Distinguished Mr. Taleb Rifai!
Esteemed participants of the forum!
Ladies and gentlemen!
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you, our esteemed guests – the leadership and members of the Executive Council, heads of ministries and agencies for tourism development, academics and specialists, chiefs of tour organizations, representatives of the global tourism industry – to express my great respect for you and wish you a productive and successful work of the 99th Session of the Executive Council.
First of all I would like to thank you for such a warm welcome, for the applause with which you have welcomed today the President of Uzbekistan. In response, I want to thank you so much, that in Uzbek sounds like “katta rahmat”, and time and again emphasize that I am sincerely glad to see all of you in this very Samarkand, in Uzbekistan. And my greatest wish is to get you satisfied with your stay in our land.
I know there are more than 150 representatives of the tourism industry present today in this hall. Here, there are also our friends – diplomats accredited in Uzbekistan. Together with our guests, they attend all of our important forums and major celebrations.
I express my sincere gratitude to the Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization, Mr. Taleb Rifai, to all members of the Executive Council for the selection of the ancient and ever young city of Samarkand, which was and remains a crossroads of cultures and the pearl of the world civilization, as the venue for a regular session of the Executive Council.
One can talk about the historical significance and beauty of Samarkand infinitely.
The city with an almost three thousand years of richest history has attracted the attention of travelers, tourists and guests with its magnificent monuments of architecture, its blue domes, unique oriental appearance and flavor.
This amazing town can charm any person. If you see it once, you can never forget it.
Recently, the prominent and internationally acknowledged American online publication The Huffington Post included Samarkand in the list of top 50 cities in the world one must visit at least once in lifetime.
As a person who was born and raised in this city, which organically combines the distant eras and the modern times, I say it is doubly nice to see you, all our dear guests, in our hospitable land, and say on behalf of all the people of Samarkand and on my own behalf, “Welcome to Samarkand!”
The agenda of the Executive Council’s current session contains an extraordinarily meaningful topic, that is, The Great Silk Road: New Prospects for the Development of International Tourism.
Since time immemorial, tourism has been uniting the peoples of our planet. People used to go on a journey to discover new lands, to learn the world, develop commerce, establish cultural and diplomatic ties. A critical role in this process, owing to its location at the crossroads of caravan trade routes, cultures and civilizations, has been played by the Central Asian region.
According to eminent scholars, the history of Uzbekistan’s statehood has its origins in the 2nd millennium BC, and thus comprises more than 3.5 thousand years. Pivots of formation and evolution of the ancient statehood here were cities like Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Shahrisabz – contemporaries of Rome and Babylon – and which are widely known as major centers of medieval science, arts and culture, and which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It is appropriate to note here that together with the world community we extensively celebrated in recent years the 2,750th anniversary of Samarkand, the 2,700th anniversary Shahrisabz, the 2,500th anniversary of Bukhara, the 2,500th anniversary of Khiva and the 2,200th anniversary of Tashkent.
Back in the early and late Middle Ages, sciences, education, crafts, trade advanced in these cities, palaces and temples and mosques were built in these cities – bearers of ancient culture. To erect splendid cities, not only skilful masters and builders were needed, but equally critical were knowledge in general and the expertise of academics who commanded well such fundamental sciences as mathematics, astronomy, physics, architecture, geometry, geodesy, seismology, chemistry among others.
It is these very cities that the Great Silk Route passed through – one of the most remarkable cultural and socio-economic phenomena in world history. As early as in the 3rd-2nd millennia BC, communication systems emerge to connect the most distant cultures and countries across the wider region of the Middle East that stretched from the plains of Mesopotamia through to the valleys of the Indus, and from the oases of Central Asia through to the Arabian Sea. They eventually became one of the principal routes of the Great Silk Road.
Expansion of commercial relations led to the migration of people who took their own customs and world outlook with themselves, which subsequently reflected in architecture, cultural monuments, numismatics and crafts.
