Rural tourism can become another mechanism for increasing the efficiency of Tajik agriculture and economy altogether.
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Over 73% of Tajikistan’s population live in the rural areas. At the same time, rural tourism is completely undeveloped in the country.
It is so despite the fact that rural tourism is one of the economical pillars for many countries, even those where the urban population far exceeds the rural.
During the last 20 years, rural tourism has become an independent and very profitable industry in the USA and Western European countries. In Greece and Cyprus, rural tourism is recognized as the foundation of the country’s economic system. According to WTO estimates, rural tourism is one of the five directions in the 2020 Tourism Strategy.
Rural tourism (agritourism) is a part of the tourism industry focused on the usage of natural, cultural, historical and other resources of the countryside and its features to create an integrated tourism product.
According to statistics, above 700 million tourists visit certain destinations every year, of which 12 to 30 million are rural tourists. However, this figure represents only international tourism, while the number of domestic tourists is many times larger.
In Tajikistan, out of 13,043 tourists, only 13.5% have visited villages. Since then, there is no accurate data on the number of rural tourists. If we take the figure of 13.5% as the global average, then in 2018, 155,925 tourists (out of 1 million 155 thousand in total) visited the countryside. After the positive changes that have occurred recently in the country’s tourism sector, this figure could be many times larger.
In Tajikistan, tourism is a new, but very promising sphere. Over time, rural tourism will lead to development of other agriculture areas, transport, communications, housing and recreation facilities, infrastructure, etc., as well as new jobs creation.
In addition, rural tourism development in the country can be assessed not only as a cultural and national issue, but also at the same time as a major socio-economic program.
Why Rural Tourism in Particular?
The necessity of developing rural tourism is explained by several factors:
- Low level of social and economic development of the rural areas;
- Rural residents’ departure to the cities or outside the country;
- Lack of opportunities for the employment modernization and the necessity to create new jobs;
- The villages’ remoteness from industrial centers, cities and districts.
In comparison with other areas, tourism management in the rural zones has several advantages:
- There is no particular need for large investments in starting the tourism business: the willing rural residents can engage in this business with minimal expenses;
- Advertising expenses are not as necessary, since the information (both positive and negative) about the places offering tourist services is distributed quickly from one hotel to another;
- The infrastructure appears around the farms engaged in this activity: souvenirs, local food products and various services shops;
- Crafts develop in the villages, the commerce skills of the residents grow;
- Food products are 2 to 2.5 times cheaper in the village then in the city, which reduces tourists’ expenses and stimulates them to visit the rural areas.
Tourism and the Classic Concept of Hospitality in Rural Tajikistan
International experience shows two ways of organizing rural tourism:
First: tourism as an auxiliary production. Village residents engage in tourism business along with other economic activities. However, they do not attract investment; tourism mainly develops at their own expense. Such tourism development project does not develop according to any plan, but rather randomly, and is not very effective.
Second: tourism becomes the leading, rather than auxiliary type of business and conditions are created for tourists, both ecological and aesthetic. The potential of rural life (horseback riding, gathering corn, fruits, herbs, and fishing) is fully revealed, access to cheap local products, familiarization with ethnographic features, etc. are provided.
This type of tourism, eco-rural tourism or agricultural tourism is widespread in the United States, Western Europe and Turkey. Tourists live for some time in the countryside, learning the experience of village life.
As for now, rural tourism in Tajikistan develops as the first type, and its potential is not being used fully. The lack of hotels, roads and other tourism infrastructure in the countryside is the main problem. For example, if a tourist takes a trip to the countryside to explore the lakes, mountains, etc., the problem of finding accommodation arises. Usually, tourists bring along the tents in such cases, which is not quite safe in the mountains.
In 2015, in order to develop the tourism, the authorities planned to build lavatories on every 50th kilometer of the country’s roads and hotels with parking lots, shops, canteens, communications facilities on every 100th kilometer.
However, due to the lack of financial resources, this project was not implemented.
Studies show that before the infrastructure creation, it is important to develop the residents’ tourism behavior. Otherwise, rural tourism will not be effective. The classical hospitality approach based on the teachings, such as “Guest is the gift of the Almighty”, to some extent creates obstacles for turning tourism into an income source. That is, local residents consider every tourist who arrives to the village a pilgrim, the hospitality toward whom is considered a blessing.
For example, in the Kuhistoni Mastchoh district, there are no hotels currently. On the one hand, this is due to the lack of successful and motivated entrepreneurs, on the other hand, due to traditions of hospitality that exist in this area. As they say in the area, “it is a sin to let a guest to spend the night in a hotel”. During the guest’s stay in the resident’s house, all services for him are provided free of charge. A similar situation can be observed in most villages of Tajikistan.
In the contemporary world and market economy context, rural tourism in this form is hard to rearrange, since it becomes unprofitable. Most importantly, in such situations, tourist use all the natural possibilities of the Tajik village free of charge.
In contrast, in other regions, such as GBAO and Khorog in particular and some places in Baljuvon, Varzob and Romit Districts, people’s views on tourism have relatively improved. Along with many hotels, there are many home service providers. Residents offer their homes for tourists. Such homestays are very affordable for tourists whose finances are relatively limited, especially for internal tourists. On the other hand, the owners of such homestays receive decent income.
