I am assessing Kazakhstan’s prospects for tourism in this series of postings. The previous article (which can be found on my website: http://www.viewkazakhstan.com) dealt with the subject of ‘touristic drawing power’, i.e., the amount of attraction that a subject of tourism has. The main point is that a potential investor – state or private – ought to scale their investment in relation to the drawing power of whatever it is they want to invest in.
Now I will start looking at different segments of the tourism business in Kazakhstan. Let’s begin by focusing on the touristic drawing power of the conferences and exhibitions sector. I’ll get to other specific types of tourism later in this series.
This is, for Kazakhstan, an easy topic. To jump immediately to the conclusion: Kazakhstan’s two main cities, Astana and Almaty, have tremendous drawing power for conferences and exhibitions within Kazakhstan, and they have correspondingly excellent ability to service them. Conferences and exhibitions that rightly should be held in Kazakhstan certainly are not being lost to other countries due to lack of hosting capacity. And some assemblies that might have been held elsewhere have in fact gravitated to Kazakhstan.
The problem for hoteliers, caterers, and others who make a living out of attendees at conferences and exhibitions is that Astana and Almaty have already caught just about all the business that it is reasonable for them to get. And the risk now is that the hosting cities might engage in a race to the bottom in terms of pricing in order to preserve the business they have and to attempt to draw some away from the other city.
Almaty has a long history of hosting exhibitions as well as conferences. Until Astana developed competitive capacity, most of this form of tourism was concentrated in Almaty, and much of that had an association with the Atakent International Exhibition Center. At present, however, Astana is well placed to compete with Almaty for the business. With Expo-2017 coming up next summer, several new buildings and hotels have enhanced the city’s allure for conventioneers.
Astana undoubtedly has pulled some business away from Almaty but, the competition between the two cities probably is a good thing: competition potentially helps to hold down prices, and the growing fame as a country in which to hold conferences and exhibitions helps to encourage even more use of the facilities.
Some companies specialize in organizing gatherings as their business. A well-known example is London-based ITE and its Almaty-based affiliate ITECA. Annually for 25 years, they have organized Kazakhstan International Oil & Gas Conference and Exhibition in Almaty, better known to many as KIOGE. Based on their success with the oil & gas topic, ITE/ITECA followed up with similar mega events for the mining industry and others.
Although conferencing is mainly an NGO activity – created and performed without government support or intervention – it is the case that the government of Kazakhstan itself is an active generator and participant in this business. Regional or international meetings are called in the course of governing, and they are carried out under government auspices, mainly but not always in Astana.
It is likely that Kazakhstan has already bagged the conference and exhibition business within what might be called its natural catchment area. Still, I do have a few modest suggestions about promoting this line of business:
- Give a Plug for Conferencing. The government and its agencies, which do a lot of advertising anyway, might consider a bit of promotion of the country’s capabilities for holding conferences and exhibitions. I am not taking about TV ads dedicated to this topic; just the occasional mention like ‘Have you considered Astana or Almaty as a place to hold your annual conference?’ Plant the seed, see if it grows.
- Nudge Regions to Bid for Business. The government might encourage some of the main regional cities to go fishing for conferences and exhibitions. The local hotels might not be as aware as the big city hoteliers of the good business to be had by conferences and exhibitions. I understand that Karaganda hosted “12th International Mining Week Kazakhstan” this year, and Shymkent hosted the Ontustik Invest 2016 seeking foreign direct investment for South Kazakhstan Oblast.
- Decentralize Government-Sponsored Events. The government could push some of the events it sponsors to regional cities in order to foster local experience with hosting such events. Busy government officials might be reluctant to leave Astana, but they could do a favour in promoting local conferencing by setting an example.
- Expand the Pie. My one suggestion for the private sector is to seek out and bid to host conferences and exhibitions currently held abroad that suitably could be held in Kazakhstan. In other words, if the local pie is already carved up between Astana and Almaty, the way to expand business might be to try to make the pie larger.
Go-getting marketing managers at some of the major hotels might like to mine Conferences.com with the intention of luring next year’s conference to Kazakhstan. Only a few are eligible to move from country to country. The International Bar Association is one example; it rarely holds its huge annual membership meeting in the same city or country in two years running. Why not bid to host it in a future year?
Conferences.com lists more than 100,000 conferences. That’s a vast number but the site allows you to search by country, industry sector, date and other categories.
The table below lists some of the many conferences and exhibitions held in Kazakhstan in 2015. It shows the considerable variety of the events. From personal experience, I can say that several of these attract many foreigners but, foreign or not, all attendees are, in a sense, tourists. All of their spending is part of Gross Domestic Product which is not dependent upon whether the money spent comes from U.S. dollars, Euros, Renminbi, Yen, Roubles or something else.
Samples of Conferences and Exhibitions held in 2015
|Month of 2015||Event||Host City|
|February||Kazakhstan Oil and Gas Summit 2015||Almaty|
|Resources, Capacity, and Development of Domestic Tourism in Kazakhstan||Astana|
|March||2nd Central Asia and Caspian Oil & Gas Security Forum 2015 (CACOGS)||Almaty|
|Kazakhstan Geology Forum, Oil & Gas 2015||Astana|
|Forum: Barriers to Business: Unlocking the Entrepreneurial Spirit (EBRD)||Almaty|
|April||Kazakh-Hungarian Business Forum (one of many bilateral meetings held every year)||Astana|
|Kazakhstan International Travel Fair (KITF)||Almaty|
|May||12th Islamic Financial Services Board (ISFB) Summit will take place for the first time in the CIS on May 19-25, 2015 – First time held in the CIS||Almaty|
|Tank Farms and Oil Terminals: from modern design to efficient operations||Astana|
|8th Astana Economic Forum||Astana|
|June||Fifth Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will be held on June 10-11, 2015, in Astana||Astana|
|Downstream Central Asia||Almaty|
|Movable Assets as Loan Collateral (IFC)||Almaty|
|6th International Mining and Metallurgical Congress||Astana|
|12th Asia and Oceania Region Intergovernmental Ministerial Meeting on Anti-Doping in Sport||Astana|
|The 2nd International Hotel Forum||Almaty|
|Forum of Talent, Models and Designers of Fashion House International Kazakhstan||Almaty|
|2nd International Hospitality Forum||Almaty|
|July||Eurasian Women’s Business Forum||Almaty|
|level National Preparatory Meeting to the 23rd Economic and Environmental Forum on Water Governance (OECD||Astana|
|Kazakh-German Energy Forum||Astana|
|September||10th KazEnergy Forum||Astana|
|4th session of the Ministers of Education of the Turkic Council, the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States||Astana
|Credit Risk Conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan on September 22, 2015, and its 2nd annual Credit Risk Roundtable in Astana||Almaty/
|October||Forum of Machine Builders of Kazakhstan||Astana|
|10th KAZENERGY Eurasian Forum dedicated to “New Horizons in Energy: Prospects for Cooperation and Investment”||Almaty|
|KIOGE exhibition and conference||Almaty|
|November||4th International Caspian Energy Forum Astana – 2015 and the official 13th Caspian Energy Award Astana – 2015 award ceremony||Almaty/
|WorldFood Kazakhstan 2015 Exhibition||Almaty|
|AgroWorld Kazakhstan 2015||Almaty|
|HOREX Kazakhstan exhibition (hotels, restaurants and supermarkets)||Almaty|
Book Sales: Find more stories about Kazakhstan from the 1990s and later in my book, West Meets East in Kazakhstan. It’s available online in softcover or e-book format from AuthorHouse (the publisher), or Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
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