Mario Hardy’s musings on Kazakhstan

Ahead of the PATA Travel Mart in Kazakhstan, Mario Hardy, the association's CEO, finds himself back in the capital city of the former Soviet republic, where he discovers an intriguing blend of modernity and remnants from the past, a museum he calls the most fascinating site he has visited in a long while, and more

The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation in the distance

When I first visited Kazakhstan in 2017 I didn’t know what to expect. It’s a country I didn’t know much about, nor considered as a holiday destination. I was there to speak at an event and the little I saw at that time intrigued me and left me with the desire to learn more and go back.

Luckily, Paul Pruangkarn, director of communications and external affairs at PATA, and I were invited this month to the capital city of Astana to meet with the vice minister of tourism, the Astana mayor and other tourism stakeholders. We also had the unique opportunity to explore this forward-looking, modern city.

It is hard to believe that prior to 1997, Astana was a small village in the middle of vast plains. The new capital was founded in 1997 and now hosts over a million permanent residents. You can clearly see that urban planning and sustainability are a high priority in the development of the city.

Despite its wealth of natural resources, the city was built with renewable energy in mind. You can see solar energy and wind power in use across the city and the Museum of the Future, the formal site of Expo 2017 under the theme “Future Energy”, is one of the most fascinating sites I have visited in a long time. I could have easily spent days at the museum and felt like a kid in a toy store.

The city also clearly thought about accessibility for the disabled, as ramps and other amenities are available for people with limited mobility.

The modern architecture mixed with some Soviet remnants of the past and local Kazakh features blend perfectly well to create a spectacular skyline. The city hosts the biggest building in the world having the tent form, Khan Shatyr Shopping Mall, housing a mix of local and international brands as well as a beach resort situated within. Bayterek Monument, which represents a Kazakh legend in which the mythical bird Samruk lays a golden egg containing the secrets of human desires and happiness in a tall poplar tree beyond human reach, provides a unique view of the city.

Astana also hosts one of the largest mosques in Central Asia, Hazret Sultan Mosque, which is located in an interesting area surrounded by the beautiful pyramid of the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation and the Palace of Independence.

The city is well equipped to be an example of excellence in the development of the MICE sector, with facilities to host the smallest to largest events. In addition, there are a number of five-star hotels with amazing service, great restaurants and 24 hour bars.

Astana is a fascinating city; however, I would strongly encourage anyone visiting Astana to extend their stay and explore the rest of the country. Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world with contrasting geographical diversity from turquoise coloured lakes and vast plains to beautiful snow covered mountains and sand dunes. There are activities for everyone including horseback riding, skiing, and trekking. For those who wish to immerse themselves in the culture and heritage of the country, they could spend time in the old capital of Almaty or visit the city of Turkistan which boasts beautiful buildings with turquoise coloured roofs.

Paul and I both mentioned to our hosts how safe we felt at all times during our stay and found the Kazakh people to be very friendly and welcoming. Paul pointed out one of the displays at the Museum of the Future that summed up our stay perfectly. It read: “Hospitality has been considered a sacred duty in Kazakhstan since ancient times. It is customary to welcome a traveller in one’s home as a ‘heavenly messenger’ by offering the best refreshments and lodging for the night.”

For all of these reasons when Kazakh Tourism approached us to host the 42nd edition of PATA Travel Mart, it didn’t take us long to decide to put them at the top of the short list and eventually choose Astana as the host city in 2019. This gives our members and the travel trade community a unique opportunity to visit and enjoy a new destination that has so much to offer. We hope many of you will join us in a part of the world that is waiting for us to explore.

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