The ‘Stans emerge as tourism’s newest lure

Big Almaty Lake in Tien Shan Mountains in Almaty, Kazakhstan, pictured

To cater to an increasingly discerning clientele, travel buyers are showing a greater appetite for novel and exotic destinations still untouched by mass tourism – and Central Asia appears to tick all the right boxes.

The region is dubbed the “last tourism frontier” by Air Astana’s CEO Peter Foster, sentiments that are also borne out by buyers at this year’s PATA Travel Mart (PTM) in Nur-sultan, Kazakhstan, which marks the first time a PATA event is held in Central Asia.

Buyers at the recent PATA Mart 2019 revealed that this year’s destination piques their interest; Big Almaty Lake in Tien Shan Mountains, Kazakhstan, pictured

Several buyers new to PTM said they were drawn to the mart this year because the host destination, Kazakhstan, is a fascinating and largely-unheard of country to them. This is also in line with PATA’s aim to promote emerging and less popular destinations for tourism.

Miroslav Konarik, sales manager for Czech Republic-based Periscope Skandinávie, which specialises in outbound travel for clients based in Scandinavia, Scotland and Iceland, told TTG Asia: “This is my first time in Kazakhstan, and is also my first time at PTM. I joined because the destination is interesting, and I’m excited to find out what the country has to show.”

Aside from “being on the lookout for new destinations”, Konarik is also interested to develop products to less-travelled destinations in the region such as Georgia and Armenia, adding that they are more “interesting than Thailand”.

Similarly, Madalina Nan, manager of outgoing department at Romania-based Atlantic Tours, indicated she would like to see more of Central Asia.
“This is unlike any traditional countries we cover, and not many people know about it,” she opined.

Meanwhile, Brazil-based Venturas’ relationship manager, Leonardo Monteiro, revealed: “Apart from Kazakhstan, I’m also interested in surrounding countries like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, which are all new to me. Also, the region is affordable. My company offers adventure activities like trekking, and cultural experiences, so I’m on the lookout for ground handlers and DMCs.”

Maria Ignatova, general manager of Bulgaria-based Opma Tpaben, hopes to seek out new contacts and network with local sellers at the mart, as her “clients are interested in Kazakhstan as a destination”.

Asian buyers are registering interest in Central Asia too. Paul Yeh, president of Shih Chun Travel Service in Taiwan, believes that Central Area will be a new destination that sophisticated Taiwanese travellers would be interested in.

“I’m hungry for new ideas to sell to high-end Taiwanese travellers, who are already very well-travelled,” he shared.

Instead of selling Kazakhstan as a potential mono destination, Yeh intends to add Kazakhstan to an existing India itinerary, as the country is “easier to visit after India”, rather than flying through Beijing.

Likewise, Fei Xin, deputy general manager outbound of Suzhou China International Travel Service, wants to explore possibilities in bringing high-end Chinese groups to Central Asia.

Xin noted: “The (Chinese) government is pushing the Belt and Road Initiative, but the general public is not familiar with countries along the route, along with its visa requirements, modes of transport, history and culture. Hence, we hope to establish a network that can benefit our business.”

Additional reporting by Rachel AJ Lee

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