Tourism Development in the Almaty-Bishkek Economic Corridor
The Almaty–Bishkek Economic Corridor (ABEC) has exceptional heritage and a wealth of culture and nature. This combination results in a high potential for tourism development, which is largely untapped. The mountain range between Almaty and Lake Issyk-Kul has great capacity to attract international tourists. Developing this mountain region can spur connected winter sport investments such as ski resorts in Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic. Linking winter sport facilities with summer tourism opportunities around lake Issyk-Kul can reduce seasonality and investment risks by establishing attractive conditions for all-year tourism flows. This ABEC tourism master plan was developed to capture these benefits.
This master plan aims to structure the development of an internationally competitive tourism region within ABEC. It describes the overall framework for the development and operation of the ABEC common tourism area, including (i) a vision and conceptual framework for the area, which optimizes the available resources (natural, human, technological, financial, and immaterial); (ii) the ownership and organization of the common area; and (iii) the development plan for land use and allocation of tourism activities, as well as hard and soft infrastructure, considering social and environmental safeguards.
Based on high-level demand projections, using various scenarios of project implementation, the master plan identifies the most important investment projects and estimated operating costs that will require prioritization and the necessary investments from both the public and private sectors. The master plan distinguishes between different types of investments that are reform dependent or can be implemented within the existing frameworks, and the source of financing using public or private funds or a combination of both through public–private partnerships (PPPs).
The project area map and its regional connectivity elements are shown in Figure 1 depicting the proposed tourism development concept for the region, which is based on the following axis:
- Connecting the north and south branches of the Silk Road with two bypasses crossing the region, making this system the key integrating element of the various proposed clusters (Figure 5 and Figure 6) of tourism development.
- The vital existing assets of Almaty City and Bishkek for business tourism and Issyk-Kul for sun and beach represent the primary motivation of foreign and domestic arrivals today. These assets should be enhanced and used to leverage other segments (ski, nature and soft adventure, cultural) in order to increase the number of nights spent in the region by current visitors, and to additionally develop new markets with other primary visitor motivations (particularly city-break and stop-overs) to enlarge the visitor base.
- To implement this concept, it is necessary to (i) develop an air hub in Almaty; (ii) make the cities of Almaty and Bishkek highly attractive for city break visitors by promoting shopping as a complementary feature, (iii) reduce the travel time between the airport and Issyk-Kul and Bishkek, and (iv) implement a restructured institutional framework accompanied by reforms to accommodate PPP management.
Finally, this master plan recommends various reforms for strengthening the relevant public tourism institutions. An adequate legal and institutional framework should entail comprehensive mandates for spatial development of the identified cluster and regulatory powers of the institutions responsible for tourism development (IRTD) in each country. The immediate next steps for both governments are
- to define the levels of commitment they are willing make toward policies and reforms to realize the master plan in terms of resources and funding;
- to select projects and reform package as outlined in Section 6.3 of this master plan;
- to choose a strong development partner to (i) help structure the PPP deals, advising the governments in designing the concessions and dealing with reputable international players in the field that can implement, operate, and market large-scale tourism infrastructure projects; (ii) assess risks and contingent liabilities emanating from developing such landmark projects as an honest broker; (iii) support the implementation of necessary reforms; and (iv) manage the design and financing of project-related public and private investments; and
- to commit to transformative tourism projects and start pre-feasibility studies for the identified packages.
This master plan proposes four different kinds of clusters. Figure 6 shows the layout of the tourism cluster proposal comprising two city clusters (Almaty and Bishkek), two suburban clusters, each situated around its respective city cluster; three clusters of natural areas (Song-Kul, Balykchy–Karakol, and Kolsay–Charyn/Chundja); two resort clusters (Tamchy and Cholpon Ata) and three ski clusters (Almaty/Turgen, Bishkek, and Karakol).
