Kyrgyzstan’s tourist industry looks set to become hostage to the violence that has engulfed the country in recent months.
Kazakh tourists who normally flock to Lake Issyk-Kul in northern Kyrgyzstan are shying away from holidays at the popular spot this summer, a Kazakh tourism official says.
“In connection with the unrest in Kyrgyzstan, demand for holidays in Issyk-Kul has dropped to zero,” Rustem Asenov, head of the Department for the Development of Tourism in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital of Almaty, told the local Vecherniy Almaty newspaper.
Almaty, just three hours’ drive from the Kyrgyz border, is usually a prime source of tourists for Issyk-Kul: around 12,000 visitors from the city usually head there on organized tours every year, Asenov added, and that figure doesn’t include independent travellers making their own way from Kazakhstan. According to some estimates, up to a million Kazakhs holiday at the lake every summer.
This year, though, security fears are pushing visitors to other destinations. This will upset business at the resorts, where Kazakhs are known as big spenders.
The news comes in the wake of a row over Kazakh property on Issyk-Kul, a picturesque mountain-fringed lake that was developed as a tourist destination in Soviet times.
Deputy leader of the provisional government Azimbek Beknazarov has proposed the government consider nationalizing four Kazakhstan-owned resorts on the lake.
The properties were long in dispute after the collapse of the Soviet Union, until deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev agreed to formalize Kazakh ownership in 2008. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev brushed aside Beknazarov’s comments on June 22, remarking that “time will tell, it will all calm down and I think everything will remain as it was.”
Beknazarov’s populist rhetoric left many wondering why members of Kyrgyzstan’s embattled provisional government are worrying about resorts as they continue to count the death toll – not to mention property damage – from ethnic violence in the south.