Almaty Wants to Develop Tourism Further, Serve as National Model

June 08. The Astana Times. ALMATY

By Olga Malakhova

Almaty Wants to Develop Tourism Further, Serve as National ModelKazakhstan’s so-called southern capital and its biggest city continues to remain one of the top draws for tourists, both foreign and domestic. And it was not surprising that during a recent government session the discussion centred on developing infrastructure for tourism, with the goal of increasing the number of visitors to the city of 1.5 million people located at the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains.

Around 1,500 tourist agencies operate in Kazakhstan, 832 of which are located in Almaty, representing 55 percent of the entire tourist agency industry.

In 2011, six million people visited Almaty, of whom 40 percent were foreigners, according to data provided by customs agencies. Overall, 82,000 tourists used tour agencies, including inbound and domestic tourists. In Kazakhstan, outbound travel exceeds inbound by 60 percent (80 percent and 20 percent accordingly).

Despite the potential of the tourism sphere, its contribution to the GDP is less than one percent. To help promote tourism, authorities are working to simplify and streamline the process of obtaining visas. The Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working on cancelling visa requirements for 34 countries.

“Having information about city sights available on mobile phones and electronic terminals, ensuring safety, simplifying the visa regime, creating convenient infrastructure and regulating the pricing policy in hotels and restaurants – all of these should be developed and improved to comply with the principles of ‘speed’, ‘service’, ‘safety’, ‘stability’ and ‘cost’, mentioned by President Nazarbayev at the 25th plenary meeting of the Foreign Investors Council,” Akhmetzhan Yessimov, mayor of Almaty, stressed at the meeting.

“Tourism is an attribute of a developed state and this should be understood by the people of the country. It is necessary to shape a correct, hospitable community attitude toward Kazakhstan’s guests,” Yessimov said.

Director of the Kazakhstan Tourist Association Rashida Shaikenova commented that representatives of tourist agencies have asked customs staff to smile more often in order to make security procedures more pleasant for foreign guests, especially at peak night hours, when many foreign flights arrive and depart the airport.

Mukhit Saimasayev, a top official at the Ministry of Industry and New Technologies noted: “The city of Almaty, which achieved visible results, could serve a model for organising an industry of hospitality.”

“Currently, Almaty is the main destination for foreign visitors. According to President Nazarbayev, the tourist model of Almaty should be implemented all over the country, in every city. Today, one of the projects to promote tourism in Almaty, implementing existing resources, is to build the Kok-Zhailyau ski resort in accordance with international standards,” Yessimov noted.

To attract tourists, hotels, restaurants and shops should develop discount policies to use during major international, national and local events.

As the mayor of Almaty has stated, one of Kazakhstan’s major challenges to encouraging tourism is the disparity between the prices of services offered by its hotels and restaurants and their quality.

“Our city is among the most expensive cities in Kazakhstan, and that reality does not positively contribute to increasing the number of tourists,” he said.

It was decided that the city’s Department of Internal Affairs should develop a system that would facilitate searches for information on locations for foreigners and should contain street names and other data points in Latin transcriptions as well as information in Kazakh and Russian.

Moreover, to promote interest and disseminate knowledge about upcoming events, schedules of conferences, sessions, seminars and other events should be presented annually. As noted at the meetings, Kazakhstan should promote existing national holidays such as the Day of the Apple, the Day of Baursaks (one of Kazakhstan’s national dishes, similar to fried doughnuts), and the Festival of Flowers, not only among Kazakhstan’s citizens but among CIS and overseas residents as well.

Another discussion topic was the necessity of restoring famous old places, which may play a significant role in attracting visitors looking for nostalgia tourism, which is increasingly popular.