Uzbekistan launches 'Samarkand City' project

By Maksim Yeniseyev


Registan Square in Samarkand is shown in the summer of 2016. The Uzbekistani government is hoping to double the number of tourists to the ancient city.  [Maksim Yeniseyev]

TASHKENT -- One of Uzbekistan's main tourist destinations is working to double its number of visitors by 2021.

Samarkand, which was founded in the 7th century BCE and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, in coming years could have a new 24-hour tourist zone in the historic core, as well as more hotels and better restaurants.

A recently approved Uzbekistani government plan to build up Samarkand tourism infrastructure through 2019 is expected to cost at least "39.3 billion UZS [$9.8 million]", Shokhrukh Kurbanov, a source within Samarkand city hall, told Caravanserai.

The government expects to spend more than that preliminary figure in carrying out the associated projects, he said, adding that the funding stream will "include government funds, bank loans, and foreign investments".


Registan Square in Samarkand is shown in the summer of 2016. Samarkand is home to dozens of architectural monuments, mostly built between the 15th and 17th centuries. [Maksim Yeniseyev]

A similar effort to promote Bukhara as a destination is under way.

Developing tourism

Uzbekistan, with an array of ancient cities rich in Muslim history and architecture, has considerable potential for tourism that goes unused, say industry watchers.

Considering its "unique ... cities like Samarkand, Bukhara, Shakhrisabz and Khiva, Uzbekistan doesn't have a lot of tourists", Yekaterina Kan, an employee of the Tashkent travel agency Miurid Travel, told Caravanserai.

"The country is relatively closed off, visas are hard to obtain, plane tickets are expensive," she added. "But our country's potential is vast."

Highlights for any visitor include Samarkand.

"The aesthetic of the Sillk Road continues to attract tourists from all over the world who are prepared to do a lot," said Kan. "We don't have the mass tourism ... you see in European cities."

One Frenchman acknowledged the challenge of visiting Uzbekistan.

"I really liked Uzbekistan," Frédéric Lalli, who visited in June, told Caravanserai. "But coming here wasn't easy. You have to buy a [guided] tour ... or else you can't get a visa. You can't stay wherever you want; you have to register at hotels."

Improving infrastructure

Trying to make Samarkand more enticing, the Uzbekistani government is investing in infrastructure.

In 2015, 142,000 tourists came to Samarkand Province, almost half of them foreigners, according to the government. Statistics for 2016 are not available yet.

The government hopes to double that number by 2021. On June 30, it adopted a resolution on expediting development of Samarkand city and Samarkand Province's tourist potential in 2017-2019.

The plan calls for building more hotels and other tourism infrastructure.

"We plan entertainment options for tourists and a better system of restaurants," said Kurbanov. "We'll beautify the city and provide Wi-Fi."

Tourism officials envision a new advertising campaign and more rail and air connections to Samarkand, he added.

'Samarkand City'

The resolution's main proposal is to create a tourist zone called Samarkand City in the town's historic core. If implemented, it would mean hotels and 24-hour entertainment and shopping venues in the zone.

"We expect that both Uzbekistani businesses and foreign investors will show interest in the zone," Kurbanov said. "Businesses who choose to work in Samarkand City will have the majority of their taxes exempted, and they'll be exempt from all import duties on equipment and materials."

"This zone is a good opportunity for small-business owners in Samarkand," Samarkand businessman Dilmurod Abdurokhmonov told Caravanserai. "Thanks to tax breaks, they'll be able to start working and creating jobs without difficulty."

Other plans call for tourism-promoting projects on the outskirts of town, such as a future 9.6ha eco-tourism zone in Mironkul Mahalla. A businessman is planning to spend 12 billion UZS ($3 million) to build it.

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The airport in Samarkand should be expanded!


I assume if there is to be a 24-hour tourism zone in the town's historic core with non-stop entertainment and shopping, there are no permanent residents living nearby. Otherwise they would not support it. Who would want foreign tourists banging around the area at all hours, with bright lights and loud noises everywhere, all the time? Would you want that in your backyard, your neighborhood, your historic core? How does all that tourist activity (and all their impacts) fit into the area's image, its sense of place, and its current ambiance and attractions? If it is compatible, how will you make sure it stays that way, especially with outside owners and managers who do not share your local cultural values and historical pride? Once you build the machine (the tourism industry), you must feed it. Investors will demand that, and they will gain influence and power over the destination. Remember the Golden Rule of Tourism: "The only reason to develop tourism anywhere is to benefit the local people." Also, is a sudden, dramatic increase in tourism good for the people of Samarkand? Will they only be getting the low-paying, entry-level jobs that are created? What is being done, in a short period of time, to ensure they will become managers, leaders, and entrepreneurs in their own tourism industry? Or, will they just be serving outside masters? Remember the Silver Rule of Tourism: "The tourism industry should not be allowed to grow faster than the local people's ability to grow with it.