An ideal commodity for commercial shipping to great distances, which brought about the highest income, used to be silk. Yet, apart from it, a great diversity of other goods including china, mirrors, glass, carpets, metals, weaponry, decorations, tea, spices, as well as the famed Chinese paper were transported through the Great Silk Road.
Analyzing the history of the emergence and formation of international tourism, one gets convinced once again of the fact that along with the establishment of trade real, leisure and entertainment, no less important components of it were and still are the study of the history, culture, traditions and customs of the peoples of the world and, as a consequence, the enhancement of mutual understanding and consolidation of tolerance among people and nations.
It is this very informative-educational international tourism draws currently a mounting interest and, to my opinion, increasingly defines the significance of tourism in general.
When we speak of the role and significance of tourism, especially international and particularly in the contemporary times, we note that it is perhaps one of the most pressing issues. Thanks to tourism, we learn what tolerance is. It is an international notion, with no confinement to any particular nation. Tolerance means first and foremost a respectful attitude to each other, and, crucially, an understanding of one another. Therefore, I believe you will agree with me in that tolerance is where tourism is developed.
All this has found its reflection in the diaries of great travelers and researchers who passed through the Great Silk Road at various times. They were of diverse national origin, including the Chinese Zhan Jiang, the Italian Marco Polo, the Spanish Clavijo, the Arabs Ibn Fadlan and Ibn Battuta, the American Pampelli, the English Jenkinson, the German Schiltberger, the French Martin and Bonvalot, the Hungarian Vambery, the Swede Hedin and the Swiss Maillart. Among them there were people of various occupations – pilgrims, missionaries, merchants, scientists, diplomats, researchers and writers, but every one of them left their notable legacy in the history of emergence and formation of international tourism, for which we are boundlessly grateful to them.
The visits of foreign ambassadors, merchants and travelers, coming from different corners of the world to Central Asia, found reflection on wall inscriptions in Samarkand, more than 2.5 thousand years ago depicting the scenes of reception of ambassadors from China, Korea, states of South and North Asia and other countries at the court of Afrosiyob ruler.
Thus it is no coincidence that it was Samarkand where a declaration was adopted 20 years ago among the participant nations of the international project to advance tourism along the Great Silk Road. The declaration signatories announced then about the rebirth and development of international tourism on this oldest transcontinental route, which as far back as 2-2.5 thousand years used to link the Asian and European peoples with trade and cultural bonds, passing through the vast regions of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Near East.
We believe it was absolutely timely and appropriate for the World Tourism Organization to decide in 2004 to open a UNWTO regional center for Silk Road in Samarkand.
Dear participants of the forum!
To be sure, we are well aware of the fact that the contemporary speedily changing circumstances, the acceleration of globalization processes, the frequent global economic and financial crises bring about certain challenges, dictate their own terms for the development of international tourism. I would like to take this opportunity to briefly illustrate some of those issues.
Maintenance of peace and security, of political and economic stability in the world in general, in regions in particular and every country that receives tourists remain, without any doubt, as the most critical factors defining the development and effectiveness of international tourism.
There is little need here to prove it, and we see it on concrete instances that international terrorism and extremism, the mounting radicalism, local wars and travel safety risks constitute impediments that bring any efforts to promote tourism to naught.
There is obviously no need to cite examples, when these things lead to a sharp reduction in or a complete end to the inflow of tourists into those countries who yesterday enjoyed tourism boom – all this we can see in the case of some nations of the Middle East, which has always been, let me say, a crossroads of tourist flows. And today, let us look if there is tourism in Syria and Iraq, in the ancient city of Baghdad, where our ancestors like Al-Khorezmi used to work, when the world’s first Academy was opened. What is Baghdad like today? What is Damascus like? What are other cities of that region like? And the reason is one. Those very monuments, those very museums are left, but there are no security guarantees, there is no safety. And the lack of security implies there is no tourism at all. Who would want to risk [their lives], and in the name of what? If we look at the issue through this prism, we realize even more what decisive a factor peace and understanding among peoples is.
