Kazakhstan keen to tap India's rich and enterprising middle class to enhance bilateral tourism ties: Official
Taking strong exception to a recent news report that Central Asian countries Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are fast becoming preferred sex tourism hubs, pushing Thai capital Bangkok into the background, the Embassy of Kazakhstan said the country has maintained progress in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, and prohibits trafficking of persons for both labor and sexual exploitation.
In an interview given to ANI, Timur Nogaibayev, First Secretary at the Embassy of Kazakhstan, said tourism is one of the important areas that present immense possibilities between Kazakhstan and India.
"Tourism is among the priorities of Kazakhstan's State Programme of Accelerated Industrial and Innovative Development. The government's new concept for the development of the tourism industry through 2020, plus ongoing work to promote and improve Kazakhstan's image and tourist infrastructure, is intended to give a big boost to this important, yet underdeveloped sector," he said.
Referring specifically to Kazakhstan-India tourism ties, Nogaibayev said: "We have daily flights between Almaty and New Delhi and several more connecting the two countries are pending. India has a rich and enterprising middle class, estimated in the range of 50 to 300 million people. These people are prosperous and want to travel to other countries and experience different cultures and cuisines."
He added: "Kazakhstan presents an excellent location in the neighborhood of the country, which in addition to its unique steppes, lakes and hills, also offers snow clad mountains and ski slopes. And of course, the challenge to attract as much visitors to the EXPO-2017 by definition cannot exclude potential Indian participants and tourists from the equation."
Nogaibayev further stated, "There are a lot of complementarities between India and Kazakhstan. When snow and cold would not allow it in Kazakhstan, it is warm and sunny in India, and when it is too hot in India, it is pleasant weather in Kazakhstan."
"It is worthwhile to mention that Kazakhstan is part of a very exclusive list of selected countries, whose citizens will be able to get an Indian visa at the airport upon arrival," the embassy official said.
And it is only natural for Kazakhstan, a growing country posing no threat in terms of emigration flows, to expect reciprocity, he stated.
"We have a society, where personal freedom is being respected," Nogaibayev said.
When asked specifically to respond to the report that quoted a former representative of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) as saying that Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are emerging as sex tourism hotspots on the lines of Bangkok, Nogaibayev referred to the July 30 conference of the Kazakh State Juridical University in Astana, which thoroughly discussed the issue of human trafficking and slavery, and the conclusion that steps would be taken to combat both effectively and efficiently.
He said the Astana event was held to mark the first UN World Day against Trafficking in Persons, and included the participation of ambassadors; representatives of non-governmental organizations and the United Nations.
"Kazakhstan has maintained progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and prohibits trafficking in persons for both labor and sexual exploitation. It has passed amendments to its anti-trafficking legislation in 2013, that increased penalties for trafficking in persons and aligned its definition of human trafficking with the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children of the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime," Nogaibayev said.
He maintained that Kazakhstan's tourism industry is entering a new phase of development.
"Citizens of ten countries who have either invested the most, or have the potential to invest the most in Kazakhstan, have been granted visa-free travel to the country," said Nogaibayev
He said that this step should be widely seen as part of a series of measures designed to maintain the Kazakh economy's competitive edge in a globalising world.
"It is the right move, and, despite the obvious questions it raises about potential challenges to national security or the loss of visa-generated revenue, the visa-free regime should and probably will get extended and expanded after its one-year trial," he said.
The change, which came into force for travel from July 15, 2014, means citizens of the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France, Italy, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Malaysia, the Netherlands, South Korea and Japan can enter, exit and transit through Kazakhstan without a visa for visits of up to 15 calendar days at a time. There are no limits on the number of such visits per year.
"We would like to see India becoming a part of this new initiative," he added.
"Simplification of visa procedures, the build-up of the hospitality industry, and many other issues are on the agenda. The bilateral inter-governmental agreement on simplifying the issuance of visas for some categories of citizens is under the consideration by the relevant authorities of two countries," he added.
"The visa-free programme, which will initially run for one year, may be expanded in 2015 to include more countries. It follows several other measures in easing the hassle for foreign visitors as well as a simplified visa-issuing regime for citizens of almost 50 countries," he said.
"We are looking to develop further the country's tourism potential as part of its Kazakhstan 2020 development programme, which defines comprehensive measures for the creation of five national tourist clusters," Nogaibayev said.
As an example, he referred to the Shchuchinsk-Borovoye resort area, which is becoming a centre of large-scale tourism and cultural and recreational trips for both Kazakhstan and foreign nationals, is one of the most dynamic points of growth in Astana's tourism industry.
In recent years, 100,000 to 300,000 local and foreign tourists have arrived at the Shchuchinsk-Borovoye resort during the summer.
In recent years, revenue from tourism in Kazakhstan has grown. In 2008, the state earned about 66 billion Tenge (1 US dollar = 182 tenge) in tourism revenues. In 2009, this figure had reached 82 billion Tenge.
Tourism is expected to play a key part of a series of initiatives, including tax incentives, to encourage foreign investment and tourism in achieving this ambition.
Kazakhstan, the world's ninth largest country, contains a wide variety of national parks and stunning landscapes from high mountains to deserts.
The Borovoye zone accounts for the bulk of Kazakhstan's visitors. Their action plan entails the development of three main leisure zones for travelers on the shores of Lake Schyuchye, Borovoye, Big Chebachye and Small Chebachye.
Burabai National Park is unique not only for its blue lakes, which reflect nearby ridges and picturesque rocks, but also for its rich fauna.
The park has a very dedicated and sophisticated staff devoted to breeding and maintaining herds of spotted, red and roe deer and families of wild boar, marmots and other animals.
In North Kazakhstan particular attention is being paid to the development of medical tourism.
Kazakhstan's southern border high in the Tien Shan Mountains is home to the rarely seen petroglyphs, the majestic ibex, brown bears and a myriad of wildflowers.
The Aksu Zhabagly National Nature Preserve is the oldest in Central Asia, having been established in 1926 it is one of Kazakhstan's hidden touristic gems.
(Posted on 07-08-2014)