A lesson learnt — How Uzbekistan won prestigious responsible tourism award?

Uzbekistan won tourism award

Agha Iqrar Haroon

From Maidan Euro Kiev to D Chowk Islamabad--All is set for regime change in PakistanI became very excited when I came to know that a small indigenous project in a remote village of landlocked Uzbekistan got international responsible tourism award at ITB on March 4, 2015.

I was excited because I had been visiting this project since 2009 and can feel the excitement of people who are around and connected with this project.

Practicing responsible tourism is a tightrope walking for a private entrepreneur because basic principles of responsible tourism contradict financial interests of practitioner because bigger group and lavish group makes operation cost lesser and this is the fundamental rule in tourism operations. Moreover finding responsible visitors and guiding them to avoid any act that can imbalance social, cultural and environmental atmosphere of destination is another important issue.

There is no doubt that western countries and tour sellers have done a lot to translate dream of ecotourism and responsible tourism into a reality but danger of overselling and over-promotion is still there while marketing fragile ecosystems and indigenous cultures. Degradation of fragile valleys in Himalayas is prime example though these destinations were and are mostly visited by western travelers.

There are many international organizations guiding practitioners how to manage destinations and there are many organizations that are guiding travelers how to behave while visiting a foreign culture and lands. However, all depends on service providers and tour operators how to manage and save destinations for next our generations.

Usually, the factor of “Greed” rules private entrepreneurs for getting maximum financial benefits out of a destination within minimum time and this behavior drives overselling and reckless use of destinations.

It is very difficult or sometimes impossible for small and medium scale entrepreneurs living in a landlocked country like Uzbekistan to executive and successfully operate a remote destination in fragile plains of Samarkand. However, the example of Mitan Responsible Tourism project dispels the impression that it is impossible for an entrepreneur to operate a remote destination while following parametres of responsible tourism.

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I have been visiting Mitan Responsible Tourism project in Samarkand Uzbekistan since 2009. This unique project was established by Silk Road Destinations (C.A.T.I.A), a medium scale tourism operation company based in Samarkand. The project was planned and established without any local or foreign funding. The initiator of this project is a young man namely Ravshan TURAKULOV who believes that Community Based Development (CBD) or Community Based Tourism (CBT) project must have its own source of income for its sustainability instead of depending upon funding. Yes his idea and believe really worked and—- worked successfully.

This project is not a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative because Silk Road Destinations (SRD) Company was not getting any business or economical benefit from this area before initiating and launching this project in Mitan village. This remote village had never been on tourism map of Uzbekistan as “destination” till tourism operation was started by Silk Road Destinations and visitors were introduced to this village.

This project is exceptional in the region of Central Asia because it is providing practical training of tourism development and destination management to youth of Mitan village at doorstep and creating tourism workforce for future so youth of this small and remote village to ensure their jobs in tourism sector in future.

Project is providing a model of interfaith harmony to youth of this Muslim Community and facilitates a face-to-face intercultural dialogue among groups and individuals having different social and religious backgrounds.

Since Silk Road Destinations is an incoming tour operator in Uzbekistan so company offers an opportunity to visitors/guests get into direct contact with local families and their Muslim culture and traditions. The project is aimed at generating an additional income for the villagers. It is also meant to contribute to cultural exchange and to a better understanding between people with different social and religious backgrounds.

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Mitan Responsible Tourism project Uzbekistan
Community and travellers together–A success of Mitan Responsible Tourism project Uzbekistan

When I contacted Director and initiator of Mitan Responsible Tourism project Ravshan TURAKULOV to comment on his success, he said he felt proud that his country and his company won international award. He was of the view that Mitan project was an example that strong commitment brought wonderful results.

Ravshan started his career as a French tourist guide in 1996. He completed his Master of Arts in French language from Samarkand State Institute for Foreign languages after finishing his bachelor degree from School of French Philology Samarkand Uzbekistan. He is running his company the Silk Road Destinations in Samarkand Uzbekistan since 2001.

He believes that tourism management teaches a person to think international, plan globally while operating domestically therefore gives a person ample chances to do something better for sustainable future of the earth. He strongly believes in sustainable tourism development and promotion of cultures while operating his business and provides opportunities to travelers to meet and greet people in remote areas of Central Asia to feel the threads of Central Asian society.

He says he avoids operation of big groups and only sustainable size of groups are sent to Mitan though financially it costs him extra financial burden and cost of group goes higher. He believes that Mitan belongs to community and he must respect this fact therefore community must be involved in decision making at every stage of operations.

The successful Mitan Responsible Tourism project teaches me a new chapter of ecotourism and responsible tourism management.

I learn from this project that responsible tourism and ecotourism are not mere myths and can be executed successfully if:

  • Private sector is conscious and respects basic rules of sustainable development.
  • Communities are free in decision making instead of following project design imposed by outsiders onto them.
  • Project is “Not” designed on the base of “Greed and exploitation” rather to help local community.
  • Minimum infrastructure development should be involved in project design.
  • Youth should be involved in project for getting training for developing a wider workforce for future.
  • Project must be a extra source of income for community instead of the “Only” source.
  • Stay of visitors should be limited to 3 to 4 days/night maximum so accommodation can be used for next small group instead of increasing the size of the group.
  • Practitioner must be conscious about nature and social background of visitors he/she is sending to any remote destination. Mitan is getting 100% visitors from western countries (mostly from Europe) and visitors are usually above 40 to 65 year of age.
  • Clear guideline and introduction about community must be given to visitors while selling the group (Dos and Don’ts)
  • Around the year direct contact of entrepreneur with community helps a successful operation during high season.
  • The most important lesson I learnt from Mitan is “Destination is an entity having living environments and it must not be taken as a product to “Consume”.
  • Policies of government should be tourism friendly as of Uzbekistan where its President Mr. Karimov is personally interested to promote tourism.
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It may be mentioned that the international contest To Do 2014 Awards was organised by the Institute for Tourism and Development (Studienkreis für Tourismus und Entwicklung e. V.) and was supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Bread for the World – Church Development Service, forum anders reisen e. V., ITB Berlin, Studiosus Reisen München and the Swiss Foundation for Solidarity in Tourism that also provides the prize money.

Writer is a former Consultant to Ministry of Tourism Government of Pakistan and former President Ecotourism Society Pakistan.  Currently he is working as the President of The Region Initiative (TRI), Development Observer and ecotourism Consultant.

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