In recent years, Uzbekistan has undergone significant changes in almost all sectors of the economy, especially in tourism. The rich historical and cultural heritage, as well as governmental initiatives served as a solid foundation for further development of the tourism industry. Moreover, the development of tourism in Uzbekistan has become a strategically important priority to facilitate economic growth.
Over the past few years, many reforms have been carried out in order to optimize the tourism sector. It is not surprising that the reforms began to show first results. Over the past three years, the numbers demonstrated positive trend in increased flow of tourists visiting Uzbekistan. In 2018, the number of foreign guests was about 5 million, and in 2019, the figure grew to 6.5 million people. Experts prognosticate that the indicators may continue to grow.
In addition, the number of tourists visiting Tashkent also shows positive statistics. Between January and October 2019, the flow of foreign tourists to Tashkent increased by 42% compared to previous year. In 2018, the indicators amounted to 350,009 tourists and in 2019 the figure reached 498,731 based on the data, provided by Tashkent city hall. Previously, tourists used to visit Uzbekistan only during high seasons, but now foreign citizens also travel even in the hottest time of the year.
There are other evidences that reveal positive changes. Currently, construction works are underway to improve the infrastructure of cities, including the construction of accommodation facilities, entertainment complexes, tourist villages and the restoration of historical monuments. The three largest hotel brands, such as InterContinental, Sheraton and Radison are planning to build new hotels in Tashkent. Highways of European class are being built and will connect the remote cities of Uzbekistan and allow free and safe movement across the country.
No doubts that visa-free regime for many countries had a major effect on inflow of foreign tourists. The list of countries for citizens of which a visa is no longer required has remarkably increased, and from 2020 it is projected to reach the number of 86 countries. Also, the visa issuance process has been digitalized and simplified. Thus, foreign citizens can personally apply for visa online.
According to the decree of President of Uzbekistan, the “Open Sky” regime came into force in October 2019. According to experts, this is a direct path to liberalization and facilitation of the use of Uzbekistan's airways for foreign airlines. As a result, such measures will increase passengers’ traffic, lower airfare and, therefore, increase the flow of tourists.
It also should be noted that the tourism sector has become a lucrative spot for foreign investments. For instance, the South Korean company IRED plans to build a recreation area on the shore of Chirchik river. Over 500 million USD is planned to invest into the creation of three international-class resorts in the Tashkent region. Ilbay Insaat Energy considers building a tourist complex on the shore of Baht Lake.
Moreover, Uzbekistan began to attract the attention of many world-famous publications for travelers and is highly recommended as a must-visit destination. In 2019, Uzbekistan won in nomination for the best developing tourism destination according to the Grandvoyage Tourism Awards in Madrid and became opening of the year according to the National Geographic Traveler 2019, gaining 40% of the votes. Also, according to the Lonely Planet and Harper’s Bazaar, Uzbekistan confidently took first place in the ranking of countries that should be visited in 2020.
Overall, it can be concluded that at present the tourism sector in Uzbekistan is in the process of intensive transformation and dynamic development. Yet, there are still many issues to be solved, since this is only the beginning of the journey. However, the future seems quite promising and bright, as all the necessary resources are available, and efforts are being made.