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Mountain tourism bankruptcy: When service price increase does not help

The COVID-19 pandemic has stalled tourism development worldwide. It also greatly influenced Kyrgyzstan, despite the fact that prices in our republic are much lower than in other CIS countries, especially when it comes to mountain tourism. The number of foreigners, who are fond of conquering the mountain peaks, significantly reduced.

Experienced guides and owners of travel companies told 24.kg news agency how this interesting and healthsome type of recreation survives.

Give it all up

Mountain tourism has suffered the most from closed borders. Its main clients were foreigners, and because of the pandemic, it became much more difficult to move between countries.

Sergei Makarov has been working as a mountain guide for the last three years. Last year, in order to feed his family, he had to give up his favorite business for a while.

«There was no income from working as a guide at all last year, now, little by little, everything is starting to improve. But incomes have fallen dramatically — if earlier, at the height of the season, earnings reached 30,000 soms, but now it is 15,000 soms only,» Sergei told.

In order to survive, many people switched to online work, began to create virtual tours so that everyone could walk around the beloved and unexplored places of Kyrgyzstan.

Other travel agencies, taking advantage of the moment, solve strategic problems. Anastasia Mironchenko, a guide to Kyrgyzstan, said that the most dedicated are developing standards for hotels, trying to improve the country’s image in the eyes of other states.

«Some travel agencies also unite, exchange new ideas in order to improve service in Kyrgyzstan. After all, this is one of the main problems not only during the pandemic, but in general. Nothing can be done about COVID-19. Almost everyone is waiting for the situation to be resolved, and, at the same time, they earn money in other spheres, because they have to feed families,» the girl stressed.

There are gorges, but no demand

Anna Sarybaeva, director and guide at Adygene Travel, says that before the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism business focused exclusively on foreign guests, but now it is completely focused on the domestic market.

«The capacity of the domestic market is limited, which is fraught with risks. Companies do not receive income, fierce competition is formed. The economic situation of citizens has deteriorated, not everyone can buy tours, even just go to the mountains. Thus, we lose potential domestic customers. Many are still afraid of infection and avoid crowds. What ways out of the situation did we find? There are none. We cannot force people to come and use our services. Therefore, we just observe all the precautions,» she said.

Before the pandemic, once a week, local travel companies hired two buses, where 40 people were seated. Now they hire one car, and it is not always full.

Citizens of 33 states can now enter Kyrgyzstan without reason (by land and air). However, many are afraid of restrictions that may be introduced at any time, then tourists will be forced to stay in our country indefinitely. Prices for air tickets also made their contribution to the decrease in the flow of guests from abroad. They have grown noticeably, not everyone can afford to come even from neighboring Kazakhstan. The minimum cost of an economy class air ticket is 15,000-20,000 soms.

However, local guides and companies are still trying to develop mountain tourism and mountaineering.

Kegeti, Ala-Archa, Alamedin gorges, everyone’s favorite Kol-Tor lake, Ratsek hut, Komsomolets Peak are popular, albeit among a small circle of people. There are Barskoon, Semenovskoe and Grigorievskoe gorges, Konorchok, Kok-Moinok and Ak-Sai canyons in Issyk-Kul region.

«When it comes to our company, we do not believe that lowering of prices is a way to fix problems in tourism. The way to solve the problem is to improve the quality of services, and when travel companies reduce the cost, the quality of services, of course, becomes questionable. We cannot constantly work at a loss, so even during the pandemic, reduction of prices is not a solution. If tours are not bought at a high price, then they will not be bought at a low price either,» Anna Sarybaeva believes.

In need of help from the state

Photographer Denis Budylo, a fan of mountain hiking, says that during the pandemic, restrictions affected every lover of extreme recreation.

We were forbidden to leave the cities, blocking roads, and national parks and gorges were also closed. The situation is much better now, there are no obstacles to visiting tourist places.

Denis Budylo

In order to revive and modify the mountain tourism market, the attention of government agencies and the filtration of travel companies are required.

«First of all, state support is needed in terms of ensuring the safety of tours, equipment and availability of rescue teams, possibility of emergency communication with the Ministry of Emergency Situations in remote areas. Rescue vehicles and base stations for quick response are needed. In the future, we need control and licensing of the activities of travel agencies. Today, such a company can be opened by any person, even who does not understand anything about it.

People, who several times went to Kol-Tor lake, call themselves guides. In any difficult situation, due to such incompetence, people, including foreign tourists, may suffer, which will negatively affect the industry as a whole,» Denis Budylo believes.

Hiking in the mountains is expensive, you need to buy or rent professional equipment; money for transport is needed.

«The most important thing to start is to buy good, reliable shoes. It costs 15,000-20,000 soms in Bishkek sports stores. All the rest can be purchased gradually with the growth of experience and skills. On average, a basic set of branded equipment for two or three-day hikes and not difficult ascents will cost $ 1,000-2,000,» the climber notes.

Denis advised novice mountain extreme enthusiasts to climb Komsomolets, Uchitel, Boks, Electro and Agitator peaks — all of them are located on the territory of Ala-Archa National Park near Bishkek.