Specific Steps to Develop Rural Tourism and Crafts
Currently in Tajikistan, a project for organizing “Artisan Village” aimed at the tourism development in mountainous regions, primarily in Badakhshan, Sughd and Khatlon, is being studied in collaboration with the Union of Artists and Designers.
This initiative is associated with the fact that mountain regions, that is, villages of Tajikistan, are exceptional in attracting foreign tourists.
Today, residents of some villages in the country show a growing interest to the field of tourism and folk crafts. For example, a resident of the Murghab opened a crafts shop in the center of the district, where he sells not only his products, but also other district artisans’ products.
The Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association made plans of the industry development in cooperation with state and private structures to create a network of small modern hotels with local handicraft products shops in remote GBAO areas. It is necessary to study similar experience in order to spread it throughout the country.
How to Develop Rural Tourism?
Given the work done for the rural tourism development, individual efforts at the regional level are insufficient. Further development requires specific programming and a unified national project. The absence of a national tourism development project is largely due to the lack of theoretical and investigative studies on the issue.
For example, countries all over the world are exploring opportunities for the regional development, in particular, trying to find regions’ specialization taking into account the climate patterns, ecology, topography, fauna and flora, etc. Such regional specialization helps to study the ways of getting revenue. In the future, it will help to represent these regions as tourism objects.
International Experience in Tourism Development
It would be useful to focus on the experience of countries that were able to achieve success in the development of rural tourism.
In Poland, where the rural areas make up to 93% of the country’s territory, the focus is on the rural tourism development. Children starting from the school age are preparing for “rural tourism technology” and they are encouraged to engage in this business. Today, over 27% of this country’s population works in various branches of rural tourism, which is a unique experience.
In Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, neighboring Tajikistan, rural tourism has also significantly developed. For example, rural tourism is well established in Jizzakh and Navoi regions and Nurata mountains of Uzbekistan. Here, tourists are provided with good conditions to acquaint themselves with nature and attractions. Tourists can rent horses, camels, donkeys and go for riding.
Rural tourism, especially “yurt tourism”, is also very interestingly developing in Kyrgyzstan.
Many handicrafts are sold as souvenirs on the markets of the country. As a result, the number of tourists visiting these countries significantly exceeds the Tajik rates. For example, in 2018, 5.5 million foreign tourists visited Kyrgyzstan, and 5.3 million visited Uzbekistan, which is 4.5 times higher than Tajikistan’s indicators.
What Hinders the Development of Rural Tourism?
The following are the existing reasons that directly or indirectly affect the rural tourism development in Tajikistan:
- The lack of interest from the villagers to the tourism business, the fear of the procedures for guests reception, ignorance of the basics of this business; ignorance of foreign languages; lack of personnel.
- Poor roads, and in some cases, absence of acceptable roads for driving to tourist places. For example, the road to the mountain valley Haftkul in Panjakent is broken and tough to pass, which can scare tourists away from the trip, despite the uniqueness of the nature and lakes.
- Poor-quality tourism services provision in the context of the existing village infrastructure.
- The instability of the village tourist market, which is due to seasonality. Most travel agencies work in certain seasons, and in between the seasons (winter, for example) they are engaged in other activities. It is important to note that the correct usage of the natural resources of the village can solve this problem. There are opportunities for skiing in some villages during winter season. It is only the necessary infrastructure that has to be developed. For example, this type of tourism can be developed in the Sagirdasht jamoat of Darvoz district, where, following the example of Safed Dara ski resort, a large ski complex can be built.
Benefits of Developing Rural Tourism
The development of tourist infrastructure in the countryside has many advantages:
- A major local roadways reconstruction.
- Tourists will buy cheap, eco-friendly products from peasants, which will increase population’s income. It will also motivate locals, including urban residents, to look for employment in the villages.
- With the tourism business development and the involvement of villagers in it, their interest in protecting local attractions and nature in general will increase.
- The rural tourism development will enhance the process of urban population migration to the rural areas of the country.
- Just like other areas, rural tourism also requires skills and knowledge. Therefore, it is important to organize classes for high school students on the basics of tourism business and skills (standards, ethics and psychology of services). It is important since not all professionals who study in the tourism departments of universities, will return to the village.
- Now, in the system of social and economic sciences, there is no specific systematic research on rural tourism and its role in the development of the national economy. In this regard, it is necessary to analyze and specifically evaluate the importance of rural tourism for the country’s economy.
- To promote tourism, it is expedient to create a list of all cities and districts with detailed information about tourist sites and a map in foreign languages on the single portal of the Committee for Tourism Development. This will make it easier for tourists to find the information.
- International experience shows that rural tourism can be effective in Tajikistan, both for society and economy. In turn, it is necessary to consider that the development of this sphere can be fully realized on the base of a special program. With this in mind, it is important to create and implement a “2025 Program for Rural Tourism Development in the Republic of Tajikistan”.
- Rural homestays rent and other tourist reception points cannot be seen as the goal of the development. It is necessary to study the principles of tourism and the basics of marketing. Therefore, the Committee for Tourism Development must conduct trainings and seminars for the village staff involving specialists and specially created program, to show the paths of expanding businesses and finding sources of financing, etc. For example, in Germany and Cyprus, a special program for the rural tourism development exists, which teaches villagers the methods of repairing and decorating homestays with national patterns. Those who wish, receive loans at affordable interest.
Thus, the study shows the importance of rural tourism in the country. This area plays an important role in the society and the state development and provides opportunities to solve rural socio-economic problems in the near future.
This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia». The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.
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