At the 5th International Meeting on the Silk Road held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on 8-9 October 2010, over 250 representatives from 26 countries took the first steps towards adopting a new Silk Road Action Plan.
Prior to the meeting, President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan discussed with UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai the importance of tourism in the country, the region and the future of the Silk Road initiative. President Karimov said that for his country, tourism is one of the highest priorities and that he would examine closely the need to facilitate cross border travel and the development of better air links.
Developed by UNWTO, the Silk Road Action Plan provides a launch pad for strengthening the Silk Road brand, facilitating travel along the Silk Road and enhancing destination management. The proposals, now open for discussion, will provide a base for advancing robust, competitive and sustainable growth in tourism.
The meeting acknowledged that although UNWTO has been supporting tourism along the Silk Road for many years, the brand still lacks a strong identity. Member States can now take advantage of new opportunities offered, particularly by the development of strong public relations and social media to identify and sell their ‘unique selling points’ whilst cooperating to provide direct benefits to those travelling along or in Silk Road destinations.
“It is very encouraging to see the incredible support we are receiving to develop and promote tourism along the Silk Road,” UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai said.
The 5th International Meeting on the Silk Road adopted many practical suggestions for capacity building and boosting the Silk Road brand and its development into a consolidated tourism product. This work will be integrated in an Action Plan spearheaded by UNWTO. Suggestions put forward for further work include:
- Research on source markets, market segmentation and ‘unique selling points’ of each member state and region.
- Development of joint projects across member states to promote the Silk Road brand.
- Creation of a task force made up of national tourism administrations, UN organisations and the private sector.
- Development of ‘authentic experiences’ – here the meeting noted practical examples of ‘home-stay’ programmes and support for local products and sustainable product development.
- Investment in capacity building including guide and language training, as well as the ability of guides to work across borders.
- Finance and the development of infrastructure – the meeting noted practical examples from Kazakhstan on this subject.
- Infrastructure – the development of a high-speed rail network in Uzbekistan and the development of tourist centres was offered as a prime example of projects that will take the Silk Road initiative forward.
- There should be urgent examination of all ways to facilitate cross border travel between the Silk Road states particularly with regard to the issue of visas.
The next Silk Road event will be a media networking meeting at World Travel Market, London, on 10 November. Further development of the Silk Road Action Plan will be discussed at the Silk Road Ministers Summit to be held at ITB, Berlin, in March 2011.