The following is a case study of our tourism development work in a rural, remote mountain region — featuring community tourism development and the international light/medium adventure travel target market. Our work consisted of marketing, destination development, promotion and operations advisory.
The results: growth in visitor numbers to support alternative local employment, income circulation in the local economy, and engaged travelers spending more time immersed in the local nature and culture. Moreover, what you see took very limited investment and only three years to accomplish. This is what effective cooperation and commercially viable results look like when donors, local tour operators, communities and Uncornered Market work together.
Kyrgyzstan is considered an “off-the-beaten track” type of destination for most travelers, but the Alay Region in southern Kyrgyzstan is considered “offbeat” and remote even for Kyrgyzstan. In fact, most travel articles written about Kyrgyzstan these last years, including those “best places to visit” or “best countries” lists, usually focus on the traditional sites, treks and cities in the Issyk-Kul Region (Karakol, South Shore, Cholpon Ata), Naryn Region (Song Kul Lake and Tash Rabat), and Bishkek. This means that although the Alay Region offers some of the best trekking and opportunities to engage with local nomadic culture in the country most travelers have never heard of it.
Although Alay Region had many of the natural (e.g., the stunning Pamir-Alay Mountains) and cultural elements needed to make it a leading adventure travel destination in Kyrgyzstan, and Central Asia as a whole, it faced many tourism development challenges. However, the region does have a history with Community Based Tourism (CBT) and trust in its local representative in Osh, Visit Alay, the biggest tour operator in region responsible for the majority of tours and bookings. Its goals focus on the socio-economic benefits, cultural preservation and environmental conservation that tourism can bring by engaging local people.
Alay Region: Where Adventure Travel Meets Community Tourism
Where is the Alay Region?
The Alay Region is located in southern Kyrgyzstan between Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China. What we refer to here as the “Alay Region” is made up of Alay District and Chong Alay District, both located in Osh Region. The Pamir-Alay Mountain range goes through much of this remote mountainous region. It is also home to the northern section of the famous Pamir Highway (M-41) starting in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and continuing across the border to Khorog, Tajikistan.
Alay Region Tourism Development Goals
Alay Region Tourism Development Challenges
Uncornered Market Advisory and Activities
Visit Alay and Bai Alai Project Activities
Impact and Results
Data and statistics from Visit Alay, 2017-2019.
Qualitative Socio-Economic Impacts: Stories of Local People
Additional Income for Families
Almost all of the yurt camps and guesthouses in the Alay Region are run by families so that the money from tourism stays local in the community. For example, in this case the family that runs Sary-Oi Yurt Camp in the lower Alay Mountains uses the money they earn from the summer months when they host trekkers on the Scenic Ak-Tor Pass Trek to help pay for the education of their five daughters, make improvements on their house in the village, and invest in their tourism business to help it grow.
Increasing Local Employment Opportunities
The family-run Peak Lenin Guesthouse in Sary Mogul opened their home to host tourists five years ago, starting with just four beds. Prior to this the husband was working in the nearby coal mines (one of the few places for employment in the area) and wanted to get out, to do something that connected with nature rather than something that made it dirtier. Then came idea to work in tourism, to share of the local nature and culture by hosting travelers. Today, their guesthouse can sleep up to 40 people and they have opened up a yurt camp by Tulpar Kol Lake. This results in jobs for about 20 people in the summer months, providing opportunity for young people to stay in the village than leave for the cities or Russia for work.
Preserving Local Nomadic Cultural Traditions
As part of the traditional Kyrgyz nomadic culture in the Alay Region families will move to the jailoo (high pasture) in the summer months where they live in yurts (traditional circular homes) and watch over their livestock grazing on the fresh high altitude grasses. Over the years fewer and fewer families were following this tradition as not enough money was being earned to justify the effort. An increase in tourism and interest by travelers to stay in yurts has provided additional money to families to encourage them to keep with this tradition. Several of the traditional yurt camps had added additional yurts where travelers can also stay and experience nomadic life for a day or two. The families are still able to take care of their animals and live on the jailoo for the summer months.
People Staying Local, Investing Local
Due to the lack of jobs and economic opportunities in the Alay Region many men leave the village to find work in Russia to support their families. In the last years many of the trekking and horse guides from Sary Mogul and other villages have been able earn enough from tourism to avoid going to Russia. In addition, they have been able to invest that money into buying more horses and land to support their families.
Guides Earning Money for University
Many of the trekking guides that work in the Alay Region are university students in Osh. They are able to earn enough money from guiding tourists in the summer months to pay for their university tuition, accommodation, food, books and supplies, as well as many are able to send money home to their families in smaller villages. In addition, they are able to practice and improve their English (or other foreign language), thereby providing them with valuable job skills for when they leave university and look for jobs either in tourism or in other sectors.