The easing of travel restrictions from the middle of March could help relaunch Uzbekistan as a must-see destination along the Silk Road. Although efforts for promotion have been delayed, the government remains committed to reaching a target of close to 12 million international travellers annually by the middle of the decade.
Since 2019, Uzbekistan has been working on a new strategy to turn Central Asia into a must-see destination. Steps were taken back then to facilitate travel to the country. In 2019, visitors from over 60 countries were allowed 30-day visa-free travel and a simplified electronic visa system was introduced for citizens of 77 nations. In 2020, airlines landing at five airports were exempted from fees.
The strengthening of the “Silk Road” branding under UNESCO helped boost tourist arrivals to Uzbekistan. The country is home to two of the most fabled cities along that road: Bukhara and Samarkand. Along with Khiva and Shakhrisabz, they are now listed as UNESCO World heritage.
2020 was due to be the year of the massive roll-out of a campaign to promote tourism. Instead, the country had to adapt to the new Covid-19 situation.
Although the pandemic is affecting Uzbekistan like all countries around the world, the total number of active cases remains relatively low. By the end of April, the country has only 2,700 active cases, down from a peak of over 9,500 reached at the end of July/early August.
Planning a comeback on the world tourism stage
Uzbekistan is working hard to reestablish itself as a must-visit destination. In March, the government decided to ease entry conditions, and mandatory express testing upon arrival in the country has been cancelled.
Since then, all travellers entering Uzbekistan through airports, railway stations and checkpoints need only present a certificate with a negative PCR test in English or Russian, made up to 72 hours before departure.
To attract travellers, various initiatives have been launched by tourist authorities. “Uzbekistan. Safe travel GUARANTEED” is a new system which monitors sanitary and epidemiological standards within the country. Authorities have introduced a list of sites complying with this unified standard system to assure total safety for travellers. All tourist sites, related infrastructure, and public areas must obtain a special permit or certificate to continue operating. This includes accommodation of any type, all state border points, air, railways or bus stations, cultural sites, museums, theatres or concert halls.
There is also a financial incentive from the government to prove the country is safe to visit. If a foreign tourist catches Covid-19 while wandering around Uzbekistan, he or she is entitled to a financial compensation of up to US$3,000 for his or her treatment. This condition only applies if tourists travel in the country with a specially certified tour guide who ensures hygiene rules are observed.
Uzbekistan also used the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink tourism. A programme for the development of medical tourism in Uzbekistan, “Uzbekistan – land of hope and healing”, is now under development. Interest-free loans and grants are also provided for local travel players who come with innovative business ideas towards more sustainable tourism development in a post-Covid era.
Forecasts for tourism growth are highly optimistic. Officials are talking about a total of 11.8 million international travellers by 2025.
Photo – top of page: Bukhara is one of Uzbekistan’s highlights with its rich heritage (Photo: Uzbekistan.travel)