A carpet ride to the hidden pearls of the Silk Road
Photographs by Eddie Gerald
Uzbekistan is continuing to push forward its key policy of opening the country up for tourism by relaxing visa rules for a host of countries.
Nationals of 39 countries can now obtain visas through a simplified procedure, while those of eight others – Israel, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and France - will be able to stay in Uzbekistan for 30 days without a visa.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who replaced his authoritarian predecessor Islam Karimov in December 2016, has made tourism promotion a strategic part of much-anticipated reforms.
The tourism potential is certainly there. Uzbekistan has a wealth of historical monuments, not least the towns of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand which were the capitals of powerful kingdoms for many centuries. In 2017, Uzbekistan was visited by 2.7 million foreign citizens, although only a tiny minority were tourists.
According to the State Tourism Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the travel industry accounts for 2.3 per cent of national GDP, a figure which they forecast could reach five per cent.
Soon after President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office in December 2016, Mirziyoyev decreed that tourism would be a government priority and announced that an ambitious visa-free regime for a range of countries in Europe and Asia would be introduced in the upcoming years.
Strict police controls made it particularly unattractive for tourists during the Karimov era, and part of his successor’s campaign has involved changing this image. Previously, all foreign nationals had to register at a local police station within three days of arriving at their destination. Now this registration will be performed by hotel staff or the visitor’s host.
“A tourist should travel instead of visiting law enforcement agencies,” Mirziyoyev said, adding that “if we want to create tourism-based jobs, we should create [positive] conditions for tourists instead of making demands on them.”
According to presidential decree, the interior minister will now have a special deputy responsible for both the security and comfort of tourists. The National TV and Radio Company and the ministry of culture have also been tasked with launching an international advertising campaign.
The Uzbek ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Komil Roshidov, said that his country now allowed visitors to “take pictures of everything” rather than trying to tightly control what tourists saw and recorded. Towns popular with would also be provided with free Wi-Fi, he continued.
According to Roshidov, it now takes 20-30 minutes to pass through border control in Tashkent airport, compared to one and-a-half to two hours in the past.
“Many things have been done to open the country to the world so far,” Roshidov told IWPR. “Yes, we did have opportunities, but now we want to expand them even more to familiarise tourists and visitors with Uzbekistan.”
Photo essay was conducted with the help of the State committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan for tourism development.