In Central Asia there is a strong awareness and recognition that tourism affects key sectors of the economy – transportation, communications, construction, agriculture – and functions as a catalyst for socio-economic development. The potential for this sector to improve and protect incomes and livelihoods cannot be overstated, and it is essential to ensure fair, equitable public participation in the results of tourism jobs.
Travel destinations in the region, long known for their breathtaking physical beauty and rich historical cultures, can be the entry portals for sustainable and responsible tourism, allowing these countries to become role models for other countries around the world. Key environmental objectives set by Central Asian governments include the protection of both flora and fauna, the preservation of water and other non-renewable resources through the implementation of recycling practices, the promotion of responsible use of resources in hotels and restaurants, at camping sites, in public areas in natural and cultural sites, among others. Furthermore, there is a general consensus that green tourism will also bring benefits in terms of social well-being at national and regional levels through sustained and long-term economic linkages, multi-stakeholder engagement, policy-making, and raising awareness of the importance of preserving and conserving natural sites.
Sustainability demands a change in both business attitudes within the tourism industry and in rethinking consumption and production patterns that will encourage sustainable livelihoods and protect planetary resources.
Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, three former Soviet Asian States, are ideally situated to become major tourist destinations with unique and attractive cultural and natural resources. These countries have been strategically using tourism for driving economic development in the 21st century with significant growth potential.
While challenges remain in the Central Asian region, these can be understood as solvable problems and positive opportunities. Supply networks, logistics and technological facilities can be installed, underdeveloped building infrastructure can be renovated, standards for tourist services can be certified, and capacities of micro-, small- and medium-sized tourism enterprises (MSMEs) can be developed and strengthened.
In line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the EU funded SWITCH-Asia project Model for Sustainable Tourism in Central Asia (MOST) is supporting positive growth in local economies by respecting human communities and protecting fragile natural, cultural and heritage sites from the risks of overcrowding as well as from damage from natural disasters. The Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) practices championed by MOST also have the potential to be scaled up and replicated in other countries.
THE SWITCH IN UZBEKISTAN
In February 2022, a series of seminars and trainings for MSMEs were held in the four regions of Bukhara, Samarkand, Khorezm and Tashkent under the themes of Global Sustainable Tourism Council criteria for sustainable tourism, relevant standards and green procurement for Tourism MSMEs, and Marketing of sustainable tourism. A total of 700 representatives (70% of which were women) from the business sector, public organisations, government agencies, university and college students attended the trainings.
An increasing number of local hotels and MSMEs in Uzbekistan are also being awarded certifications and getting introduced to various management systems based on international standards such as the ISO 9001 (for best quality management practices), ISO 14001 (for Environmental Management System), ISO 45001 (for labour protection), ISO 22000 (for food safety management), and ISO 50001 (for energy management), among others.
The development of ecological tourism worldwide has drawn attention to environmental management standards in Central Asia. As a matter of fact and as one example, eco-certification plays an important role in the marketing and branding of hotels and hospitality businesses, increasing guest loyalty and attracting responsible travellers and nature lovers. Within the framework of MOST, a training on certification was carried out on the following standards:
• ISO 14001:2015 (Environmental Management System)
• HCMI (Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative), a methodology and toolkit designed for the hotel industry and implemented so far in six accommodation facilities (Artist Hotel, Asia Tashkent, Gabrielle Hotel, Khan Orda Guest House, Oscar Boutique Hotel, Sayyoh Hotel)
• CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)
• Preparations are also underway for the implementation of HCMI systems by 206 tourism organisations to be implemented in cooperation with the Certification Center for Tourism Services under the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Heritage of Uzbekistan
On 10 June 2022, a videoconference was held under the chairmanship of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev focusing on expanding the use of renewable energy sources. During the meeting, measures were identified to encourage the population and entrepreneurs to use alternative energy on the basis of compensation and instalments. Up to date, ten tourism companies including: Asia Tashkent, Avrud Travel, Canaan Travel, Navruz Hotel, The World Orzu Hotel, Sayyoh Hotel, Sapiens Hotel, The Mirage Hotel, Khan Orda Hotel, and Queens Hotel, have installed Shelly 3M energy/water meters and Shelly H&T room temperature sensors to improve their energy and resource efficiency.
