Expo 2017 Welcomes The World To Astana
Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, and the host city of the next Expo, has been rapidly developing and preparing to welcome a massive influx of visitors in the run-up to Expo 2017.
The construction of a new international terminal at Astana Airport is currently underway. This will make it possible to increase the passenger traffic to seven million people a year, which is twice as much as the current capacity of the airport. A new, modern railway station will also be built in the city. Once operational, the passenger traffic will increase significantly, reaching 12 million people. By May 2017, the city plans to have some 15,975 operational rooms in hotels and hostels.
Rapil Zhoshybayev, Astana Expo-2017 commissioner, who sits at the helm of this exciting project, tells us more in an exclusive interview.
Kazakhstan has recently lifted visa restrictions for 81 nationalities. Can you tell us more about how this may increase traffic from the GCC to Kazakhstan?
Kazakhstan is a country with great tourism and investment potential that everyone should visit. Since 2015, we have been conducting a policy aimed at easing the visa restrictions to make a visit to Kazakhstan comfortable and memorable.
For instance, in June 2015, Kazakhstan unilaterally introduced a visa-free regime for up to 15 calendar days for citizens of 19 countries, including the UAE. From January 1, 2017, Kazakhstan introduced a visa-free regime for 62 countries that are economically developed and have high investment potential. The citizens of these countries will be able to enjoy a 30-day stay in Kazakhstan.
We are looking forward to seeing visitors from the UAE at the Expo, and the organisers have prepared special tourist itineraries for foreign visitors and residents of Kazakhstan, including visits to the exhibition and the country’s attractions.
We expect the expert and business community of the UAE to visit Expo-2017, as the theme of renewable energy is directly related to the initiatives of your country.
Due to the establishment of the Astana International Financial Centre, an increase in business travel to Kazakhstan is expected, including from the Gulf countries. Business does not tolerate delays, so it is important to make Kazakhstan as open as possible to the economically developed countries and countries with high investment potential.
Do you receive a lot of visitors from the GCC?
Every year, 100,000 tourists from the UAE visit Kazakhstan. Currently, the challenge is to attract Arab tourists to the resort areas of Kazakhstan. At the moment, three UAE airlines and one Kazakhstan airline, Air Astana, make 30 flights a week. With the introduction of a visa-free regime, the influx of tourists from the UAE will increase. People mainly come with their families.
How will EXPO Astana 2017 increase traffic to the country?
The International Specialized Exhibition Astana Expo-2017 dedicated to Future Energy is an expositional and recreational event that will take place between June 10 and September 10, 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan. The exhibition will last 93 days and will be one of the most spectacular cultural venues in 2017. To date, 112 countries and 18 international organisations have confirmed their participation in the exhibition.
As part of Astana Expo-2017, global policy documents will be drafted in order to promote an energy-efficient lifestyle and wide use of renewable energy sources.
We expect five million visits, or two to three million visitors at the exhibition, including a minimum of 15 per cent from abroad.
Is the country ready for this influx of visitors?
The hotel sector in Kazakhstan is developing rapidly. Hotels under The Ritz Carlton, St. Regis and Sheraton Hotel brands are to open in time for Astana Expo 2017.
By the time of Expo-2017, it is planned that new accommodation facilities will be put into operation. Today, there are 164 hotels with a total of 12,482 rooms in Astana. By the time of Expo-2017, it is planned that 23 more hotels with 2,829 rooms will be opened. There are also 25 hostels in the city. By May 2017, we plan to have 15,975 rooms in hotels and hostels.
It is worth noting that Abu Dhabi Plaza is currently under construction; it is a large-scale multifunctional complex with a shopping mall, residential space, offices and leisure and entertainment venues. For the international exhibition Expo-2017, a 14-story hotel and shopping centre will be built. And by the end of the year, another three buildings will be ready. It is planned that the largest of the towers will consist of 88 levels reaching 320 meters in height, and thus will become the tallest building in Central Asia.
And for the convenience of tourists and to ease the language barrier, we have launched the Friendly Taxi project. The system is a communication centre for the foreign guests of Astana and the taxi drivers. Since the launch of the project, about 300 urban taxis have been connected to the system.
To ensure that tourists, participants and visitors have a pleasant stay in the Republic of Kazakhstan during the international specialised exhibition Expo-2017, we developed a special programme called ‘Recommended by Expo-2017’.
Participants of the programme currently include hotels and apartments, restaurants, service companies, co-working office spaces, interpreters and guides, hostels and transportation companies, and others.
What attractions are there to visit?
The following sites will be available: 12 natural parks with unique places like the Sharyn Canyon and the Kolsay Lakes, Borovoye, Bayanaul and Karkaraly; Unesco World Heritage Sites (the Mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi, the Petroglyphs of Tamgaly and historical sites along the Silk Road); and special destinations, such as the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is the largest spaceport in the world.
Astana embodies the best traditions of Kazakh hospitality. Visitors of the exhibition will be able to appreciate a wide range of high-quality services.
Astana, as the capital of a multicultural state, serves Kazakh, Arab, Indian, Italian, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Japanese and many other cuisines. It will certainly be interesting for all visitors. In addition, Astana Expo-2017 involves 112 countries, which will give visitors the opportunity to become acquainted with the culture and cuisine of several different nations.
By Rashi Sen