ASSESSING KAZAKHSTAN’S TOURISM POTENTIAL: SELF-PROPELLED TOURISTS

I hope that some bright sparks – forward thinking entrepreneurs – are focusing hard on the future influx of tourists in Kazakhstan by self-propelled means:  tourists who travel by means of caravans, motor homes, and trailer houses.  Also, motor bikers. To me, this (along with “peoples’ resorts” mentioned in previous posts) is one of the brighter spots for the immediate future of tourism in Kazakhstan.

As a huge country, Kazakhstan is, or ought to be, a good place for budget-minded tourists (foreign as well as domestic).  These are the ones who seek the outdoors rather than the cities, who carry their sleeping quarters with them and avoid the hotels, and who have their own special requirements. Such things as:

  • Sites where they can park their modes of transport safely
  • Electricity points where they can power up
  • Water source for drinking and cooking
  • Access to toilets
  • Hopefully, a place for taking a shower
  • For larger sites, a commissary where they can purchase food and supplies
  • Maps of scenic places to visit and the location of campsites

In an ideal world there would also be:

  • Outlets where campervans can be rented, such as in key tourist destination cities like Almaty and Astana.

With regard to renting campervans or buying used ones, I recall how many young people from Australian and New Zealand used to – and maybe still do – come to London, buy a used campervan, and use it for many months while taking their once-in-a-lifetime tour of Europe.  When they were ready to go home, they brought the vehicle to Australia House, home of the Australian High Commission.  I used to have an office on the Aldwych which was in eyeshot of Australia House, and I could see that the site had become an open air market for buying or selling campervans.  It was a veritable mecca for tourists-on-the-cheap.  That was before the days of London’s Congestion Charge so perhaps buyers and sellers now congregate elsewhere or do their transactions over the internet.

The beauty of caravan sites is that they do not require the large capital investment of resorts.  Typically, they have a small administrative building that might also house toilets and shower stalls, and they have allotted spaces known as ‘pitches’ which probably have an electricity point and fresh water plumbing.  In more sophisticated ones, there may be facilities at each pitch for gas, water, electricity and telecommunication utilities; access roads and pedestrian pavements; concrete bases for caravans; fencing around the site; a play area for children; and landscaping.

A potential boost for the self-propelled tourists is the Western China-Western Europe highway.  Work started on the highway a few years ago but it was given new emphasis in April 2014, when Azamat Akhmerov, the Chairman of the Kazakhstan Institute of Industry Development, presented to the Tourism Council the concept for development of tourism for implementation 2020.  He put forth a bold plan that, if brought to reality, was expected to generate billions of dollars of investment and billions of dollars of future tax revenue.

Unfortunately, the price of crude oil, which in mid-2014 was about US$107 per barrel, took an extended slide down to the mid or lower $40 area.  And other external shocks hit Kazakhstan – the devaluation of Russia’s rouble, the Chinese devaluation, and the floating of the tenge.

The tourism sector has undoubtedly taken a big hit.  A prime example is the Kinderley Resort project on the Caspian Sea.  It was to be in operation by 2020.  In due course it was to grow to 20 hotels plus lots of villas drawing in 640,000 tourists a year with 70% of them being foreigners.  The public announcements were made and then, rather quickly, the project dropped out of sight, the website deleted.

In 2014, work was already underway on the Western China-Western Europe highway.  Fortunately, construction of the highway has continued though perhaps at a slower pace due to the revenue crisis.  Nevertheless, it was recently announced that tenders were to be invited to construct the necessary petrol stations.

I am hoping that those petrol stations are more than just dispensers of fuel that also happen to sell a few sweets, soft drinks and maybe some pretzels.  To my way of thinking, those petrol stations ought to be constructed in such a way as to be the nucleus of a future service area with restaurants (fast-food or otherwise) and such things as sales outlets for souvenirs and an area for amusement of children.  They could also have a secure truck park for the long-distance hauliers from and to China, and they might as well also cater to the interests of the self-propelled tourists.  If not – that would be a big tourism opportunity missed.

These are my definitions, added here for possible clarity:

Caravan – special purpose passenger car of which the VW T2 model was popular for many years.  There are various versions but typically the seats fold down and the top pops up.

Motor home – vehicle with chassis and cab on which is constructed  non-detachable living accommodations, often with writing or symbols on it.

Trailer house – a vehicle with living accommodations towed by another vehicle, usually with two wheels.

Mobile homes – a building that is designed to be lived in and can be transported by road.  Typically, these are large structures that, after delivery to a site, don’t move from it.  I wouldn’t expect to see these in Kazakhstan.

This post is part of a series in which I explore the ‘drawing power’ of Kazakhstan to attract tourists.  Previous posts may be found on my website – http://www.viewkazakhstan.com

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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.

Website:  My blog posts go out on Facebook and often on LinkedIn.  If you’d like to see them again or check for posts you might have missed, go directly to my website: viewkazakhstan.com

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