THE SWITCH IN KAZAKHSTAN
In Kazakhstan, an international seminar was held on April 21, 2022 on Sustainable planning as the basis for the development of the tourism industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The event was organised by the Eurasian Tourism Association (ETA) within the activities of the MOST project. Recommendations were given for implementing sustainable planning practices for green procurement, stimulating the passage of environmental certifications and accreditations in tourism, and increasing competencies for sustainable production.
Tourism businesses got acquainted with the main criteria for international certifications such as Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), HCMI, CSR and ISO14001. Representatives of the hospitality industry noted that they partially apply measures to implement sustainable tourism practices regarding compliance with legislation, improving the accessibility of the facility for people with special needs, protecting human rights, attracting local employees, ensuring equal opportunities and decent work conditions, supporting local producers, and promoting and protecting local culture. Some representatives of the tourism business also shared that they sort garbage on an ongoing basis at their enterprises and install energy-saving light bulbs. Up to date, 27 companies have registered on the LEIMINTE platform to monitor the environmental impact of their companies’ activities. Five companies entered their data from 2021 and received a report within the HCMI and CSR systems. Four out of ten companies also installed equipment to collect and monitor energy, temperature and humidity.
On May 25–26, 2022, a two-day sustainable tourism business seminar was held in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan, with over 100 MSMEs and representatives of local hotels attending, to present tools for financing, plus how to strengthen dialogue with state authorities, development institutions and business accelerators. The digital projects and educational programmes of the Online Academy at Kazakh Tourism NC JSC were discussed, and service support tools from NCE RK Atameken (national chamber of entrepreneurs) and the programme of subsidising jobs by akimats within the framework of the employment programme were presented. Financial support for the Tourism Industry Committee and the Damu Foundation were explained. ETA and the Centre for Urban Tourism development shed light on the activities of their organisations and provided measures for supporting businesses. Participants also learned about incubation activities and acceleration of start-up projects using the NURIS industrial accelerator. Over 100 MSMEs and trainees participated in these events.
THE SWITCH IN TAJIKISTAN
The most important areas for achieving the parameters of sustainable development in the Republic of Tajikistan are the need to ensure universal access to modern energy resources, services, and technologies; improving energy efficiency; and expanding the use of renewable energy sources. Created with The Ministry of Energy and Water Resources of Tajikistan, the Interdepartmental Working Group has developed a roadmap for the development of green energy in economic sectors of the country, including energy supply to various facilities through the production of energy from renewable energy sources (RES), energy efficiency (E/E) and reduction of emissions.
With the support of international partners, tourist enterprises and guest houses in the Halon region, Boboi Shams and Boboi Madamone, introduced energy-efficient technologies in the construction and production of infrastructure, and implemented small-scale energy-efficient renewable alternative energy technologies (i.e. solar panels, water heaters) to conserve energy and heat, reduce emissions and resist climate change. The LLC Sairy Moonk, PO Subhi Tandurusty, LLC Kulob Hotel and LLC Sakho Hotel all introduced practices for the separation, collection and disposal of household waste, and began using energy-saving lamps, electronic equipment, plastic consumer goods, and waste-recycling technologies to ensure their use as secondary material or energy resources.
People employed in 60 tourism entities in Dushanbe, Khujand and Kulyab attended seminars to learn about Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria in the field of sustainable tourism, relevant standards, and environmental procurement. In addition, trainings were provided on environmental certification and data collection, as well as management tools for environmental certification.
The participants at the seminars gained knowledge on the LEIMINTE software developed by APINTECH (a cloud-based support solution for the collection and management of data within the framework of MOST environmental certification), which will be used to prepare and implement three types of environmental management certification: ISO 14001 environmental management system, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, and the Hotel Carbon Metering Initiative (HCMI). As a result, 28 tourism entities have registered with this software program and have established standards and certification software for their businesses.
Meters for monitoring electricity, humidity and temperature-control sensors were installed as part of the project task to set up monitoring systems for water and energy consumption in real-time in six hotels: Khujand, Deluxe and Sugdien in the city of Khujand, and Atlas, Rohat and Serena in the city of Dushanbe.
