Responsible tourism: Kazakhstan vacation, Steppe to the Silk Road
A good deal of time on this trip is spent exploring Kazakhstan’s national parks and reserves. Kazakhstan as a nation has been much exploited and during Soviet rule its environment suffered greatly, like that of much of Central Asia. National parks such as Altyn Emel and Aksu-Dzhabagly are vital habitats for some of the region’s most endangered wildlife such as snow leopard and Tien Shan bear, and the entrance fees that we pay here help to fund much needed conservation efforts. In addition, bringing tourism to these areas helps to show local people that there is economic benefit in maintaining wildlife populations, as we employ the services of local guides and rangers in the parks where appropriate, and also use accommodation in or near the parks. With the skins of snow leopards fetching high prices on the black market, this helps to counterbalance the often traditionally held views that wildlife should be exploited and not preserved.
Within the national parks, we stick to the established tracks and trails (where they exist) to avoid damaging the fragile natural environments that we travel through.
In conjunction with our local partner we work with the guesthouses and hotels, to try to implement best practice with regards to environmental policies – this includes advising them on proper disposal waste and conserving energy. Many of these places are relatively new to tourism and we hope that by instilling these values from the start, we can make a small difference in the environmental impact of tourism upon Kazakhstan – a country that has so far seen very little in the way of tourism from the west and is not as accustomed to sustainable principles as some other places might be. We also operate a strict no litter policy on our tours and insist that all litter from travelers, guides and drivers is taken back to the hotels where it can be properly disposed of.
As well as the natural environment we visit and explore some of the cultural heritage of Kazakhstan on this trip, ranging from the bronze age petroglyphs at Tamgaly to the Silk Road monuments of Taraz, Otrar and Turkestan. Many of these have been much neglected over the years but in a small way tourism helps conservation efforts by virtue of the fees paid being used to maintain such important historic monuments, not just for tourists but for local people.
We work with Kazakh guides and drivers who not only are able to provide far better insights into the country than a western leader, but are then able to gain economically from tourism. Our local partner is based in Kazakhstan and we avoid using western owned local suppliers, as this means that profits are usually expatriated from the country. Where appropriate, in addition to a Kazakh guide who accompanies the group from start to finish, we will use the services of people from the areas that we visit, for example employing local based guides and rangers in the national parks.
We exclude meals on this trip where appropriate (ie. where people have a choice as to where to eat) and encourage our travelers to eat in local restaurants rather than the hotels, meaning that a greater variety of businesses have the chance to earn from tourism.