According to official figures, the number of tourists to Tajikistan has decreased by 72% in one year.
The latest figures for tourism in Tajikistan form a relentless observation: the sector is at the end of its rope, just like the rest of its economy. As relayed by the Tajik media Asia-Plus on February 12, the number of visitors fell from 1,254,000 in 2019 to 350,000 in 2020, representing a drop of 72.2%. Tourism, which represented 2 to 2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, only represents 1% in 2020.
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The reason for the visit is not specified, however, between business visits and purely tourist ones. In 2019, the Tajik authorities played on this definition to announce figures 10 times greater than in reality.
The figures for 2020, however, remain a real drop. The country, which declared the lowest number of deaths from Covid-19 among its neighbors in Central Asia, with 90 deaths against 1,450 in Kyrgyzstan and 3,150 in Kazakhstan, imposed restrictive measures that weighed heavily. To offset the impact of these measures, Asia-Plus recalls that in 2020 the country received 400 million dollars (328 million euros) in foreign aid. For its part, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates the country’s overall economic growth at 1% for the year 2020, compared with 7.5% in 2019.
Indicator of a breathless economy
The collapse of tourist arrivals in Tajikistan is actually just one visible symptom of the economic situation the country suffers from. Tajikistan, considered the poorest of the Commonwealth of Independent States countries and already very dependent on foreign aid before the crisis, now faces enormous economic challenges.
The revenues which constitute the GDP of Tajikistan are mainly distributed between 3 sectors of activity. According to 2019 figures from the World Bank, agriculture represented 19% of the wealth produced, industry 27% and finally the “Services” category, with more than 42% of the national wealth. In reality, the majority of the latter category includes remittances from Tajik migrants living abroad, mainly in Russia. In 2019, they represented 28.6% of Tajik GDP alone according to the World Bank.
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These transfers from abroad provide a living for 70% of the population. But with the successive confinements, especially in Russia, these transfers have decreased drastically. At the same time, foreign direct investment has fallen by almost 47% in one year, reports Radio Ozodi, the Tajik branch of the American media Radio Free Europe. Faced with these difficulties, tourism could have been a way out. But it is not.
A sector struggling to develop for several years
For several years now, the Tajik government has expressed its desire to develop tourism in the country. By designating 2018 as “the Year of Tourism”, the president wished to see his country overcome the many structural difficulties that do not attract foreign visitors.
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The high reliefs available to Tajikistan, with peaks between 6,000 and 8,000 meters, are conducive to the development of extreme tourism, which has been booming in recent years. The discovery of Tajik poetic folklore or the natural landscapes that cradle the road of the Pamir massif are all tarnished potentials by the lack of transport facilities, banking services or quality accommodation outside the big cities that do not have summers developed by the government of President Emomalii Rahmon.
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To attract visitors, the Tajik president extended the visa-free period of stay from 3 to 10 working days in April 2018. Major hotel chains such as Hyatt Regency, Hilton hotels and Serena hotels have recently taken up residence in the capital Dushanbe. 2020 also witnessed the creation of 22 new tourism agencies in Tajikistan (224 in total), notes Asia-Plus.
Develop domestic tourism
In this context, relaunching domestic tourism is both an opportunity and a necessity, explained to Asia-Plus Tojiddin Jourazoda, chairman of the Committee for Tourism Development. For this, new projects are on the 2021 calendar. On the program: the reconstruction of the Yamchun fortress, formerly guardian of a strategic passage from the Silk Road to India and Iran, and the restoration of the majestic Hulbuk Citadel in the Vose district in the southwest of the country.
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At the same time, the Tajik authorities announced on January 26 that they had defeated the coronavirus. A few days later, the Minister of Health Jamoliddin Abdoullozoda estimated that the lack of quarantine had made it possible to eliminate Covid-19 from the country.
Read also on Novastan: Tajikistan: the end of Covid-19, a “very improbable” statement
This “victory” enabled Emomalii Rahmon to announce the reopening of the mosques in 1is February, relays the Russian media Sputnik. This reopening may allow some mobility in the field. Thus the architectural complex of Khoja Machad, a major pilgrimage site listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, will also have the right to a new youth in 2021. What attracts believers and visitors to come and admire it.
Tojiddin Jourazoda also confided to Asia-Plus the Committee’s hope of exploiting a new form of rural tourism by focusing, in the regions, on hostel-type accommodation or even homestay accommodation. It remains to be seen whether these investments will actually be made.
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