In the city of Bokhtar, Khatlon region, networking events were organised between tourism enterprises and development partners to promote the adoption of SCP. Development partners presented projects for the tourism sector in Tajikistan that can provide the framework for making grant resources and soft loans available to SMEs in a variety of sectors including agriculture and tourism. As a result, 16 enterprises in the tourism sector submitted their projects for funding.
On May 26, 2022, a Regional Round Table on the topic Access to Finance was held in Dushanbe within the framework of two regional projects: Promotion of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Production in the Tourism Sector in Central Asia, funded by the EU SWITCH-Asia Programme, and The Silk Road CBT initiative: Community-Based Tourism and European Markets. The purpose of the round table was to inform stakeholders about the recommendations arising from the analysis, and to present the developed loan products for the tourism sector.
Collaboration between public authorities, business entities, civil society organisations, and the private sector has created a forum for discussion of policy and regulatory frameworks in the field of SCP, and eventually best practices will be translated into policy and regulations as well as financial support for sustainable tourism. An additional three round tables were held with the participation of tourism enterprises and local and regional authorities, as follows:
- Sustainable tourism and the role of the World Council for Sustainable Tourism (GSTC) in the global and local tourism industry, ATLAS Hotel, Dushanbe, on December 15, 2020
- Public and private partnership for innovative projects on environmental protection and inclusive economic development, Taj Palace Hotel, Dushanbe on December 17, 2022
- Sustainable tourism in the implementation of energy efficient and energy saving technologies
During these round tables, public policy instruments were analysed, and tourism entities identified the problems they face in the course of their work. Together with the State Committee for Investments and State Property, tourism companies took part in the development of the Programme of State Support and Development of the Private Sector in Tajikistan for 2021–2030 and the Action Plan for the implementation of the first stage of the Programme.
In terms of providing support to regional and local authorities in planning and implementing policies that promote the development of sustainable tourism, a seminar on sustainable planning Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (SECAP) was held at Taj Palace Hotel, Dushanbe, on December 16, 2021, attended by 30 representatives of regional executive authorities and expert community and tourism companies, where regional governments were introduced to the European initiative. Cities, towns and regions voluntarily committed themselves to reduce CO2 emissions above the established 20% target, and also got acquainted with the practice of drawing up and implementing Action Plans for sustainable energy development.
On May 28, 2022 with the support of ACTED and Convergences, the Zero Carbon Forum: Sustainable Consumption and Production in Tourism and Beyond was organised. The event provided an opportunity to bring together Tajik and international participants from all sectors to achieve a sustainable consumption and production model and build a zero-carbon Tajikistan.
In order to promote the services of tourism enterprises, 4 seminars lasting 3 days on marketing in the field of tourism were held in Dushanbe, in which 80 people from 40 tourism companies in Tajikistan took part from 9–18 November, 2021. As a result, 30 travel companies developed marketing plans for their enterprise. With the support of the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme in Tajikistan, the public organisation Union of Entrepreneurs and Investors and the Center for Recovery and Rehabilitation LLC have developed and are implementing a project proposal to form an eco-tourism region in the Khatlon region to attract domestic tourists in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic with the introduction of a ‘cluster approach’ in tourism activities. Within the framework of the project, a marketing strategy for the Khatlon region was also developed.
Going fowrard into the future
The switch towards sustainable tourism in Central Asia is already in action as more hotels, hospitality infrastructures, and MSMEs take concrete steps to apply the knowledge, skills and discussions they are acquiring in ongoing trainings, seminars, and tourism fairs, with just a few examples here:
- Activating LEIMINTE software developed by APINTECH to prepare and implement 3 types of certification projects: ISO 14001 Environmental Management System, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, and Hotel Carbon Metering Initiative (HCMI)
- Attending the Tashkent International Tourism Fair at the end of 2022 to encourage meetings between tourism industry representatives and green technology producers
- Finding national financial solutions for subsidising green technologies and environmental certifications
- Introducing green economy principles and sustainable development into national legislation
- Raising awareness about the importance of implementing eco-programmes in the hospitality industry to allow tourism organisations not only to take care of the environment and responsibly use available resources, but also to act as powerful tools for economic management by, stimulating growth along with competitiveness and profitability