This post continues my look at Kazakhstan’s tourism prospects. Previous posts may be found on my website viewkazakhstan.com
Let me start with a radical proposition: the best way to develop tourism in Kazakhstan, and to grow tax revenues that come from it, is to build holiday resorts for the local mass market. Let’s call them “people’s resorts”. They could be located on the Caspian Sea, on one or more of the major lakes, and in the mountains. Such developments should garner broad public support compared to other touristic initiatives, and wouldn’t depend upon the possibly non-existent influx of foreign visitors.
Let’s assume that you are an investor, a developer or even the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and you need to choose between two projects in the hope of increasing tourism (and tax revenue for the government).
Project A is for a limited local clientele consisting primarily of the upper class residents of Kazakhstan and a speculative number of foreign visitors the arrival of which probably is crucial for profitability of the project.
Project B seeks to attract a large number of local residents and does not depend upon foreign visitors for profitability.
Which one do you choose? Ah, you might say that Project A is the clear winner. Although we can’t say how many foreign visitors it will attract, at least they are the ones who are central to the government’s hope to make tourism a strong contributor to the national budget.
In my view, that is not the correct choice much as I likw skiing. Foreign or local – it makes no difference. If large numbers of local residents are encouraged to spend more money on a touristic activity or event, they are tourists every bit as much as a foreigner.
Well, you might quibble with me and say that the word “tourist” has a sense of referring to a visitor from abroad. As a matter of practical modern speech, I might have to agree with you though I think “tourist” simply means someone who travels for pleasure. In any event, from the point of view of investment, production of income and yielding more tax revenue for the government, does it make any difference at all?
I accept that foreigners might possibly spend more per capita within the country than local residents. On the other hand, the foreigner’s travel expenses would have been paid overseas, probably erasing any difference on in-country spending.
To me, Project A is a ski resort or maybe a championship golf course while Project B is a resort at the seaside or lakeside or up in the mountains. The former appeals mainly to a very limited percentage of the local population – skiing and golfing are, after all, luxury sports – and the future profitability of Project A probably hinges on attracting large numbers of foreigns to make the long trip to Kazakhstan.
Project B aims at the middle or even lower segments of the population, i.e., the masses, and its future profitability depends not at all on the speculative influx of foreign visitors.
Let me put this another way. The people who take their summer holidays at Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan or at Antalya in Turkey are exporting GDP from Kazakhstan. That’s true even if they prepay most or all of their holiday expenses before departing from Kazakhstan; their payment will cover salaries of workers in a foreign country. the charges of foreign suppliers, and the profit of the owners. They are reducing what they could have spent in Kazakhstan by spending it elsewhere. And that reduces the tax revenue that otherwise would have been collected in Kazakhstan.
My radical suggestion might be called export substitution.
The Eight Lakes Resort certainly is an effort in the right direction but, in my opinion, it needs more activities, particularly for children. Swimming and sunbathing are good for a day or two but week-long bookings call for more. Fishing, for many, is not of interest.
A model for expanding the holiday market in Kazakhstan might be the UK’s Butlins. They got their start after World War II when the idea of flying to sunny Spain, Greece or anywhere else was out of the question. From their threadbare beginnings, they have modified their business model to retain their market share in completion with the foreign sites. The concept is to provide affordable but attractive holiday accommodations with a wide range of attractions that appeal in particular to families with children. Sounds like something Kazakhstan could use?
A people’s resort should include all those thing that you would expect at a foreign mid- to up-market holiday resort that currently attracts people away from Kazakhstan. Such things as:
- One or more hotels
- Comfortable private rooms with shower/bath and toilet
- Kiddie Club for toddlers and children up to 12 years of age
- Buffet service of meals – mix of ethnic and international
- Outdoor swimming pool(s)
- Deck chairs/beds and shady umbrellas
- Indoor swimming pool (for use in bad weather and to extend the season)
- Organized pool gymnastics/aerobics
- Youngster paddling pool
- Evening entertainment (open air arena)
- Lounge for relaxing
- Various organized outdoor activities, such as archery, climbing frame, hiking
- Arcade for children
- Tennis courts
- Table tennis
- Miniature golf course
- Horses for riding
- Local tours of area (third party contractor)
- Shop for souvenirs, post cards, sun screen, equipment
- Sandy beach (even if the sand must be hauled in)
- Boardwalks to the beach and along it
- Attractive grounds/trees/shrubs
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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