Proposed Joint Accommodation Classification System for Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic
The proposed new joint ACS is based on a detailed assessment of the current systems as well as on the review of international best practices. The expected outcomes of introducing the new joint ACS within the two counties is to raise the quality standards of the hospitality sector; empower accommodation businesses; improve visitor satisfaction levels, and foment the competitiveness of Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic as tourist destinations.
The new system is aimed at both travelers and accommodation establishments. Besides those two main user categories, the new joint ACS will also serve the travel trade, investors, construction companies, equipment suppliers, international hotel chains and all involved government agencies. A stand-out feature of the joint ACS is its flexible design regularly updated classification criteria and adaptation of the criteria to local conditions.
ABEC Skill for Tourism Report
The Almaty-Bishkek Economic Corridor is one of the fastest growing tourism regions in the world. But the region suffers from a lack of skilled labor to move into high-quality tourism products that would attract more visitors to the region. The two cities are working together to identify cooperation projects to address this skill gap.
The ABEC report “Improving Education, Skills, and Employment in Tourism” measures the skills gap among tourism industry workers and the resulting opportunity costs along the Almaty–Bishkek Economic Corridor in Central Asia. The skills gap analysis identifies an annual lack of about 8.500 trained professionals in the tourism industry along the region which is causing opportunity costs of more than $30 million per year. The Almaty–Bishkek Economic Corridor has an exceptional heritage and wealth of culture and nature. This combination results in a high potential for tourism development that is largely untapped.
Business and Institutional Plan for the Almaty Tourism Skilling Center
In Kazakhstan, training for the tourism industry is carried out in 61 private and public universities, providing around 3,500 tourism graduates per year. Existing academic programs do not meet the requirements of the tourism sector, due to their lack of focus on practical work. As a result, the personnel of specialized higher and vocational educational institutions remain unused.
Asian Development Bank, under the framework of the Almaty-Bishkek Economic Corridor (ABEC), released a tourism skills gap analysis that identified an annual lack of about 8,500 trained professionals in the tourism industry in ABEC, which is causing opportunity costs of more than $30 million per year. The skill gap limits the quality and availability of the tourism offer, which largely depends on the service professionals in the sector.
To respond to the urgent need of highly skilled tourism professionals in Kazakhstan and the region, it is proposed to setup a Tourism Skilling Center in Almaty—the Almaty Skilling Center (ACS). Under the ABEC framework, a business plan and institutional structure for ACS was prepared in 2020.
Institutional Structure Proposals
The ASC is planned to be established in Almaty under the auspices of the International University of Tourism and Hospitality (IUTH). It is envisaged that the ASC will offer a two-tier modular curriculum based on the most demanded hospitality and tourism competencies in the region.
Training program. Two Vocational Diploma programs will form the core of ASC's teaching activities:
• Specialist in the field of hospitality and tourism: in accordance with the curriculum, the diploma program includes 1440 contact hours over 2 years (3 semesters of study, 1 semester of internship);
• Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses for tourism specialties: mountain guides 120 hours, tourist police 60 hours with external lecturers for flexibility reasons.
Contingent. The maximum capacity of the ASC is planned to be up to 600 students per year. Diploma of vocational education students will be grouped in two areas: operations for room fund management (including customer service and room service); and food and beverage operations, with at least 30% international students. The remaining places will be used for short courses for CPD, tour and mountain guides, and the tourist police.
Diploma programs will form the core of ASC's teaching activities. The curricula are drawn up in a modular form. The ASC provides for the choice of short-term courses of study (up to 10 months) with the right to get a certificate, and diploma training (up to 2 years) with a diploma upon completion.
Teacher training. Teachers will have to pass In-Service Teacher Education (INSETT), depending on the number of professionals that can be hired. In the long term, the ASC will actively participate in Pre-Service Teacher Education to improve the qualifications of future teachers.
Sources of Additional Income
The Center for CPD will serve professionals to improve their knowledge of the latest trends and innovations in subsectors, as well as to teach basic skills in professions that are not required for a full degree course, for example training of mountain and tourist guides.
