Published on : Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Uzbekistan has brought a change in its tourist visa policy by cancelling plans to allow citizens of 27 countries to travel to the country visa-free as of April. However, the visa-free regime will only come into force in 2021. Nations eligible for visa-free travel under the now-cancelled initiative had included the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Canada.
Citizens of 12 countries, which included the United States, were also to be granted visa-free travel provided they were 55 years and over. This decree claimed that it was motivated by a desire to pursue a “sustainable and balanced development of tourist activity” and create conditions to “ensure the safety of life and health of foreign tourists.”
The delay in decision-making suggests that with the increasing consolidation of freshly elected President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, tensions within the ruling elite remain in place. This reversal policy will no doubt be received with dismay by the country’s tourist operators, who were earlier heartened by Mirziyoyev’s intent to revamp the leisure sector.
For economic liberalization, Mirziyoyev’s government is looking for diversifying the economy, attract greater foreign investment and, most importantly, transform Uzbekistan’s image as an isolated and inward-looking nation. In spite of Uzbekistan’s wealth of tourist attractions, the tourism sector performs poorly due to a lot of factors like bureaucratic hurdles, shortage of quality accommodation and mediocre service standards.
The WTTC estimates that the total contribution of tourism to Uzbekistan’s GDP in 2015 stood at 3.2%. However, out of certain problems cited by tourism operators, one is the exorbitant cost of traveling to Uzbekistan from Western countries. Accepting the fact, state-owned carrier Uzbekistan Airways last week announced it was selling tickets for its London route at promotional prices through to the end of February. This visa reversal policy now will mean that anyone applying for a visa now could expect waits of up to two weeks or more to receive a visa.