The second reason the development of tourism directly depends on is the level of living standards and incomes of population, its wellbeing.
It is confirmed by the fact that the principal growth in the global tourism demand starts to shape in the rapidly advancing economies of the developing countries, primarily in Asia. Put it other way, the level of economic development, the state of affairs in the economy reflects in tourism as in the mirror.
Third, international tourism is turning today into a most widespread means of leisure for the middle class.
It is quite easy to trace such a pattern – that is, the more numerous and the more extensive the middle class is in a country, the greater is the latter’s tourism potential.
Here, it is evident, what is at stake is the greatest mobility of those who consider themselves middle class, and their desire for search and self-realization. They are the real tourists wishing to discover more countries unknown for them.
Fourth, it is the advanced tourist infrastructure, the availability of facilities for tourist visits, convenience of transportation, hospitality services and everything to do with tourism logistics, the introduction of modern information technologies – everything we encounter at every step.
Fifth, much, if not everything, depends on the level of investments in the tourism sector, including budgetary investment and the government-backed creation of privileges, preferences and incentives for private capital and business in order to make investments in this sector and the development of infrastructure, hospitality, transportation, provision for modern communications and the supply of all other tourist services.
Sixth, a key, decisive factor in tourism development is training and retraining of highly qualified personnel for the industry.
In Uzbekistan, 5 higher education institutions are operating currently on this front to train modern specialists, including the Management Development Institute of Singapore in Tashkent as well as 11 professional colleges.
Today you have been to some of our colleges and lyceums, first of all in the academic lyceum of Samarkand Institute of Economics and Services, which was visited by Mr. Rifai, as well. And I am glad that our youths, our children did not disappointed. By the way, I call all the children in Uzbekistan my children, and in this sense I am the richest man in the world. The lyceum schoolchildren have tried to demonstrate all they can to the Secretary General of the UNWTO. But I assure you, they can do much more to display or tell about.
Seventh, instrumental in ensuring a rapid development of international tourism at present is the simplification of visa issues and other bureaucratic formalities related to tourism, including provision of the necessary financial guarantees for travel businesses.
In the case of certain countries we observe that the lack of such guarantees becomes the reason for numerous bankruptcies among tour companies, for a grave impediment on the way of development and appeal of international tourism.
As international practice shows, along with other factors tourists appreciate simplicity and accessibility, the ability to quickly and inexpensively run through all the necessary formalities for travel to selected countries.
The introduction of electronic technologies, the speed of visa issuance, purchase of air and railway tickets, booking tours and hotels via the internet in the online mode are playing a growing role in this.
One can continue with this list of crucial circumstances and guarantees conditioning the tourist inflow and in the end the disposition of every individual tourist.
The mood of a tourist should be the most important brand, if you like, of any country receiving travelers from abroad. If people come to our country with an elevated mood and leave with such a disposition, then we can consider that tourism has been developing in Uzbekistan on a robust foundation. And if someone leaves this country with a bad temper, it means we are in debt. It means that next time we ought to invite that tourist and cover the expenses.
Distinguished participants of the session!
Assessing the efforts undertaken in the past period, we are clearly aware here in Uzbekistan of everything we still have to do to meet the modern global standards and norms in international tourism.
Let me very briefly cite some indicators in this sector of Uzbekistan.
The number of foreign tourists in 2013 exceeded 2 million people from more than 70 countries. For the last two years, this figure has grown by 43 percent, and in the first half of the current year in excess of 1 million tourists from abroad visited our country.
The exports of tour services in 2013 exceeded 615 million dollars. Today, the travel industry employs more than 200 thousand people, and the aggregate input of the sector into the GDP has surpassed 2 percent.
