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How many foreign people come to Kazakhstan as tourists each year, what do they do, and how much do they spend?  How many local residents take holidays within Kazakhstan and how many go abroad?

Some answers can be found in two academic reports on the state of tourism in Kazakhstan.  They are on the internet and in the English language, one from 2012 (found here) and the other from 2015 (found here).

The studies share the same title: ‘Tourism Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan: Current Status and Development Trends”.  They are by no means the full and complete answer to all you wanted to know about tourism in Kazakhstan, but they are two of the very few papers in English that tell us something more informative than mere publicity for an event, sports activities, festivities, nature treks and the like.

The studies are rather formalistic, and it is unclear if the authors have any personal experience at all of the tourist industry.  A long list is given of the laws Kazakhstan has adopted; yes, they help to organize the industry (licensing law) and facilitate it (visas), but laws and regulations can’t make a robust industry if the demand is not there.  There is also considerable discussion about the number of outfits involved in tourism (1,720 tourist firms and 136 private entrepreneurs in 2013).

Here are some titbit’s to take away from the 2015 report:

  • The share of tourism in GDP grew from a miniscule 0.03% in 1991 to a still paltry 1% in 2015. That means the country has a very, very long way to go to even approach comparison with its aspiration model, Singapore.
  • The country is ‘developing’ -I would say ‘suffering’ – steadily only in terms of outbound tourism (388,108 in 2009), while development of the local economy lags (only 186,351 domestic tourists and only 30,240 inbound foreign tourists in 2009).  In my view, outbound tourism, such as to Antalya, represents exported GDP whereas domestic tourism increases Kazakhstan’s GDP.  For this reason, I argue that a good way to build up domestic tourism is to reduce the oubound tourists; offer them something akin to what they seek abroad.  Those local residents can help to build a tourism base in Kazakhstan that eventually will attract foreign tourists.
  • Foreign visitors stay a mere three days on average, suggesting strongly that they mainly consist of business people misclassified as tourists.
  • Indeed, the report notes that business and professional tourism (undefined terms) account for 54% of inbound visitors, 38% come for leisure and recreation, 4% visit friends and relatives, 2% are involved in commercial activities (shop visits) and 2% are in a miscellaneous category.
  • Domestic tourists spend only about $75-$85 per day whereas overseas tourists likely to spend $250 to $350 per day.
  • Surprisingly, to me at least, the authors state that the effective development of tourism in Kazakhstan is largely hampered by a lack of state regulation and underdeveloped infrastructure. I agree on the need for infrastructure improvement but it seems to me the real roadblock is the shortage of risk capital and the absence of a class of entrepreneurs who see a future in tourism.
  • It is not known how many tourist destinations are to be found in the country nor how many historic, cultural, natural or heritage sites there are.  There is no central register.

The reports are good for what they accomplish but the tourism industry in Kazakhstan is ripe for a more thorough examination and report.  It would be nice, for example, to see a report that is better grounded in the real world of the tourism industry, that is based on more than government statistics, and that better defines the essential concepts.  How reliable are the statistics on tourism and how are they collected?  What is the definition of ‘tourist’?  And how is the contribution of tourism to GDP calculated?

The Authors:  The 2015 paper was compiled by (1) Professor Dametken Medihanovna Turekulova, Doctor of Economic Sciences, (2) Lyazzat Kairatovna Мukhambetova Candidate of economic sciences, docent, both at Kazakh University of Economics, Finance and International Trade at Astana, and (3) Sholpan Iskakovna Karkinbaeva, Master of economics, Senior Lecturer, L.N.Gumilyov Eurasian National University.  The author of the 2012 paper is G. M. Ospanov of the Karaganda State University named after E. A. Buketov.  The papers contain their email addresses.


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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