations among tourists?
- Modern tourists are well prepared before setting out on a journey, especially when opening new destinations like Kazakhstan. Social networks, tourist websites such as TripAdvisor come in handy to understand what to expect in any destination.
It is crucial not to build up expectations of tourists. All publicity and promotion materials should focus on presenting tourists with relevant and adequate information. Thus, disadvantages could be turned into advantages, for instance the lack of heat conditions could be offered as adventure destinations, that is adventure tourism.
There are complaints from foreign tourists about the registration mechanism in the migration bodies. The existing system requires a compulsory registration of foreign citizens within Kazakhstan (except certain countries) and holds those who violate the staying terms administratively responsible, removing from the flight and imposing fines, including administrative court and detention.
All positive impressions are thwarted once tourists find themselves in such situations.
That is why the state program provides for liberalization of the migration regime taking into consideration and making a priority of national security. One of the mechanisms is the introduction of e-hotel and mobile apps enabling to establish due migration control while staying within Kazakhstan, as well as to turn down the requirement regarding the invitation of foreigners, the migration card and exempt foreigners from compulsory registration.
It is panned to keep humanizing the penalty system for migration legislation offences, especially for those who first entered such a situation, merely receiving verbal warnings.
For reference: As of today, out of 60 countries enjoying visa-free entry, citizens of only 49 countries are automatically granted a registration in the migration bodies at passport control. The remaining 11 countries, including Hong-Kong and Argentina, as well as other countries that require a visa registration in Kazakhstan, have to undertake additional registration in the corresponding migration bodies.
- Did Dimash influenced tourism in Kazakhstan? Tell us if his name can be used to attract tourists and develop the image of the country?
- Dimash Kudaibergen is the first Tourism Ambassador of Kazakhstan and the reason why we embarked on the program of ambassadors. Dimash and his famous “Welcome to Kazakhstan” after each performance encourages his listeners to discover Kazakhstan.
Last year the promo-tour “Motherland of Dimash” involving the leaders of his fan movements from 10 countries took place. These movements involve over 5 million people.
The popularity of our singer increasingly grows as well as his fan base. We hope this tour will be a flagship product for Kazakhstan. This year his summer shows in Aktobe and Almaty are expected to be visited by 5000 fans from Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, France, Germany and other countries.
- Thank you for the interview!
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