550 tour companies operate currently in the country, 110 international tourist routes cover the majority of historic facilities and architectural monuments, including 65 along the objects of historical and cultural heritage, 30 are nature-recreational, 15 ecological routes with elements of health improvement tourism.
Currently, in excess of 500 hotels, motels and camping sites with a total capacity of more than 50 thousand people offer services for tourists in line with international standards.
Airports in the cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Urgench, Ferghana, Navoi have been modernized, and today there are 11 international airports in Uzbekistan. The national airline is outfitted with cutting-edge airliners from Airbus and Boeing, with regular flights to more than 50 cities in Europe, Asia, Middle East and North America.
A daily high-speed rail service is organized along the route Tashkent-Samarkand-Tashkent by modern trains manufactured by the Spanish company Talgo. I think you will not deem it as an advertisement, but on behalf of myself I can recommend them for everybody, including the neighboring countries, to purchase. They are reasonable in price and reliable; Talgo has proved itself a good manufacturer.
It must be said that with the launch of the high-speed train “Afrosiab”, the number of tourists from abroad has increased significantly. We have launched projects to electrify and construct high-speed rail lines to the cities of Bukhara and Karshi, which will open up new opportunities for tourism.
Within the last five years, Uzbekistan has built and reconstructed 2,600 kilometers of modern motor roads with investments totaling around 3 billion dollars. Also, a great number of roadside infrastructure facilities, including camping sites, gas (petroleum) stations, catering and public services have been constructed.
This year alone, more than 580 million dollars of aggregate investments with a growth of more than 19 percent compared to last year indicators have been assigned for the development of the main structure of international tourism.
When we speak of the tremendous tourist potential of Uzbekistan, we mean first and foremost the ancient civilizations and cultures that emerged and advanced in this land, the rock paintings and petroglyphs, the unique historical monuments, the resplendent and inimitable samples of material culture and architecture studied currently by numerous scientist and specialists from Japan, France, Germany and many other countries, along with the richness and diversity of the nature. All this can and ought to turn our country into one of the centers of world tourism.
To date, Uzbekistan houses more than 7 thousand monuments of various epochs and civilizations.
I would like to stress the significance attached in our country to the stimulation of the rebirth and development of national folk crafts distinct with high esthetic qualities and with the preserved traditions of the finest artistic schools of antiquity. It is worth noting that the sphere of national handicraft in Uzbekistan is completely exempt from taxes.
The ages-old experience of our folk masters has been increasingly made use far beyond the borders of our land.
Notably, the decoration of medieval architectural facilities of Uzbekistan serves as a model during the erection of new religious objects in the countries of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, while the skills of our ceramics maters is adopted increasingly by specialists of France, Germany, India and other nations.
Uzbekistan has been regular in the biggest travel exhibitions held in Paris, London, Berlin, Rome, Tokyo, Madrid and other cities around the world.
The Tashkent international tourism fair due this year for the 20th time and which expects more than 12 thousand visitors from over 40 nations is currently a prominent platform for dialogue in tourism business.
We highly appreciate the developing fruitful relations with the World Tourism Organization and do greatly hope for the further consolidation of cooperation, for the implementation of joint programs and projects.
What is meant is by and large the considerable improvement of the tourist image and the elevation of Uzbekistan’s capacities in this sector, reinforcement of its attractiveness, first of all by the means of the internet, by supporting an extensive spread of the brand “Great Silk Road” and making use of the still undiscovered yet dazzling sites in the Ferghana Valley, the ecologically clean mountainous zones of Tashkent and Jizzakh regions.
We are always glad to see you in Uzbekistan not only in Samarkand and Tashkent, but also in other, no less exciting cities of our land, for you to be able to feel our warm Uzbek hospitality in all its diversity.
It gives me a great pleasure to extend my sincerest gratitude to all who gathered in this hall, and wish a prolific work, a sound health, every success and the best of luck in your noble endeavors and undertakings!
I thank you for the attention and respect you have and display toward Uzbekistan.