Academic journal article Ethnology

The New Silk Road: Mediators and Tourism Development in Central Asia

Academic journal article Ethnology

The New Silk Road: Mediators and Tourism Development in Central Asia

Article excerpt

Within the past century, international tourists have increasingly sought exotic destinations in their pursuit of relaxation, escape, and adventure. Recognizing the opportunity to earn valuable foreign currency, developing countries have catered to these desires by encouraging tourism development. The interplay between "hosts" and "guests" and the impact of tourism on host communities have been recurring themes in the anthropological literature on tourism, but scholars recognize that these categories have several limitations. The terms gloss over the wide variation that exists in the tourist experience for both guests and hosts, and ignore the important actors known as mediators. This article examines the role of mediators in two post-Soviet Central Asia states: Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Mediators there are particularly important because neither country is well known in Western countries, and neither country inherited a well-developed tourist infrastructure from the Soviet state. These mediators are cultivating a positive image of Central Asia as a new tourist destination, developing tourist accommodations, and lobbying government institutions to support and regulate tourism. However, the industry is rife with conflict and competition. (Tourism, development, Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan)

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Within the past century, international tourists have increasingly sought distant, "exotic" destinations in their pursuit of relaxation, escape, and adventure. Recognizing the opportunity to earn valuable foreign currency, most developing countries have catered to these desires by encouraging international tourism development. Some countries, such as Nepal and Jamaica, have gone so far as to make international tourism a top priority in their national development strategy. The anthropology of tourism emerged in the 1970s as tourists started to appear in places "off the beaten path," such as Inuit communities in Alaska and Kuna communities in Costa Rica (Graburn 1976; Graburn 1983; Nash 1981; Smith 1989). The interplay between "hosts" (locals) and "guests" (tourists) and the impact of tourism on host communities have been recurring themes in this growing body of literature. While the twin concepts of hosts and guests are routinely cited, scholars recognize that these categories have several limitations. The use of these terms glosses over the variation that exists in the tourist experience for both guests and hosts, and unfortunately ignores an important group of actors, known as "mediators," who actively promote and develop tourist destinations. "Neither hosts nor guests in any tangible way," the category of mediators includes government officials, tourism planners, travel agents, tour guides, and travel writers (Chambers 2000:30).

This article examines the role of mediators in the development of international tourism in two post-Soviet Central Asia states: Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. As the former Soviet republics make the awkward transition from socialism to capitalism, tourism development stands as one possible solution for their cash-flow problems. Tourism is definitely at the forefront of development in the Kyrgyz Republic, a country with exceptional natural beauty but limited trade resources. (1) Tourism is also important in the Republic of Kazakhstan, a country with vast oil and mineral wealth but a need for a more diverse economy. The role of tourism mediators in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan is particularly important because neither country is very well known in the Western tourist-generating countries, and unlike neighboring Uzbekistan, neither country inherited a well-developed tourist infrastructure from the Soviet state. This study of tour operators, an understudied yet important group of mediators, provides a new angle for understanding what Nash (1981) refers to as the "touristic process." In addition to cultivating a positive image of a new tourist destination, tour operators in Central Asia work hard to develop adequate tourist accommodations, create tourist itineraries, and influence government institutions that support and regulate tourism. …

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