Interview

To Feel the Warmth of the Uzbek Hospitality

1/2019

     Today, our country is warmly opening its doors to travel lovers, offering excellent conditions and opportunities in the tourism sector. Tourist exchange promotes the expansion of cultural ties, mutual spiritual enrichment and respect, while giving significant economic bonuses. In this regard, the interest in Uzbekistan is growing day by day.
     From the very beginning of Uzbekistan’s declaration of independence, the United States of America was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with our country. Uzbek-American relations, having stood the test of time, maintain a stable dynamics of development. The countries strongly support each other, and develop fruitful cooperation in all spheres that affect the matters of mutual interest.
     The Editorial Board of the Journal “Economic Bulletin of Uzbekistan” invited the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan, Mr. Alan Meltzer to share his impressions about the tourism potential of Uzbekistan, its historical and cultural heritage, as well as to talk about the cooperation of our countries in this field. The interview is to follow for Your attention.
 

     – Could you please comment on positive changes in the development of tourism in Uzbekistan for last years?
     – Uzbekistan has made great strides to attract more tourists in recent years, by opening new flight routes and making it easier for Western tourists to get visas. Opening more border crossing points with neighboring countries has also made it easier for regional tourists to visit Uzbekistan. For example, there has been a large uptick in tourists coming by bus from Kyrgyzstan. We expect that if Americans were offered visa free travel to Uzbekistan, there would also be an increase in the number of American tourists who would be interested in visiting Uzbekistan.
     – What are Uzbekistan’s most popular tourist routes (historical cities and attractions) in your opinion?
Of course everyone wants to see the great Silk Road cities of Khiva, Samarkand and Bukhara, which are cultural treasures of global significance. But there are other unique attractions here too, such as the Savitsky Museum in Nukus, and the ancient Buddhist archaeological finds in Surkhandarya, that very few people outside of Uzbekistan know about. More can be done to promote these wonderful sites that people would be very interested in visiting. I believe that while the Silk Road cities are the sights that will draw tourists here from distant countries, including the United States, these lesser known sites can be a good reason to spend even more time (and money!) in Uzbekistan.
     – What do you think about the development of new types of tourist services (ecotourism, ethno-tours, gastronomic tourism, holiday tours, etc.)?
     – I think adventure and ecotourism has a lot of potential in Uzbekistan. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service will be traveling to Uzbekistan in May to help build trails in Sukok Reserve and to share their experiences in how to make ecotourism successful. As an avid skier, I can’t wait for the new ski resort near Beldersay to open next winter! Also, I could imagine that many tourists might want to spend an evening learning how to make plov, or perhaps learning how Uzbekistan’s unique crafts are made, or taking in a performance of traditional music or dance.
     – Could you please share U.S. experience in the development of tourism industry?
     – Travel and tourism are very important to the U.S. economy and account for about 2.7% of our GDP. In 2017, $1 trillion in traveler spending generated over $2.4 trillion in economic output and supported 15.6 million jobs. While most of the activity in our tourism industry is domestic, expenditures by foreign visitors totaled $251 billion in 2017, making tourism the nation’s largest services export. The U.S. leads the world in international travel and tourism exports and ranks second in terms of total visitation, with almost 77 million international arrivals in 2017.
     International visitors are extremely important to the U.S. economy because they tend to spend more than domestic tourists do. On average, each overseas traveler stays for 18 nights and spends about $4,200 when they visit the U.S.. (source: U.S. Travel Association Fact Sheet) Of course, because the U.S. is so large and spans many geographic and climatic zones, at any given time of the year, there are multiple attractions that are in high season, from beaches, to ski resorts, to the cultural highlights of our big cities.
     – Cooperation of our countries in the field of tourism development.
     Uzbekistan is working hard to develop branding and promotional materials to attract visitors, as there is much to learn. That is why the Embassy was proud to support a team of filmmakers from the United States with direct experience in tourism promotion campaigns, to come to Uzbekistan and provide training for Uzbek filmmakers on developing tourism promotion videos. The main point that our trainers emphasized is that tourism promotion videos should evoke an emotional response in the viewer, to make them want to visit a place. Modern travelers will then go on the internet and get all the information they need to plan their trip, but first they have to be inspired.
     As I mentioned, the U.S. Forest Service is actively working with the State Forestry Committee and the rangers in Sukok Reserve to develop nature-based tourism. The Forest Service gave trainings on trail design and sustainable land management in September last year. In May, we want to continue our cooperation to help develop Sukok Reserve into a model for other national parks and reserves in Uzbekistan. Again, we see projects like this as giving tourists a reason to stay even longer in the country, and to visit less known regions, after they have visited the most famous attractions.
     – Your recommendations for improving the service and quality of services provided for tourists.
     Overall, Uzbeks are naturally very warm and hospitable people who make tourists feel at home. Everywhere I go I am treated with kindness and courtesy. I’ve found the overall level of service in hotels and cafes to be quite high. However, to attract independent travelers, more can be done to reduce bureaucratic red tape such as registration, even when visitors are staying in private homes. I have the impression that the main hotels in the Silk Road cities are fully booked during the high season, so there may be demand for additional, high quality hotels, especially those built in a traditional Uzbek style. Government policies to encourage individual entrepreneurs to open up small guest houses, especially in the countryside, will bring jobs and income to rural areas, and encourage independent travelers to get off the beaten path and experience the warmth of Uzbek hospitality. Rural tourism has been very successful in other parts of Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan. Finally, I would note that when tourists travel far from home to visit a country for the first time, they want to bring home souvenirs to remind them of their trip. So many wonderful crafts are produced in Uzbekistan, from carpets and ceramics to woodwork and prints. They are an important part of tourists’ experience of the country.

     The Editorial Board of the Journal “Economic Bulletin of Uzbekistan” expresses its gratitude to the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan and personally Mr. Alan Meltzer for the interesting dialogue.

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