More Avaza razzle dazzle
These days, state television in Turkmenistan is ablaze with talk of the president’s economic and cultural “commandment” to his country to develop and promote national tourism. The government has recently drawn up new tourist maps of the country (click photograph above).
The center of the buzz, of course, is Avaza, a tourist zone on the Caspian Sea (about which I’ve written here. In the hope of developing a vibrant hotspot of tourism, all manner of plans for new hotels and facilities (such as a water amusement park and a convention center) in the resort area are now hurriedly underway.
Allow the facepalming to begin. EurasiaNet.org’s David Trilling
visited Avaza in 2010. In the port town of nearby Turkmenbashi, he found only intense poverty, and ENVSEC released a map in 2011 showing all of the pollution just south of the Avaza tourist zone in the period 2006-2008, including radioactive waste and abandoned and flooded oil wells. Sounds like a good time on the beach to me.
And don’t get me started about our terrible and embarassing visa regime for foreigners. Lonely Planet calls tourist visas in Turkmenistan “a mixed blessing” in terms of bureaucracy and the difference between what you think you’ll pay at the beginning and what you’ll end up paying at the end, not to mention all the potential restrictions to your movement (depending on who’s acting as your mandatory guide). Besides, after all this, Trilling reports that if you’re lucky enough to eventually get to Avaza, don’t be surprised if your reservation is canceled by ambushing government officials coming out for an impromptu meeting or furlough.
Why should a foreigner go to all the trouble to come here? We may have a rich and vibrant history, delicious traditional food, beautiful natural sites, and several landmarks along the Silk Road, but these and other attractions will be forever ignored by travelers unless the bureaucracy enshrouding tourism in Turkmenistan are first cleared away.
Still, where Avaza does seem to be making some inroads is in the convention industry. In the past two years, Turkmenistan has hosted a series of international conferences and special events. As it is already equipped (however feebly) to accommodate travelers, Avaza might better serve as a convention hub of sorts. If our government isn’t willing to bend on regular tourists, perhaps it can engineer a special, rapid-action visa process for conferences and events?