Published on Eurasian Perspectives

What can an Uzbek mountain town learn from an Austrian eco-friendly tourism destination?

Hiking recently around Chartak in Uzbekistan’s Namangan Region, I was struck by the area’s natural beauty and literally (and figurately) got my second breadth. At 650 meters above sea level, this modest town in the Ferghana Valley enjoys evergreen alpine pastures and rocky panoramas, and is permeated by a constant supply of high-altitude fresh air and crystal-clear, mineral-rich waters.
Tourism helps create jobs for rural communities in Uzbekistan (Photo: Natalia Shulepina).
Thanks to a well-established network of sanatorium and health resorts – a very common form of wellness/spa tourism that emerged during the Soviet period – 30,000 annual visitors to Chartak can today take full advantage of physiotherapy activities, medical diagnoses, preventive exercises, and other revitalizing wellness programs.

And, the municipality of Chartak has a forward-looking “game plan”. By taking advantage of the town’s inherent natural assets and mountainous settings, it is moving towards more nature-oriented tourism and aims to become a wellness tourism hub by 2025.

At the same time, however, Namangan Region faces a range of challenges: it has a higher than average poverty rate and does not have access to certain social services and local infrastructure. The town is actively looking, therefore, for creative ways to develop alternative economic sectors to manage the decline of its local agricultural industry and fill the void left by industrial enterprises that have stopped functioning since the 1990s.
Chartak sanatorium and surroundings (Photo: World Bank).
Environmental and climatic constraints, coupled with difficult terrain and high production costs (transportation, perishable goods, etc.), mean that economic activity in mountain areas rarely achieves the scale and profitability of lowland areas. Also, given their isolation, mountain communities do not always have access to influential markets or to cutting-edge innovation.

Seeking to overcome some of these barriers and explore sustainable tourism initiatives, the municipality of Chartak is “twinning” with the town of Werfenweng in western Austria. This European mountain destination has ensured that its tourism strategy blends eco-friendly forms of transport with guaranteed mobility within the town – by providing visitors with electric vehicles.

Thanks to the concept of “soft-mobility”, tourists arriving in Werfenweng and its surrounding area have to leave their cars behind and circulate with one of the many environmentally-clean electric vehicles, motorcycles or bicycles, without worrying about parking. The results are staggering.

Werfenweng now attracts thousands of eco-friendly tourists of all ages and has developed a safe, clean and vibrant downtown area full of shops, restaurants and hotels – with more than 1,150 available beds (significant for a small town with less than 1,000 inhabitants!) Thanks to growing business opportunities in the area and the emergence of young entrepreneurs, a rejuvenation of the town is well underway.
Werfenweng hiking trails (Photo: World Bank).
Many sanatoriums and health resorts in Uzbekistan have been able to preserve their unique Soviet architectural character. Indeed, visiting one feels like being transported back in time. Today, mountain-based wellness tourism remains extremely popular in this Central Asian state.

Sustainable tourism can be an economic lifeline for many mountain communities and help create job opportunities for their young people – which is all the more important since three-quarters of people living in extreme poverty in Uzbekistan live in rural areas.

In this flourishing region, picturesque towns like Chartak have significant potential to further develop as wellness tourism destinations. As such, the World Bank and its development partners are helping develop adequate infrastructure and encouraging private sector investments in Uzbekistan with a view to supporting the economic development of medium-sized cities and mountain regions.


Rosanna Nitti

Senior Urban Specialist

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