By TBY | Kazakhstan | Apr 17, 2017
Kazakhstan is looking to make its mark as the region's main tourist destination. Out of the nine “stans,“ Kazakhstan is the largest and most topographically diverse, boasting miles of steppe, desert, and mountains, making it the perfect destination for an ecotourism industry.
A grand and sweeping steppe dominates much of central and northern Kazakhstan. The country boasts mountainous southern and southeastern regions, too, and a growing winter sport industry after years of investors spending millions on improving lifts and piste infrastructure near Almaty. Another avenue for the tourist industry is into the niche of ecotourism.
In 2016, the Ecotourism Resource Center reported that 456,000 tourists passed through Kazakhstan and expects the number to grow substantially in the years to come, largely thanks to extended visa-free travel for EU and OECD members and a growing interest in the region among travelers worldwide.
Tourists are able to find something unique in Kazakhstan, and are encouraged to stay in yurts, a tourist experience centered on the traditional dwelling. Yurts are tent-like structures made of wood and canvas and have been used across Eurasia for hundreds of years due to their durability, flexibility, and warmth. Offering natural materials constructed and operated by local people, “yurt stays” are the most sustainable and environmental form of ecotourism today. The yurt is adaptable to all temperatures, easy to move, and a seminal part of Kazakhstani history.
While staying in yurts, tourists are exposed to far more of the natural world than they would be in a traditional hotel environment. The lack of amenities and the typical luxuries are a unique selling point for the traveler looking for something off the beaten track. In a yurt, tourists sleep on traditional carpets, most likely drink the famous Kazakh kumys, a fermented horse milk, and, most importantly, leave no carbon footprint while contributing directly to local economies.
Etnoaul Kogez is one of the most advanced examples of ecotourism in Kazakhstan. Etnoaul Kogez is an ethnic village in the Mangystau Oblast, set to open in early 2017 in the desert region of western Kazakhstan between the historic Sherkala and Ayraktinsky mountains in the valley of Shumangai. Here guests will stay in one of eight yurts, each capable of housing up to six guests, and are afforded a unique chance to experience Ustyurt reserve, the historical and cultural monuments, and the incredible beauty of the Castle Valley, a vale lined by protruding rocks that give visitors the impression of a natural fortress.
The United Nations Development Program in Kazakhstan has supported the project for its use of locally and naturally sourced materials, preservation of traditional culture, and engagement with the community. The village proudly boasts a diverse and healthy garden containing different fruit and trees, bushes and flowers, and a pond. Once complete the project will support both local and international tourists, and provides a model for sustainable and eco-friendly tourism for the wider region.
The sector will receive further exposure at Expo 2017, which is being held in the capital city of Astana between the months of June and September. Between two to three million people will arrive at the world fair, and this year its theme is “Future Energy.” Astana officials have suggested that foreign businessmen, politicians, diplomats, and travelers, should stay in yurts if they would like to sample a more ecofriendly way of travel. This enormous event will boost tourism in 2017 as well as in the years to come. Furthermore, the use of yurts at a global conference on a sustainable and eco-friendly future will bode well for yurt stays across Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan’s sweeping size, range of natural destinations, and unique culture help to put it on the map as a future destination for ecotourism in the region. Tourists are arriving from as far as North America and as near as China to revel in the emptiness of the steppe, to ski in the enormous Tian Shan mountains, to visit the cosmopolitan city of Almaty, and learn about the long-standing traditions of the Kazakhstani people.