Language training: ASC will integrate foreign language training to reach full capacity of the school. The constant demand for language training can be provided through public clients and large tourism entities.
Cooperation Models with Center of Excellence
To establish external relations, a partnership with a vocational educational and training institution as a Center of Excellence (COE) will be crucial. Meeting international training standards and transferring know-how from recognized training centers will attract the necessary knowledge and help establish close relationships with the tourism industry. The models of cooperation between the international COE and the ASC can be briefly described as follows:
Model 1: Cooperation based on a full license includes the implementation of COE curricula and programs, while the ASC fully implements the academic guidelines, rules, standards, and regulations. The COE monitors the quality of education and participates in the learning process with the issuance of its own diploma. The role of the ASC will be to provide infrastructure and the availability of a faculty and administrative staff.
Model 2: Academic collaboration. The model is limited to the provision of know-how, training programs, and the right to use the trade name of an international partner in the format of "academic cooperation" from the COE. Minimum quality management by the COE, use of the brand, logo and website is ensured.
Model 3: Twinning programs with curriculum and know-how transfer. This training format provides access to the curricula and programs of the COE and know-how as needed. Under this model, obtaining a license and brand of the COE is not permitted.
International Accreditation and Partnership Agreement
The ASC's desire to become a well-known center for training personnel of an international format will require compliance with modern standards that meet the interests and requirements of tourism stakeholders. The cooperation with the COE has the following characteristics:
Quality assurance. The COE has regulations on how the partner institution should equip its facilities and carry out academic program management. The requirements differ depending on the degree of integration with the ASC, the extent of brand use, and whether the program is certified by an international accreditation body.
Accreditation of training programs. Most state and non-state accreditation bodies pay attention only to academic programs. Diploma programs can have a special accreditation process by specialized accreditation institutions. Obtaining international accreditation and certification has more credibility in non-degree programs.
Training Needs Assessment involves assessing the requirements of the differences in the level of teaching and sectoral experience of ASC teachers. The results of the assesment will identify areas for development and regulation, target groups, and tools to gain the necessary competencies.
ASC Project Implementation through Public-Private Partnership
The ASC will use the connection with its parent university IUTH to integrate the latest innovations and research results in the field of tourism economics into relevant CPD subjects and courses. In accordance with the recommendations reflected in the business plan, there are several options for creating an ASC and obtaining development partner support.
The minimum income guarantee model is based on assurances of the government on part of the ASC's income by providing annual quotas and scholarships. The ASC may be owned by an international COE (Competence Centers, Licensee, Partner) together with the government (or city Akimat), industry association, or a group of local investors. In the event that an international COE grants foreign accreditation to the ASC, a minimum ownership of 51% of the shares will likely be a mandatory requirement. A development partner can provide technical and financial support.
Provision of land and buildings by the government. The provision of a building can be either without obligation to return, or with a rent price significantly below market value. This is justified by the fact that at the initial stage, the creation of the ASC will require the participation of an international COE and the implementation of its institutional standards and training programs.
Mixed model. ASC creation through a PPP mechanism based on a legal entity, with 51% of the shares of which are owned by the international COE, with the right to manage and provide training programs, the remaining 49% belong to the government. The COE provides ASC management, curriculum, accreditation and management of all activities. The government provides premises and a minimum revenue guarantee. Both parties benefit after breaking even, in proportion to their shares in the stock.
Almaty Tourism Skilling Center project aims to close the tourism skill gap in the region and deliver highly qualified and employable personnel for a thriving tourism sector in the Almaty-Bishkek Economic Corridor. The participation of a globally renowned center of excellence with advanced experience in tourism education and the option of offering internationally recognized degrees in tourism education can have a transformative effect for the tourism education sector and set standards that benefit all tourism businesses in the region. This will help build a successful regional tourism brand that is known for safe, exciting, and unforgettable tourism experiences in Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic.