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Uzbek domestic tourism on the rise
20% increase since last year
By Shakar Saadi
TASHKENT – Domestic tourism is growing in Uzbekistan, say tour operators and experts.
Uzbektourism, a government agency, reported that in the first half of 2012, the number of domestic tourists was 20.7% higher compared to the same period last year.
The number of tourism-related agencies also has grown. There are currently 851 organisations with a tourism license in Uzbekistan, with more than 40 of them established in the past year.
“The license is very difficult to obtain, and it is even more difficult to keep up with the competition and stay afloat,” said Farhad Rasulev, director of Dolores Travel in Tashkent.
However, according to him, it is worth the risk, because interest is growing and this year has seen the number of customers at his firm jump 25% from last year.
Rustam Husanov runs his own small travel company, which, in addition to the standard services, offers Tashkent city tours.
“Generally the city tours are offered on weekends, have a special theme, and are quite affordable,” he said.
His marketing method has also allowed him cheap advertisement. “I advertise the tours on the company’s website and on a social network page, and generally the people themselves invite their friends and family so they can spend quality time together,” Husanov said. Already, his business has built a solid following.
“I almost never miss a tour organized by Husanov, and there are many others like me. We even organized a Facebook group of X-places enthusiasts, and as a result people are becoming more interested in the history of our home town and region,” said a Tashkent resident who gave her name only as Svetlana.
Historian Boris Golender is often invited to be the guide for these tours.
“One of our tours was named after the Dina Rubina bestseller ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street,’ and the tour took in the places described in the book,” Golender said. “Of course, learning about the history of Tashkent from this book would be like learning about the history of France from the books written by Dumas, but it is important to generate interest in the history of the region.”
One may wonder, why travel around your own city when you already pay to see it every day from the window of a bus or car. But as it turns out, taking a tour can lead to the discovery of amazing secrets that even a long time city resident might not have suspected.
“I loved history at school, but thanks to these tours I have become interested in historical literature, and in addition, it turns out that the ordinary places that are familiar to me from childhood are in fact historical monuments,” said Tashkent university student Alladin Zayntdinov, who added that the tours are appealing because of their low prices.
Overall, though, tourism prices are high for Uzbeks, freelance journalist Ali Zhumayev said. “The hotel prices really bite – $50 per day plus food and transportation, and this with a salary of $250 (per month),” he said.
Tax structure and visa issues
Rasulev attributed the high prices in part to taxes on tourism companies. However, according to him, the government has adopted a program of targeted measures to develop the tourism industry and increase the export potential of tourism services in 2011-2012, which involves improving the quality of infrastructure – repairing and building roads, renovating and constructing hotels, etc.
Uzbektourism chairman Anwar Temirhodzhaev said no one is yet formally considering adopting changes to tax legislation, but this problem is being talked about on the sidelines, so its time will eventually come.
The industry has undergone changes that are contributing to its growth, though, he said. Some tours, for example, cater to special groups, such as university students and seniors. Besides this, billboards and banners are being used to promote domestic tourism.
“All this will play an invaluable role in fostering a sense of patriotism and pride among young people in their country,” Temirhodzhaev said.
As the tourism industry grows, it will also create jobs, he added.
Some said some changes need to be made before the industry really takes off, though.
"In Uzbekistan, the future is in the hands of small tourism companies and mini-hotels, which successfully blend a European standard of service, oriental flavour and low prices. But we need support from the state," Rasulev said.
Travel companies also noted that problems with obtaining Uzbek visas, for example, dampen the number of tourists from abroad.