Touch the nature and feel the history

The Zerafshan Tourism Development Association (ZTDA) is a young, public, community based organization created in March 2008. The aim of the project is to help establish “Community Based Tourism in the Zerafshan Valley”, to be implemented by the local NGO ASDP NAU and the German NGO Welthungerhilfe. Financial support meanwhile comes from the European Commission. ZTDA aims to develop a brand of sustainable tourism in the region which is adapted to local society, culture and the fragile environment. Today, ZTDA represents the interests of its members who provide tourist services ranging from accommodation in traditional home stays to transportation and mountain guides. In August 2008, ZTDA received a license to implement tourist activities from the Committee on Tourism, Sport and Youth of Tajikistan. Since then, ZTDA has been organizing sustainable tourism in the Zerafshan Valley; working with the local service providers in enhancing the organization and program of the tours.

In order to improve the quality of the services provided, ZTDA’s members participate in professional training courses. These programs focus on various issues such as running a home stay, environmental care, marketing and business management. To ensure quality, ZTDA is working on internal standardization of these services as well as tourist products. As ZTDA is promoting an ethical form of tourism, we pay close attention to the environmental impact of tourism by creating relevant tour packages and capacity building activities. We have also initiated ecological initiatives at community level. An example of this was a recent seminar with local children held by ZTDA and a partner organization designed to educate them on rubbish disposal.

It is not by chance that the Zerafshan Tourism Development Association has “Development” in its name. Involving the local inhabitants in tourism development, ZTDA aims to improve the well-being of the local communities: to reduce poverty, create new jobs, and at the same time conserve the fragile environment of the region as well as preserve the cultural heritage.

The ZTDA works keeping in mind the four following principles:

  • Participation of the local communities in ZTDA activities;
  • Financial Transparency and Transparency in the activity of all members of ZTDA;
  • Supporting local initiatives and maintaining development of the Tourism Initiative Groups;
  • Conservation of the natural environment and cultural heritage.

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Tourism is gradually reviving in the two most attractive locations of Tajikistan: the Pamirs and the Fan mountains of the Zarafshan Valley. However, the pace of this revival has been restricted due to a hangover from the Soviet Union’s style of tourism control. As a result, tourism plays an insignificant role in the development of the regional economy. The Government of Tajikistan has shown little initiative in developing the tourism sector, despite their expressed hope that tourism will be an alternative economic sector for resource poor mountain areas of the country.

In 2007, the local Public Organization ASDP NAU and the German NGO Welt Hunger Hilfe launched a Community Based Project in the Zarafshan Valley, with financial support from the European Commission. The project aims to strengthen the tourism sector in the valley and to establish an alternative source of income in this picturesque land. The mountainous landscape is simultaneously the biggest challenge and the main opportunity. Tourism is an under developed economic activity here, but has good potential. The Zarafshan Valley was a famous tourist destination in Soviet times and thousands of tourists visited the area every year. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the civil war resulted in the complete decline of this economic sector. At present, very few tourists visit the area, although it possesses exceptional natural beauty and is home to an ancient culture.
The main attractions of the valley are its alpine characteristics: the high peaks, deep blue lakes, mountain passes, juniper forests and vast alpine pasture make it a paradise for trekking and mountaineering. In addition, there are several cultural and religious sites dating back to the age of the Great Silk Road. Another advantage of the valley is its geographical proximity to the city of Samarkand, the most famous tourist centre of Central Asia.

The Soviet style of tourism paid little attention to the role of the community, tourism was managed by the central administration and the services offered were very narrow. The few tourists visiting at present travel through intermediary travel agencies, using their personnel and support. In this way the local community becomes just a part of the scenery and has no benefit from it. New Tourism Initiative Groups (TIGs) created in 6 areas (Haftkul, Iskanderkul, Alauddin, Yagnob, Gornaya Matcha, Veshab) are the centre of community management for the development and improvement of tourism services at village level.
In order to achieve a decentralized approach to tourism based on the community, effective coordination and relations between the parties concerned are essential. To this end Zarafshan Tourism Development Association has been established in the Zarafshan Valley. ZTDA is the main element in project implementation and aims to bring together the community (TIG service providers), private sector (travel agencies, tour operators) and relevant government departments at district and regional levels.
Under the project, the service providers (home stay owners, guides, drivers, cooks, and porters in 6 TIGs) were introduced to the new tourist activities. They acquired new skills by attending the training courses on hospitality, guiding, basic English, international cuisine and others. In order to ensure continuously high quality in the tourist services offered by the members of the TIGs, internal standards for each type of service were created.
20 home stays in 13 villages in the Zarafshan Valley have undergone this process and are now ready to host guests.
In addition, some small scale, cost-efficient measures were adopted to improve the infrastructure in the target villages.
With project support a series of marketing activities for promoting the Zarafshan Valley were undertaken by ZTDA:
–       Attractive packages, information and promotion material was created.
–       Familiarization tours for tourist agencies and media were organized.
–       ZTDA and Zarafshan Valley as tourist destination were presented at national, regional and international tourism fairs.
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