As many as 85 percent of tourists arriving in Uzbekistan are older belonging to the age group of 55 and above, indicating this country of Central Asia is becoming a popular destination among senior tourists. One of the reasons the country is so popular among retired people is the peaceful atmosphere of Samarkand and Bukhara; cities that cater to 90 percent of this influx.
According to statistic released by the Ministry of Tourism of Uzbekistan, 85percent of total tourists are older people and are generally interested in excursions to see the country’s monuments. They visit Uzbekistan when the weather is most favorable for that type of activity, i.e., in April and May, September and October. Thess statistics support that Uzbekistan is not yet a victim of the mega tourism that sometimes brings cultural shock, worker exploitation, prostitution, and environmental imbalance.
However, Uzbekistan needs a longer tourism season for developing broad-based tourism marketing, and the country is now planning to formulate a strategy for increasing the duration of its high season, which lasts only around 3 months of the year. In 2001, the cabinet of Uzbekistan prepared a strategy for marketing and an information campaign to attract young people to come to Uzbekistan.
The country will soon offer low-season, special-offer tours to foreign travel agencies, tour company managers, and journalists. Uzbekistan will offer them very low hotel room prices and special travel packages for railway travel.
According to the President of Uzbekturism, Rustam Mirzayev, who is also the Tourism Minister of the country, this project involves 214 foreign tour operators in order to attract tourists from Italy, Spain, France, Japan, China, and other countries. The Minister who himself belongs to the tourism industry and is a writer of many books about tourism, is working on the development of new products, a better infrastructure, and more access to new destinations.
Until today, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva are the most popular destinations in Uzbekistan, but there are many areas of its natural beauty that have yet to be exploited. The country’s recreational resources make it possible to develop various types of tourism and diversified tours and to make Uzbekistan a year-round tourist destination. Uzbekistan today boasts more than 4,000 historical and architectural monuments, with a majority of them (90 percent) dating to the historical periods of Zoroastrianism and the Temurids.
Trekking in the western Tien-Shan, Pskem, and Ugam ridges; jeep safaris; and white-water rafting can be new products of Uzbekistan for adventure tourism and for inviting youth into the country. There are companies that are offering such tours, but these places have yet to be marketed at the international level, and people around the globe think that Uzbekistan offers only historical places of interest. This perception of Uzbekistan is one of the reasons that this destination is becoming popular only in senior tourist circles.
BY AGHA IQRAR HAROON, FORMER CONSULTANT, MINISTRY OF TOURISM, GOVERNMENT OF PAKISTAN & FORMER PRESIDENT