Tourism development in Uzbekistan: an overview of the industry for 2016-2020

Tourism development in Uzbekistan: an overview of the industry for 2016-2020

At the turn of the reforms in 2016–2017, Uzbekistan is achieving significant growth in inbound tourism.

From 2016 to 2019, the number of foreign tourists increased from 2.0 million to 6.7 million, respectively.

In the same year, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Uzbekistan entered the top five countries with the most dynamically developing tourism industry and The Guardian recognized the country as the best tourist destination in the world.

About the dynamics of explosive growth during the period of five years in Uzbekistan’s tourism industry in the review of the expert of the Center for Economic Research and Reforms Khasanjon Majidov.

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Achieved results

At the beginning of 2016, a process of radical reform of the tourism industry was launched in Uzbekistan. Transformations in the field of tourism were named as one of the strategic directions for the development of the national economy, which can ensure the accelerated development of regions.

The analysis showed a positive dynamic of growth in tourism. So, in 2016-2019, there was a significant increase in the number of foreign tourists visiting Uzbekistan. For comparison, if in 2016, 2 million foreign tourists visited the country, in 2019 their number increased 3.3 times and reached 6.7 million.

In 2018, the number of foreign tourists increased - by 98% compared to 2017, and the number of companies and organizations engaged in tourism activities - by 131%.

It is notable that the growth in the number of tourists from different regions occurs in different ways. For example, the number of visitors from Central Asian countries increased by an average of 22-25% per year, while the annual growth among tourists from non-CIS countries was 50%.

At the same time, positive results were noted in domestic tourism. Compared to 2016, the number of domestic tourists in 2019 almost doubled and amounted to 14.7 million.

Impact of the pandemic on tourism

According to the World Tourism and Travel Council, the direct and indirect contribution of tourism and travel was $ 8.9 trillion (10.9% of world GDP) in 2019. Accordingly, every 10th person in the world worked in the tourism sector.

It should be noted that due to the restrictions imposed against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and the consequences of the global crisis, the tourism industry has suffered serious losses. In particular, the number of foreign tourists visiting Uzbekistan decreased by more than 4.5 times, to 1.5 million, and the volume of tourist services fell to $261 million in 2020.

Reanimation of the tourism industry

The current situation due to the coronavirus pandemic in Uzbekistan, the “Uzbekistan” project was developed. Safe travel guaranteed ("Uzbekistan. Safe travel guaranteed"). The project is a new system of sanitary and epidemiological safety for tourists based on world standards. Certification of tourism objects and tourism services based on new sanitary and hygienic requirements will be mandatory for:

  • all state border posts;
  • air, railway and bus stations;
  • objects of material cultural heritage, museums, theaters, etc.

According to the decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan dated June 19, 2020 No. 4755, the Safe Tourism Fund was formed at the expense of an initial contribution from the Anti-Crisis Fund under the Ministry of Finance for 20 billion soums.

Review of Tourism Legislation

In order to create favorable conditions for local and foreign tourists, more than 60 regulations were adopted to increase the investment attractiveness of the industry for 2016-2020.

Simplification of visa requirements

Simplification of the visa regime between countries, ensuring the mobility of citizens, reduces the cost of registration increases the flow of foreign tourists.

In 2018, Uzbekistan introduced a visa-free regime for citizens of 9 countries, in 2019 for citizens of 47 countries, in 2020 - 2021 another 5 countries. As of May 10, 2021, the number of countries for citizens of which a visa-free regime is granted in the Republic of Uzbekistan is 90 countries.

In addition, citizens of about 80 countries have the opportunity to apply for an electronic visa in a simplified manner. Five new types of visas have been introduced for foreigners: "Compatriot", "Student", "Academic", "Medicine" and "Pilgrimage". According to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the simplification of the visa regime has yielded positive results. In particular, in 2019, if the average growth in the number of foreign tourists was 26%, then the growth rate among the countries where the visa-free regime was introduced reached 58%.

