Some media outlets have reported this week that the Kazakh parliament’s Senat (upper chamber) deputy, head of the Senate’s International affairs, defense, and security committee Dariga Nazarbayeva put forward to Uzbekistan a proposal for setting up an Asian version of Schengen – «Silk visa» – in order to attract tourists from abroad to the two countries.
She initiated such a move during a meeting with the members of the Committee on international relations, foreign economic relations, foreign investments and tourism of the upper house of the Uzbek parliament. The parliamentarians of these two countries met in the South Kazakhstani border town of Saryagash.
The senators of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan presented their respective proposals for improving customs regulation, increasing trade turnover, enhancing cooperation in tourism, RIA Novosti reported.
«It is essential not only to stimulate the development of tourism in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but also to provide incentives for increasing tourist inflows to our countries from distant foreign states who would want to see all the sights of Central Asia during the same trip, and this requires establishing a common visa policy», Nazarbayeva said.
The senator presented the idea of setting up an Asian version of Schengen – «Silk visa». She also encouraged the harmonization of customs procedures, based on the use of modern digital technology and advanced computer systems.
«It is necessary to establish a transparent, open and friendly border regime, relations in all areas will be settled in a harmonious way then», she noted.
In Soviet times, Uzbekistan was known as a country with significant potential for an expanded tourism industry.
During the years of independence, the country’s leadership has carried out comprehensive reforms based on a single state policy aimed at opening up capacities for innovation and development within the industry.
Uzbekistan has expended much efforts and resources on setting up a modern tourism infrastructure. It must be said that the work in this direction is continuing.
With regard to tourist attractions, the country has much to be proud of. The Central Asian nation’s rich cultural legacy is reflected in its arte-facts of the past, its literature, philosophies, art and music. According to a handbook for the tourism sector, Uzbekistan is one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of tourist attractions and historical monuments.
In Kazakhstan, the situation is somewhat different. For the time being, tourism is not a major component of the Kazakh economy.
Guardian, in an article by Joanna Lillis entitled «Summer holiday in Kazakhstan? Astana eases visa restrictions to attract tourists» and published on 17 July 2014, said: «The Central Asian state has plenty to offer travellers, from tours designed to highlight the natural beauty of its mountains, lakes and deserts to more off-beat itineraries, including space tourism at the Baikonur cosmodrome and a visit to a Soviet-era gulag prison camp. Despite all the options, the tourist industry in Kazakhstan is hugely under-developed». According to the author, factors hampering an increase in tourist visits are said to include high prices, «shabby infrastructure», «poor service» and the logistical difficulties of travel in a geographically enormous, underdeveloped country.
As of 2016, the sector has accounted for 1% of Kazakhstan’s GDP, yet the Kazakh government has plans to increase it to 8% by 2025. According to the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017, travel and tourism industry GDP in Kazakhstan is $3.08 billion or 1.6 percent of total GDP. The WEF ranks Kazakhstan 81st in its 2017 report, which is four positions higher compared to the previous period. The country received 6.5 million tourists in 2016. But changes are expected to occur in this sector of Kazakhstan’s economy.