The Republic of Uzbekistan is situated in the central part of Central Asia and accounts for about 32 million inhabitants on area of 447,4 sq. km. The urban inhabitants make about 50% of total population. Median age is 27 years and about 28% of population is under age 14. Many challenges remain in the social sphere with considerable unemployment.
After independence, Uzbekistan has begun to structure and organise the tourism sector. International tourist arrivals increased during those years, however, growth has not been sustainable and the country's tourism industry is still lagging behind. With various touristic attractions and resources Uzbekistan has a high potential for an expanded tourism industry catering for a wide variety of tourist types. However, so far, cultural tourism is the main product with major cities being the tourism hubs.
The majority of visitors come to Uzbekistan only once to book the standard cultural tour. Tourism, particularly rural community-tourism, represents an important opportunity for Uzbekistan as well as other Central Asian countries in their efforts to diversify the tourism product portfolio, reduce poverty, preserve local cultures and the environment, generate employment, income, foreign currency, and expand and diversify economies. Community tourism has first been established in Kyrgyzstan in the early 2000’s thanks to its policies and interventions from development agencies (e.g. Helvetas, ECEAT). Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan want to learn from the Kyrgyz model.
Community tourism potential remains largely untapped in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries. For the sector to flourish improved cooperation, diversification and upgrading of products and services complying with international quality standards is a prerequisite. Improved products and services will pave the way for further international market penetration that will also ask for common programs and improved visibility for the Central Asian region through concerted promotional actions. Easing customs and border procedures (e.g. visa barriers) will benefit specifically rural communities based within the inner border regions of Central Asian countries. For example Zerafshan valley in Tajikistan and Chatkal valley Kyrgystan would largely benefit from more open borders with Uzbekistan.
Currently, national rural/community tourism associations exist in Kyrgyzstan (KCBTA,) and Tajikistan (TCBTA). This project will unite regional BIO’s into a national "UCBTA" for Uzbekistan. In addition, the already existing Kazakh Ecotourism Information Resource Centre (EIRC) will deliver relevant services to provincial BIO’s and their members. Improved Central Asian cooperation will be achieved through a community/rural tourism chapter within a revitalized regional Central Asian Tourism Association (in addition to the existing Hotel and Tour operator chapters).
The project aims to improve the performance of the Small and Medium Enterprises sector of the national economy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in terms of contribution to GDP and job creation.
The specific objective of the Action is to strengthen the capacity of rural community tourism Business Intermediary Organisation (BIOs) in Central Asia, mainly in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan involving the long established rural and community tourism BIOs in Kyrgyzstan.
Its specific objectives are:
1) Strengthened and sustained capacity of BIOs to support their SME-members;
2) Improved national and regional co-operation and best practice exchange;
3) Enhanced linkages between Central Asia and EU BIOs to the benefit of Central Asia SME’s.
The target groups are board members, staff and supporting organisations of regional and national rural/community tourism BIOs in Central Asia. Focus on Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Indirect: 5 000+ businesses members (SMEs) of 20 regional and 4 national tourism BIOs for rural and community-based tourism in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgystan.
The final beneficiaries are communities in underdeveloped rural (mostly mountain) regions with special focus on women and youth.