You remember that in the last issue, we started a discussion about tourism sector development and I invited you for the open dialogue on the problems in tourism sector. A person, who would like to contribute his ideas and thoughts for development of tourism in Uzbekistan, is Mr. Zia-ul-Haque, General Manager of one of the leading and well-known travel agency located in Tashkent “Sitara International Ltd”.I decided to take a brief interview from him, and ask him to share his thoughts with us.
- You are in tourism business for so many years. What do you think, what are the main problems of tourism sector in Uzbekistan?
- I think one of the main problems is lack of experience of the staff working in the hotels. To provide excellent services that would meet hospitality needs, all the hospitality businesses should have the best for tourists, whether it comes to accommodation, food, leisure, sightseeing, etc. I noticed that very often the hotels in Uzbekistan do not provide good services.
- What measures should be taken in order to make the hotels to provide better services to tourists?
- There should be a controlling or assistance body formulated for doing the categorization of hotels (star rating), which should make regular inspection of hotels to ensure that they maintain their services, advise and assist them, provide help in the implementation of at least the international standards.
For instance, we can look at some hotels which started very well in the beginning, but within some years due bad maintenance, they lost their quality of services. Some of them are so called four-star hotels but hardly provide services to the standard of their local categorization.
The controlling/assistance body should be, in my opinion, an officially approved committee that could work in collaboration with all kinds of international agencies like UNDP, UNESCO, local hygiene and sanitation etc.
- Other than services provided by hotels, what other problems did you face when having your tour groups?
- One of the biggest problems is transportation. Very often the tour companies buy second hand used buses, but in Uzbekistan there is not a single garage to ensure inspection of these buses to a satisfactory standard. In addition, there should be service centers on the roads providing services like cleaning, mechanical check up of the buses to avoid breaks. Timely assistance if the break occurs. The road between Urgench and Bukhara is a long way through the desert, there definitely should be a garage at a convenient point which could be reachable in emergencies. Most of the buses servicing tour groups are of European makes and they should have spare parts readily available.
Another problem we face on the roads is lack of medical service. Imagine, if someone needs urgent medical assistance somewhere in the middle of the desert. Of course, every bus has a medical first aid box, but, in my opinion, it is not enough in emergency cases. I am sure there are medical unit serving the local villages enroute but can they provide first aid at an emergency call?
- I know it might take quite long to solve all the problems and to have everything on path, but what steps should be taken first for start?
- First of all, we need to get assistance of “Uzbektourism” National tourism organization because what we have now is lack of communication with them. We should have an opportunity to tell them about all the problems we have in tourism, and there should be someone to follow up. Also, we should organize a Tourism Coordination Committee consisting of representatives from leading travel agencies, “Uzbektourism” National Association, AMCHAM, and maybe International agencies like UNESCO. Then through this Coordination Committee, we could exchange ideas and have a plan of actions. The Committee could organize all kinds of things, for instance, a national contest for the best program of a holiday event.
Uzbekistan has fascinating nature, history, folklore and holidays we should use all these for attracting tourists. Why cannot we make this country a second Morocco? Some time ago, we had Boysun Festival, and it was so colorful and well organized event supported by UNESCO, and somehow it has stopped. Such kind of festivals help us to attract more tourists as always generates interest to see not only the ancient monuments, but folklore and culture of the people living here today.
Another nice festival that could be a big success is Bukhara Silk and Spice Festival (It should rather be known as Bukhara Festival). Today it has very weak coordination body, no advertising and bad organization. If we could get all kinds of actors, folklore groups, craftsmen to gather in Bukhara once a year ( let it be May 1st, for instance) to give their performances, if there would be all kinds of Uzbek traditional games, wrestling, presentation of cooking art, tea ceremonies, history of silk and spice, puppet shows, exhibitions going on and around in this beautiful ancient city, then we would have a lot of tourists and Uzbeks themselves to get to Bukhara for this event. With well planned efforts it could become very popular and grand festival like the other festivals they have in Rio, Florence, Marrakesh, or India is well known for cultural events on the tourist map. Navruz another great holiday that can be developed into a big bright festival, if the organization is well be done and the meaning is propagated.
- Thank you very much for sharing your ideas with us, I hope this will be beginning of a big open conversation between many travel agencies and officials, working in tourism business.
Contributed by Nargiza Ogulchansky (SEAF) with the help of Hotel “SEMURG” in Bukhara.