Insights in Uzbekistan: chatting with our local expert

Over in Uzbekistan, we spoke to our local expert, Shahlo, to learn more about how the country was coping with coronavirus, and what the face of travel currently looks like.
Itchan Kala ancient town, Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock
Itchan Kala ancient town, Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

The Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan is a country still shaking off its Soviet shackles, its distant past shaped by its location on the ancient Silk Road. Today, it’s a place defined by its friendly inhabitants, buzzing cities, crumbling desert fortresses and riveting history. But how has the nation coped with the coronavirus pandemic, and what does this mean for travel going forwards? We spoke to our local expert Shahlo to dig a bit deeper.

Chatting with Shahlo

 Q: Where are you based and what does your daily life look like at the moment?

A: Our office is located in Samarkand and we are working as usual, from 9am to 6pm (GMT+5) from Monday to Friday in the office, processing all incoming daily requests. Our life is returning to normal – as before.

Of course, as there are still new cases of COVID-19 emerging, some new working rules have been introduced at the office. Every morning, employees have to pass through a “disinfection tunnel” before entering, and our colleague from HR measures our temperatures. We then do some exercises for start-up and after all that we start working. Also, everybody should still be wearing their facemasks; we will take these precautions until our city is once again classified as a “green zone”, free of COVID-19. 

Shahlo, the Uzbekistan IG local expert. Photo: private archive

Q: Uzbekistan has announced its “Safe Travel Campaign”, offering $US3000 to anyone who catches coronavirus on a trip to Uzbekistan. What are your thoughts on the campaign?

A: In order to revive the tourism sector at a rapid pace and formulate new directions for its development after the restoration of the sanitary and epidemiological situation in the country, the President of Uzbekistan signed a new decree “On additional measures for the development of tourism in strict compliance with the requirements of the enhanced regime of sanitary and epidemiological security”.

 In order to ensure sanitary and hygienic safety for local and foreign tourists during their travels to Uzbekistan, and to increase the flow of foreign tourists, and to promote the safety of the Republic from pandemics, the “Uzbekistan: Safe Travel GUARANTEED” sanitary and epidemiological safety system was commissioned. According to that:

1. In the objects providing services to foreign tourists "Uzbekistan: Safe Travel GUARANTEED" system is introduced in mandatory order. 

2. The service of foreign tourists by tour operators who are residents of the Republic of Uzbekistan during the quarantine period is available only for "Uzbekistan: Safe Travel GUARANTEED" system in tourism and subsidiary infrastructure facilities included in the Register of Safe Facilities. 

3. A Safe Tourism fund will be established.

4. From the funds of Safe Tourism foundation in accordance of "Uzbekistan: Safe Travel GUARANTEED" system requirements, foreign tourists are paid compensation payments in the amount of 3 thousand US dollars in case of infection with coronavirus (COVID-19) during the trip on the territory of the Republic of Uzbekistan. 

 Registan, the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand of the Timurid dynasty, now in Uzbekistan. Photo: Anton Ivanov/Shutterstock

Q: International flights are slowly opening up, but it looks like there’s still a 14-day quarantine for travelers from the UK and Europe – are there talks that this will be lifted soon? Who is currently allowed to travel without the quarantine? 

A: Yes, international flights will be restarted from 1 August, on the decision of the airlines, which will launch international flights to/from Uzbekistan.

Travelers coming from “green zones”, free of coronavirus, will be allowed to travel to Uzbekistan. In addition, they will only be able to frequent the places included on the “Safe of COVID-19 Register”.

Registan Square in the center of Samarkand. Photo: NICK MELNICHENKO/Shutterstock

Q: What are your favorite places in Uzbekistan (and neighboring countries) and how would you recommend others to visit them and combine them in a trip?

A: My favorite places in Uzbekistan include Samarkand, my homeland – I also love Khiva city. In the old towns of these two cities I feel like I’m in a fairytale. In Tajikistan, I love the Seven Lakes; there I feel like I’m in the movie “Avatar”, I don’t know why! In Kyrgyzstan, Son Kol is the best place for me! If you want to combine all these places in one trip, it would be best to travel in June.

 Beautiful view of Yashikul Lake in Pamir in Tajikistan. Photo: NOWAK LUKASZ/Shutterstock

Q: What’s the best way to discover Uzbekistan and its neighboring countries? 

A: It depends on the preferences of the traveler. The way we work, when we receive a tour request from a traveler, we first call him/her in order to find out a bit more about how he/she usually travels, what are his/her preferences for the trip, then, according to the needs of the traveler, we propose the best way to discover Uzbekistan. But I can say, it is always more interesting to include some visits with local people and to have the experience of real Uzbek culture during the trip.

 Green valley near Son Kol lake, Kyrgyzstan. Photo:  Rui T. Guedes/Shutterstock

Q: The UNWTO named Uzbekistan one of the fastest-growing tourism markets in 2019. How has tourism evolved in the past few years and what can travelers expect in 2021?

A: Year by year there are more and more facilities for travelers – we have more hotels, for instance – while the services of guides and drivers have improved. Inside the country the competition between local service providers is growing, so they have started to focus on quality, rather than on quantity. If before there was less attention paid to the feedback of travelers, now it has become the most important key in the work of every organization. Of course, we don’t still have 5-star hotels in all the cities, but small boutique-style hotels with great, personalized services and very good locations, not far from the historical parts of the main cities.

We are so missing the travelers – for 2021, we will be full of enthusiasm to work and to welcome travelers back again!