In the midst of a chaotic exhibition hall, visitors to the Tashkent International Tourism Fair (TITF) were drawn to a trickling waterfall set against a backdrop of a panoramic view of mountains. This was the booth for Zaamin. The mountain scenery was photographically reproduced to transplant the visitor from the middle of Tashkent city to the soothing, lush green mountain forests of Zaamin. Visitors including industry specialists from Uzbekistan and beyond came for the calming display and stayed to learn more about the unique tourism endeavour between the local government, the Uzbek government and the UNDP’s Local Governance Support Project (LGSP).
This was my first event as an Intern with the tight knit LGSP team, and luckily for me, it was one which involved contact with many different people in diverse industries. Regional and district khokimiyats (local government authorities) are working with LGSP on pilot projects in the Zaamin district of the Djizak region as well as the Chartak district of the Namangan region to improve partnership and participation in local governance. A key aspect of the LGSP project is the Public-Private Partnership component which aims to assist local governments to attract private businesses and local communities to invest in community-based tourism (CBT). Recreational and tourism development is a key emerging industry where local governments, private business, civil society and local citizens can work together to develop their region. This extends beyond just the tourism and private sector or government interests, encouraging the sustainable economic and social development of the region. It will result in improved socio-economic conditions and increased green job opportunities for local citizens stemming from eco-tourism.
With this aim, our booth included a performance of music and dance, a video advertisement in three languages (Uzbek, Russian and English), as well as visual arts and handicrafts from Zaamin. Outside, guests were treated to Kozon Patir, a local bread served with locally made soft, lightly salted ecological butter. The media packages and freebies were so popular that we ran out well before the end of the day.
The highlight for me was to see how well received this initiative was. Visitors continually expressed their delight at how well-designed the “Zaamin: inspiring nature” campaign was (in Uzbek, “Sof tabiat nafasi” and in Russian, “Вдохновение природы”). Additionally, they were pleasantly surprised to learn that this tourism campaign had a broader goal of economic and social development, encouraging private sector investment in the region, improving local infrastructure, increasing foreign and domestic interest in the area and to empower local citizens, including those not directly involved in the tourism industry.
The tourism festival was the ideal location to launch the Zaamin branding, designed by a local Uzbek company. Tourism information was available for interested parties as well as information for potential investors, the general public and the media about what UNDP’s LGSP aims are with this CBT regional development plan.
The tourism development plan is based around the pre-existing Zaamin Sanatorium (a health resort facility). There are ongoing development projects to increase the recreational activities available, including adding more sports recreation areas, tennis courts, swimming pools, a ski lift to encourage winter visitors and child-friendly areas.
Zaamin is the perfect place in Uzbekistan for nature lovers and adventure seekers, with hiking and walking trails, speleological treks and other eco-tourism hot-spots, such as the Zaamin National Mountain Juniper Preserve and landmarks such as the Qirq Qiz rock formations. There are also activities for cultural tourists including the Djizak museum, the unique folklore and history, artisan handicrafts and culinary experiences. With all of this, the hope is that private investors will want to invest their own ideas and plans in the Zaamin area.
Tourism and development have always implicitly gone hand in hand, but their linkages have never been so clearly articulated to the general public. Perhaps this is due to the implicit nature of discussions on development, involving many cross-cutting and serious issues, dull in comparison to tourism which conveys ideas of excitement and wonder. However, travel is a luxury available to more people globally and in an era where eco and sustainable tourism is becoming more popular, CBT appeals not only to the adventurer in us, but also to our need to be a member of a resilient and sustainable society. Having gotten to know and love Uzbekistan over nearly a year living here, it is pleasing that such sustainable CBT options are now being applied in this country.