SPECIAL POLICY BRIEF: Tourism Development in Uzbekistan — Challenges and Opportunities
Author: Ambassador (Ret.) Robert F. Cekuta, Na Sha
Oct 9, 2019
Uzbekistan has great potential for the expanded tourism industry. As one of the focus areas for reform and economic expansion, tourism in the country has increased fivefold over the last three years. While about 1 million tourists visited Uzbekistan in 2016, the figure rose to 2.7 million in 2017, and more than 5.3 million in 2018. The number of foreign tourists is expected to rise to 7 million by 2025, and the annual foreign currency earnings from foreign visitors will reach as much as $2 billion.
However, Uzbekistan’s tourism sector still faces challenges. These include poor transportation and payment systems, the shortage of appropriate hotels, medical services, language assistance, and information for tourists. Uzbekistan can enhance its tourism potential by strengthening its cooperation with other countries and international organizations. Additionally, Uzbekistan should explore its cultural and natural attractions, and invest in advertising to raise awareness about these sites. To properly utilize its tourism resources, Uzbekistan also needs to improve infrastructure construction, as well as foster entrepreneurship and other private-sector engagement to realize the country’s tourism potential.
With its great historical, archeological, architectural, and natural treasures, Uzbekistan has exceptional potential for tourism. The country’s diverse ecology, ranging from deserts to glaciers, mountains to steppes, gives the country great eco-tourism potential. The eco-tourism opportunities in Uzbekistan are plentiful and distinct. These include its eight state reserves (201.7 thousand hectares), three national parks (598.7 thousand hectares), biosphere reserve (68.7 thousand hectares), natural wildlife breeding center (158.9 thousand hectares), and ten natural monuments (3.7 thousand hectares).
Located on the ancient Silk Road, Uzbekistan has more than 4,000 historical and architectural sites, a carefully saved and precious spiritual heritage, and over 7,000 historical monuments. These include famous ancient cities on the UNESCO World Heritage list, such as Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, and Shakhrisabz. Moreover, Uzbekistan is a country with strong Islamic roots. There are more than 160 historically important Muslim sites located in the country and dozens of historical sites related to Sufism. Among these are the Mausoleum of Sheikh Zaynudin Bobo, Sheihantaur, the Mausoleum of Zangiata in Tashkent, the Bakhauddin Ensemble in Bukhara, the Bayan-Quli Khan Mausoleum, the Saif ed-Din Bokharzi Mausoleum, and many others. In addition, Uzbek cuisine and wine can attract gastronomic-related tourism.