Corona pandemic hits Tajikistan’s tourism sector

Only 0.35m tourists visited the Central Asian country last year as compared to 1.25m in the previous year, says an official

News Desk

Coronavirus pandemic hit the global tourism sector hard in 2020, proving to be the worst year in tourism history with 1 billion fewer international arrivals, says the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNETO).

The direct contribution of the travel and tourism industry to the country’s total GDP falls from 2.0-2.5 per cent to 1.0 per cent. Photo: Global Look Press.

Developing countries, particularly those where tourism is the mainstay of their economy suffered the most. Tajikistan, one of the poor Central Asian republics, suffered hugely.

Only 350,600 tourists visited Tajikistan in 2020 or a fall of 72.2 per cent, AsiaPlus an online news portal reported quoting a Tajik official on Friday.

This was shared by Tojiddin Jourazoda, the head of Tajikistan’s Tourism Development Agency at a news conference at Dushanbe, capital city on Friday (February 12)

Mr Jourazoda said 0.35 million foreign tourists visited the Central Asian country in 2020 as compared to 1.254 million in 2019, showing a steep fall of 72.2 percent.  

“The tourism sector experienced a sharp fall in revenues last year to $72 million, only 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, while before the pandemic, the direct contribution of the travel and tourism industry accounted for 2 to 2.5 percent of the country’s total GDP of about US$230 to 250 million,” he noted.

Sarez lake, Tajikistan. Photo: AsiaPlus

In the current situation, Mr Jourazoda said, his Agency intended to develop domestic tourism.  

“We plan to reconstruct the Yamchun Fortress in Gorno-Badakhshan’s Ishkashim district and the Hulbuk Fortress in Khatlon’s Vose district. 

Besides, we plan to reconstruct the mausoleum of Khoja Mashhad and Chehiluchor Chashma area in Khatlon’s Shahritous district.  

There are 224 tour operators and 1,888 hotels now functioning in Tajikistan. 

Mr Jourazoda noted that in the future they will pay more attention to the construction of hostels and homestays in Tajikistan.  

He further noted that the government received $30 million grant from the World Bank and $10 million grant from the Asian Development Bank for development of rural areas and tourism in Tajikistan

Pamir Highway. Photo: BBC

Tajikistan’s rich cultural heritage, hospitality and abundance of mountain snow peaks, rivers, lakes and recreational opportunities contribute to the development of its tourism industry. 

Tajik Government had declared 2018 a year of tourism development. 

The development of tourism is crucial for the growth of Tajikistan’s economy. At the same time, poor infrastructure and low quality of services hamper the growth of the tourism industry.

Global scenario in 2020

Global tourism suffered its worst year on record in 2020, with international arrivals dropping by 74% according to the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Destinations worldwide welcomed 1 billion fewer international arrivals in 2020 than in the previous year, due to an unprecedented fall in demand and widespread travel restrictions. This compares with the 4% decline recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, the collapse in international travel represents an estimated loss of US$1.3 trillion in export revenues — more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis. The crisis has put between 100 and 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk, many of them in small and medium-sized enterprises.  

Due to the evolving nature of the pandemic, many countries are now reintroducing stricter travel restrictions. These include mandatory testing, quarantines and in some cases a complete closure of borders, all weighing on the resumption of international travel. At the same time, the gradual rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine is expected to help restore consumer confidence, contribute to the easing travel restrictions and slowly normalize travel during the year ahead.

Recovery outlook

The latest UNWTO Panel of Experts survey shows a mixed outlook for 2021. Almost half of the respondents (45%) envisaged better prospects for 2021 compared to last year, while 25% expect similar performance and 30% foresee a worsening of results in 2021.

The overall prospects of a rebound in 2021 seem to have worsened. 50% of respondents now expect a rebound to occur only in 2022 as compared to 21% in October 2020. The remaining half of respondents still see a potential rebound in 2021, though below the expectations shown in the October 2020 survey (79% expected recovery in 2021).  As and when tourism does restart, the UNWTO Panel of Experts foresees growing demand for open-air and nature-based tourism activities, with domestic tourism and ‘slow travel’ experiences gaining increasing interest. 

Looking further ahead, most experts do not to see a return to pre-pandemic levels happening before 2023. In fact, 43% of respondents point to 2023, while 41% expect a return to 2019 levels will only happen in 2024 or later. UNWTO’s extended scenarios for 2021-2024 indicate that it could take two-and-a-half to four years for international tourism to return to 2019 levels.

Asia and the Pacific (-84%) recorded the largest decrease in arrivals in 2020 (300 million fewer). The Middle East and Africa both recorded a 75% decline.

Europe recorded a 70% decrease in arrivals, despite a small and short-lived revival in the summer of 2020. The region suffered the largest drop in absolute terms, with over 500 million fewer international tourists in 2020. The Americas saw a 69% decrease in international arrivals, following somewhat better results in the last quarter of the year.

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