Arnold Schwarzenegger in a tyubeteika. Cristiano Ronaldo in a khalat. Those are the types of images in the minds of the people in charge of boosting Uzbekistan’s tourism industry as they look to global celebrities to put the country on the map.
The State Committee for the Development of Tourist revealed this week that they plan to create the position of Tourism Brand Ambassador, and they want high-profile, foreign figures from cultural, political or sporting circles to do the job.
The brand ambassador’s primary jobs will be to appear in advertising materials, so the more famous the better. The attractiveness of the perks depend rather heavily on how much this person likes hanging out in Central Asia.
“In return for being the ambassador for tourism for Uzbekistan, this person will be able to visit Uzbekistan twice a year for free to take part in various promo activities intended to draw tourists to the country,” the tourism committee is reported as having promised.
News website Podrobno.uz seized on the news to run an online survey for the celebrities its readers thought might best acquit themselves in the job. The highly fanciful list of candidates included singers Madonna and Justin Bieber, football players Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and Hollywood actors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. There were also some Russian celebrities thrown into the mix, such as talkshow presenter Ivan Urgant and actor Dmitriy Nagiev.
While almost none of those candidates appear remotely realistic, the overall initiative suggests the authorities are trying to think in slightly more creative ways about expanding the reach of Uzbekistan’s brand.
In one of his first decrees after coming to power, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in December 2016 instructed the government to elevate tourism to a strategically sensitive sector of the economy. That was succeeded by some confused tweaks to the highly rigid tourist visa regime policy, which is still a work in progress. One serious deterrent over the years has been the number pitfalls thrown in the way of travelers already inside the country — such as harassment from police and registration requirements — but efforts are seemingly under way to address some of those issues.
According to officials figures, around 1.8 million visitors traveled to Uzbekistan in the first nine months of 2017, a 17 percent increase on the year before.