The tourism industry in the Kyrgyz Republic contributes an estimated 5 percent to GDP and represents an important growth industry for jobs and economic development. While the COVID-19 pandemic severely affected international travel, tourism still accounted for 2.9 percent of GDP in 2020. The Kyrgyz Republic features numerous unique natural and cultural attractions such as Lake Issyk-Kul — the second-largest alpine lake in the world, the prominent Tian-Shan mountain range, and a section of the historic “Silk Road,” all with potential to attract additional international visitors. In September 2018, the Kyrgyz Republic successfully hosted the third World Nomad Games, and a concerted PR campaign attracted global media attention to the Games, which effectively promoted the Kyrgyz Republic’s unique brand on the international stage. Signs of post-pandemic revival are appearing in the aviation sector: Aeroflot, the largest Russian airline, and Kazakhstani airline SCAT opened new routes from Issyk-Kul (a large tourist destination) in 2021.
The Kyrgyz Republic was a popular regional tourist destination during Soviet times, with nearly one million visitors annually during the 1980s, predominantly from other Soviet republics. A wide array of tourist lodging, along with supporting physical infrastructure including paved roads, was developed. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, tourism in the Kyrgyz Republic collapsed, with arrivals declining by nearly 90 percent by the end of the 1990s.
Since independence, the number of tourists has steadily rebounded to 1.8 million in 2019, and visitors from the former Soviet Union continue to comprise the overwhelming majority of tourists who travel to the Kyrgyz Republic. According to estimates, approximately 70 percent of tourists visit from Kazakhstan, and 13 percent from Russia, with roughly 2 percent from European countries. The tourism sector employs approximately 40,000 people, or roughly 2 percent of the Kyrgyz Republic’s total formal employment.
While the sector has made significant strides in recent years, it continues to face several challenges. Standards, particularly in customer service, remain weak and inconsistent across the sector, and service capacity is underdeveloped. Tourist infrastructure is slowly improving, but significant capital investment is needed to reverse two decades of degradation. Promotion of the sector, particularly to external markets, is also improving, but lacks a unified marketing and information campaign. s Due to a failure to fully comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, the Kyrgyz Republic has been on the EU’s “black list,” since 2006. This prevents European carriers from operating direct routes to the country, results in a blanket ban of flights to the EU of airlines and aircraft certified by the Kyrgyz aviation oversight authority, and subsequently hampers the further development of tourism.
The tourism industry in the Kyrgyz Republic offers targeted opportunities for U.S. investment, particularly in the hospitality sector. Bishkek has very few Western hotel chains, and the popular resort destination of Lake Issyk-Kul has none. Local Kyrgyz entrepreneurs are exploring the possibility to opening franchise locations of major U.S. hospitality chains. Opportunities also exist for U.S. tour operators seeking to sell both individual tour packages to the Kyrgyz Republic and regional trips to Central Asian destinations along the historic Silk Road.
Department of Tourism under the Ministry of economy and finance