Community-based ecotourism is currently the hot topic in UNDP’s Local Government Support Project office in Uzbekistan. We see it as a key part of supporting and empowering regional and local development, particularly in the regions of Djizak and Namangan.
One of the most exciting activities of the joint project between the Cabinet of Ministers and UNDP is the opening of the ski resort in Zaamin for another season.
Through research and training and the first development of a branding and marketing strategy for a tourism zone in Uzbekistan, we want to boost development and tourism in the Djizak region.
The project also includes investment proposals and designing tourism infrastructure. We also hold round tables and exhibition fairs to promote the tourism and investment potential of Zaamin district.
At the Tashkent International Tourism Fair the project team, together with local artists and chefs, promoted Zaamin as an emerging tourism destination.
Our exhibition booth called Inspiring Nature emphasized the natural attractions of the district, including the UNESCO World Heritage status of the Zaamin Mountains, known as the densest and best preserved pine forests in the region.
Meanwhile, UNDP encouraged local authorities and the Zaamin spa to stay open after the popular summer tourism season into the winter and expand activities beyond health tourism.
We suggested ski tourism as an exciting activity that would be a good fit for the natural beauty of the mountains. And while skiing is not very popular in Uzbekistan, our hope is that the new ski slope will help the sport gain popularity and attract visitors from the Djizak, Samarkand and Syrdarya regions.
First, a location for a beginner’s run was identified and a basic lift was built for less than $5,000. At 350 meters long and 15 degrees steep, it is ideal for novice skiers, children and seniors.
In mid-January, we invited Uzbek tour agencies, the media and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get a firsthand experience of the region as a new winter tourism destination in Uzbekistan.
The tour included presentations on the region and its health spa, logistical and transportation options, potential tourist routes and guesthouses in the area.
Most tourism experts who attended the event agreed that the Zaamin spa has winter tourism appeal and their feedback was a valuable part of the tour.
They said that the all inclusive $20 per person fee is a great marketing tool, especially for Uzbekistan’s “Year of the Strong Family,” and it should appeal to local and international tourists.
They also suggested that the spa needs general improvements as well as entertainment facilities such as a night club, a karaoke bar or an in-house cinema.
Providing 24 hour mobile and Internet access is one of the infrastructure projects we need to complete to make the spa fully operational in the winter season.
The tour generated wide media coverage and the spa was flooded with inquiries from journalists and tourists who want to visit this winter.
Zaamin opening up to winter tourism attracted other investments in the region; several private companies in different industries are finding more ways to become involved, and local communities will hopefully benefit from tourism development in their backyard.
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.