For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, on June 30, 2011, a plane landed at Issyk-Kul International Airport (near the village of Tamchy, Kyrgyzstan) carrying almost 50 tourists from Almaty, Kazakhstan. Visitors from Kazakhstan make up 70 percent of tourists in Kyrgyzstan; nearly 1.4 million visited the country in 2009.
Thanks to USAID’s Local Development Program
, there is now an easy air flight from Almaty that has cut travel time from eight hours to 45 minutes. According to Mirali Muhamedziev, a private investor in the Almaty-Tamchy flights who also heads a tourism company in Kyrgyzstan, “All flights are fully booked through the last week of August.” This initiative attracted more tourists to Issyk-Kul, increasing revenue and promoting economic growth in the region.
In the Issyk-Kul region, tourism is a key growth sector, where many local entrepreneurs spend a month preparing for the tourist season, which only lasts for two months. Due to the short tourist season, many small and medium enterprises have to generate income in a single month that will last them the rest of the year. Because of this, air flights are welcomed by the local community; more tourists mean more revenue. The political instability of 2010 caused many businesses to suffer. In 2011, they hoped to make up for their losses.
Tourism is identified as one of the key priority sectors for development by the Kyrgyz government. With USAID support, the local authorities hope to increase the number of flights from Kazakhstan and open new routes from other countries directly into the resort town. The majority of tourists in Kyrgyzstan are from the former Commonwealth of Independent States, primarily Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation. According to Rashid Ismanov, head of the Issyk-Kul airport, “We are ready to receive passengers. From here, they can find transportation to tourist destinations.”