Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan plan to launch a unified service project called the "Silk Road Visa" in February 2019, a member of the Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the Development of Tourism said during a recent interview. This project aims to attract more foreign tourists to visit Central Asia.
Almaty in Kazakhstan (Photo: People's Daily/Zhou Hanbo)
Other countries in Central Asia and even countries outside this area like Azerbaijan are also interested in joining this "Silk Road Visa" project. A Central Asian version of the Schengen Visa is ready to go, local media reported.
"The launch of the 'Silk Road Visa' will help enhance the competitiveness of the tourism industry in Central Asian countries," Igor Ivanov, an expert on international issues from Kazakhstan-German University said. "We are looking forward to the arrival of tourists from China and other countries."
"Striving to develop the tourism industry is in line with Kazakhstan's national development strategy," Chairman of Kazakhstan China Trade Support Association Kanat Beisek said. Kazakhstan in August 2017 introduced a national investment development strategy focusing on non-energy industry development. While Kazakhstan boasts rich tourism resources and its broad prospects for development, tourism has become an economic priority.
Tourism resources of other countries in Central Asia are also very rich. The historic Uzbekistan has more than 7,300 cultural heritage sites, including the world famous ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has recently signed a 2019—2025 development plan for tourism, aiming to make tourism an important pillar industry for Uzbekistan's economic development through simplifying visa procedures, speeding up infrastructure construction and improving services. Kyrgyzstan has a unique natural landscape, nature reserves and health resorts, while Tajikistan is well-known for its mountains.
Ivanov pointed out that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has received positive responses from Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries. The results of the cooperation under the framework of BRI are remarkable. "Simplified visa procedures give more visitors the opportunity to visit Central Asia and learn more about our culture, art and lifestyle," he added.
But there still are some practical obstacles to implementing the "Silk Road Visa" at present. For one thing, the visa policies of Central Asian countries are relatively cumbersome, which is a big obstacle for tourists from outside the region to visit Central Asia. The ease of applying for the "Silk Road Visa," how many days can visitors stay in relevant countries, and whether visitors can do independent travel are still to be coordinated in the future. For another, Central Asia is not a traditional tourist destination, and whether simplifying visa policies can change people's travel habits and increase the number of tourists is also uncertain.
(Compiled by Xu Zheqi)