More Singaporean travellers are ticking Central Asia off their bucket list as the region enjoys greater accessibility and connectivity to the city-state.
The past year has seen a global push by Air Astana through new connections with Tyumen and Kazan in Russia, codeshare agreements with S7 Airlines and Cathay Pacific, and the launch of its low-cost arm FlyArystan.
Several countries in Central Asia have also relaxed their visa policies. Foreign travellers from as many as 45 countries can now enjoy visa-free entry into Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for up to 30 days, and Kyrgyzstan for up to 60 days.
These developments have sparked significant tourism interest in the Stans – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – which “are becoming very popular tourism destinations”, observed Laziz Otayarov, operations manager for Central Asia, G Adventures.
He shared that the agency has seen a 10 per cent year-on-year increase in travellers from Singapore to Kazakhstan, and this figure is expected to rise further “as airline capacity continues to grow”.
He added: “Singaporean travellers no longer require a visa to (visit) most ’stans. Air Astana also offers good deals on their flights (that are) connecting or codeshared either via Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.”
These groups usually visit a single country for a short time of up to seven days, shared Otayarov, spending their time appreciating the mountains of Kyrgyzstan – dubbed the “Switzerland of Central Asia” – or enjoying the unique cuisine of Kazakhstan.
For Scott Dunn Singapore, Kazakhstan is a rising star of Central Asia thanks to its diverse experiences and efforts in enhancing tourism facilities.
The company’s destination expert Chong Shyh Jie shared: “Kazakhstan is relatively “un-travelled” in comparison to other Central Asian countries, hence Singaporeans are intrigued and (want to) explore it. It is (also) improving transport infrastructure and customer service, and working to bring prices down to make accommodation more affordable.”
As demand for Central Asia climbs, agencies have expressed desire for more outreach campaigns by tourism bodies in the region, especially to aid in arranging esoteric activities there.
For example, more information about Kazakhstan’s campaign on “ethno tourism”, where tourists are given the opportunity to participate in traditional Kazakh culture, would be welcome, said Chong.
Diana Ho, general manager of Royal Wings Travel Singapore, agreed that more B2B networking could be done.
“It will be good to see more tour promotions and more agent outreach. We haven’t received much information about Kazakhstan as compared to other (destinations in Asia),” Ho said.