SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan — Following the cooperative format and tourism implementation strategy of the Greater Mekong Subregion countries, tourism representatives of 26 countries along the legendary Silk Road took the first steps towards adopting a new Silk Road Action Plan at a meeting in this historic Central Asian city earlier this month.
Meeting for the first time right inside one of the majestic halls of the Islamic mosques and madrasahs at Registan square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, delegates cleared the first cut of the plan prepared by the main coordinating agency, the Madrid-based UN World Tourism Organisation.
The Plan provides a launch pad for strengthening the Silk Road brand, facilitating travel along the Silk Road and enhancing destination management. It provides a base for advancing “robust, competitive and sustainable growth in tourism along the Silk Road,” according to the UNWTO.
The Silk Road countries include Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, DPR Korea, Egypt, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.??
Says the draft action plan, “With its richly diverse cultural assets and its wealth of natural tourism attractions spanning across 12,000 kilometres of ancient routes, the Silk Road as a tourism concept has significant potential for growth. Given the right level of investment and attention by governments, the Silk Road has the possibility to become the most internationally acclaimed travel route.”
It adds, “Collectively, the official 24 countries of the UNWTO Silk Road Programme constitute 30 per cent of international arrivals worldwide and 20 per cent in international tourist receipts.”
Although the UNWTO has been supporting the development of sustainable tourism along the Silk Road for many years, and while much progress has been made, a lot still remains to be done, the plan says.
“The Silk Road countries are in a unique position to leverage from each other by cross?market and co?branding. The Silk Road Action Plan 2010/2011 is designed as a platform to stimulate closer collaboration and cooperation between Silk Road countries to facilitate this, ultimately increasing visitor length of stay and yield across the regions.
“As a starting point, the Action Plan will set the scene for future activity and growth in the Silk Road tourism concept,” says the plan. “The strategies outlined are designed to be collaborative, concise and achievable. Success will rely on dedicated input and engagement from the industry at all stages of implementation.”?
Prior to the meeting, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov had a two-hour meeting with UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai. Mr Karimov said tourism is one of his country’s highest economic priorities and that he would examine closely the need to facilitate cross border travel and the development of better air links. “It is very encouraging to see the incredible support we are receiving from the President,” Mr Rifai said after the meeting.
The UNWTO is forming a special Silk Road Task Force consisting of nominated representatives from National Tourism Organizations, UN agencies, investment and the private sector to make key strategic decisions and drive the implementation of the Action Plan.
One of the plan’s major recommendations calls for the conducting of a research study and brand analysis to assess the status of the Silk Road brand and help implement more effective marketing and promotional activities.
The study will investigate strengths, weaknesses and opportunities associated with the brand; key market segments; current usage of the brand by destinations and stakeholders across the SR; best practices and success stories in SR brand usage; and the variety of Silk Road routes being promoted by destinations, tour operators, etc.
One key issue is accessibility and facilitation. Says the plan, “For many years, complicated travel formalities such as visa processes and regimented border control have impeded visitation and tourism development. A smoother and more integrated system allowing seamless travel across the Silk Road will attract more visitors, increase length of stay and generate more revenue and investment in tourism.?
“The diversity of political and socio-cultural regimes of the various countries, whilst strengthening the Silk Road’s tourism potential, also contributes to the complexity of visa types and procedures. Overcoming these barriers will require systematic planning, consultation and strong support and cooperation from Member States.”
The Samarkand meeting adopted several suggestions for boosting the development of the Silk Road into a consolidated tourism product. Among them:
? Development of joint projects across member states to promote the brand.
? Development of ?authentic experiences’ such as ?home-stay’ programmes and support for local products and sustainable product development.
? Guide and language training, as well as the ability of guides to work across borders.
? Finance and the development of infrastructure — the development of a high-speed rail network in Uzbekistan and the development of tourist centres.
The Action Plan will be developed, launched and reviewed at a media networking meeting at World Travel Market, London, on 10 November and a Silk Road Ministers Summit to be held at ITB, Berlin, in March 2011. It will be formally launched at the UNWTO General Assembly in South Korea in October 2011.