Uzbekistan’s presidential program on the development of tourism through to 2019 has again dangled the possibility that the visa regime could be eased for short-term visitors.
Tourism industry insiders have already had their hearts broken on this once, however. At the start of the year, the government announced plans to allow citizens of 27 countries to travel to the country visa-free as soon as from April. But just days later, in what rumored to be result of an internal scrap between the president’s office and the head of the security services, that was taken off the table.
In another bash at fixing the problem, the government has said it is creating a working group that will by the end of September draw up a list of countries for which the visa process will be streamlined. Citizens from mainly Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia will be offered special categories to travel to Islamic pilgrimage sites in places like Samarkand and Bukhara.
The tourism development program also envisions raising foreign investment for the construction of new hotels. Uzbekistan has a handful of a world class hotels, but most accommodation typically falls far short of what is demanded of high-spending visitors. Elsewhere, local entrepreneurs are to be offered 15-year loans to develop new, modern hotels and other tourism-related infrastructure.
According to official figures, services in the tourism sector has since the start of the year generated revenues of almsot $700 million. Around 1.1 million people have visited the country over that period — an 18 percent increase on the same period in 2016.
More importantly for people living inside the country, the government is undertaking greater efforts to make it easier to travel out of Uzbekistan.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on August 16 signed a decree titled, significantly and simply, “On basic measures to improve the procedure for the departure abroad of citizens of Uzbekistan.”
As of January 1, 2019, it will no longer be required for Uzbek citizens to obtain a special sticker in one’s passport — the dreaded exit visa — to cross the border. Instead, the government is phasing in the universal use of biometric passports, which will, among other things, contain detailed information about its owner and presumably be able to assist in compiling reliable and up-to-date information about who is traveling in and out of the country.
This move will finally lead to the long-awaited demise of a Soviet-devised means of restricting movement of citizens.