Development of tourism infrastructure

The government took comprehensive measures to increase the accommodation.
Firstly, 22 types of requirements regulating the activities of hostels related to the type of budget housing have been canceled. In particular, the procedure for mandatory certification of hotel services provided by hostels has been canceled and the practice of working with a unified register of guest houses and hostels has been introduced. Secondly, in order to increase the number of small hotels, entrepreneurs were provided with 8 standard projects of small hotels up to 50 rooms free of charge and this measure is developed based on the experience of Turkey and South Korea.

As a result, the number of placements in the country has increased dramatically. In particular, from 2016 to 2020, their number increased from 750 to 1308 and the number of beds increased from 34,000 to 62,000.

Diversification of tourism services

MICE tourism. According to UNWTO, people spend three-four times more on business travel than on recreational tourism. In addition, if recreational tourism is seasonal in nature, then business tourism can generate income throughout the year.

In recent years, practical measures have been taken to diversify the structure of tourist services and develop new types of tourism in Uzbekistan. In particular, much attention is paid to increase the flow of tourists through MICE tourism, which is organizing various tournaments, meetings, conferences and exhibitions in Uzbekistan.

For reference: MICE tourism is a field of business tourism associated with the organization and holding of various corporate events. MICE means business meetings, team building, conferences, corporate recreation and so on.

Film tourism. Film tourism is another of the most important tools for shaping the country's image, which plays the role of passive advertising, providing information about the region among potential tourists.

A number of measures were also taken to develop cinema tourism in Uzbekistan. In particular, the Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On measures for the further development of the tourism sector in the Republic of Uzbekistan" and the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers "On measures to ensure the accelerated development of the tourism industry of the Republic of Uzbekistan" were adopted.

Last year, foreign film companies shot 6 feature films worth $1.6 million in Uzbekistan.

Pilgrimage tourism. According to the Global Muslim Tourism Index published in 2019, the number of Muslims who made the pilgrimage in 2018 was 140 million. By 2026, this number is expected to reach 230 million.

Over the past period, Uzbekistan has done a lot to develop pilgrim tourism and increase its share in the export of tourism services.

For example, in order to create special convenience for those visiting Uzbekistan for the purpose of pilgrim tourism, new requirements have been introduced for hotels, a map of the country's mosques has been developed and posted in the mobile application. The first Pilgrimage Tourism Forum was held in Bukhara and 120 foreign guests from 34 countries took part.

Medical tourism. In Uzbekistan, measures are being taken to develop medical tourism and attract more tourists to medical organizations. In particular, conferences and training seminars are held in cooperation with the largest public and private medical institutions in the country. Private medical clinics play a particularly important role in the provision of medical services to foreign citizens.

In 2019, the number of foreign citizens visiting Uzbekistan for medical purposes exceeded 50 thousand. In fact, this number can be higher, since determining the number of tourists visiting private medical clinics is still a difficult task.

More than 10 reputable foreign publications have recognized Uzbekistan as one of the most attractive tourist destinations.

In recent years, Uzbekistan has been recognized as the best travel destination in the world by The Guardian, the fastest growing country in the eyes of Wanderlust and the best growing tourism destination according to Grand voyage. As a result of consistently implemented measures, Uzbekistan has climbed 10 positions (22 places) in the Global Muslim Tourism Index, compiled by Crescent Rating. In addition, the World Tourism Organization ranked Uzbekistan 4th in the list of the fastest growing countries in the tourism sector.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the tourism of Uzbekistan needs to transform its business models through innovation and digitalization. It is necessary to develop such market segments as agro and ethno tourism.

At the same time, in order to make tourism industry as a highly profitable area, it is necessary to consolidate the efforts of all participants in the tourism market, public and private sectors. And here the role of the government is to ensure coordination of development policy and planning interstate, public and private levels in the tourism industry.

Prompt and high-quality solution of existing problems will play an important role in the development of tourism opportunities in Uzbekistan in the post-pandemic period.

Khasanjon Majidov,

Leading Researcher

Center for Economic Research and Reforms


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