Twenty years ago, when a Dutch cyclist named Rik Idema first passed through Mongolia on a round-the-world biking trip, the country struck him as the most pristine place he'd ever seen. Captivated by the steppe’s stark beauty, Idema later returned to explore the country with a Mongolian friend, Tseren Enebish. They started Tseren Tours together in 1994 and eventually married. Yet while business is thriving, the couple worries about Mongolia’s future as a tourist destination.
"The nomadic culture and vast unspoiled nature is what draws visitors,” said Enebish. “Mining could change that.”
In recent years, mining has eclipsed tourism as an engine for growth in Mongolia. "Traditionally, [agriculture] was always tourism's main competitor, but now it's mining," Indraa Bold, the director of the Mongolian National Tourism Organization (MNTO), a lobbying organization, told EurasiaNet.org.
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Pearly Jacob is a freelance journalist based in Ulaanbaatar.