Perceptions of Tourism Impacts and Sustainability Concept: Insights from Kyrgyzstan

Jyldyz Djakypbay Kyzy

Faculty of Tourism, Eastern Mediterranean University, North Cyprus

Ali Öztüre

Faculty of Tourism, Eastern Mediterranean University, North Cyprus




The subject of sustainability has taken attention of many researchers recent years, but these investigations were taken comprehensively in some developed countries rather than developing countries. This study explores the perceptions of environmental, socio-cultural and economic impacts of tourism development by representatives of government officials, academicians and private sectors in Kyrgyzstan. It is known that tourism development is principally dependent upon socio-cultural, economic and environmental factors. Thus, to create a successful and quality destination all three dimensions (economic, socio-cultural and environmental) need to be identified whether it has negative impacts such as cost of living, environmental degradation, pollution or imitation of foreign behaviours and culture or the positive impacts such as job creation, increased willingness to understand the different cultures and protection of  nature and wildlife. Thus, if it is not planned, managed or monitored competently the outcome could bring fundamental consequences and it will not only hinder the further development of tourism but also might damage the residents’ lifestyle.

A qualitative approach was used to achieve the aims and objectives by applying a semi-structured interview. The research has revealed that current tourism development in Kyrgyzstan has negative and positive impacts on economy, culture, and environment. Furthermore, after the data collection, the main tourism development stimulators were identified such as the promotion of cultural identity and pride, enhancement of environmental quality and new perspectives to improve the quality of life. 

In addition, the study attempts to explore the awareness of sustainability concept of the experts and practitioners in Kyrgyzstan. The results showed that there is a lack of understanding of the concept particularly among the government officials and the private sector. Moreover, the sustainability concept seems to remain invisible in practice despite the fact that respondents had some awareness of the subject.

Key Words: Economic Impacts, Socio-cultural Impacts, Environmental Impacts, Sustainable Tourism, Tourism Development, Kyrgyzstan




Tourism is extensively perceived with the potential economic contribution, providing components of the better life and improved quality of life known as job vacancies, tax, economic opportunities, carnivals, eating-places, natural and traditional attractions, and outdoor activity opportunities (Ap and Crompton, 1993; McCool & Martin, 1994 cited in Andereck et al., 2005).

However, there are worries that tourism can have negative effects on quality of life. These effects can emerge as traffic jams, parking space difficulties, increasing amount of law breaking, cost of living, and changes in residents’ daily life. 

Global growth of tourism activities has encouraged, inspired and increased the interest among academicians, policy-makers, experts and other stakeholders in the tourism industry. These concerns must show how to shape and operate the tourism industry in the next coming decades. All destinations need not only emphasizing the issues on impacts of tourism but what actions need to be used in order to overcome all the negative aspects as well as the most importantly how to develop sustainably in order to preserve our valuable resources for the current and future generations.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the Central Asian countries with picturesque landscapes attracting and hosting more and more tourists every year.  As this country opening its doors to the guests, it needs to be aware of the concept of sustainable development of tourism and economic, environmental, socio-cultural negative and positive impacts. The lack of related knowledge approaches, sustainable principles and short-time oriented tourism development may lead to a fundamental loss of biodiversity, environmental degradation and socio-cultural misbalances.

The purpose of the study is to explore perceptions of economic, socio-cultural and environmental impacts of tourism development by tourism experts and practitioners in Kyrgyzstan.  Furthermore, this study attempts to explore the awareness of sustainability concept from government officials, academicians, and the private sector.

The interests of tourists are growing in visiting countries of Central Asia or the countries laid on the Silk Road. As Taleb Rifai, the former General Secretary of UNWTO emphasized on the Silk Road Action Plan (2016-2017) that Silk Road is an important channel for a new, vibrant and cultural-historical way of tourism, attracting and opening its doors with advanced facilitation and agreements. The main mission of the Action Plan is to work together to deliver new marketing framework and raise the competence, increasing the view of Silk Road tourism and leading the development that is sustainable, reliable, and competitive worldwide (UNWTO, Silk Road Action Plan, 2016). Among them, Kyrgyzstan lies on Silk Road Route and offers its beautiful and pure nature, enriched with the ancient traditions, and culture.

The main principles, themes, and approaches play a fundamental role in developing the tourism industry. If not implemented accurately or concerned enough it could damage the whole tourism system colossally leaving behind a chaotic scenario. Therefore, this study would be very beneficial in terms of providing in-depth information about the negative and positive aspects of three dimensions of sustainable tourism. The provided information could be implemented by academicians, government officials, private sectors, local community, and non-governmental organizations.


Research methodology

The qualitative method utilized for this research by applying semi-structured interviews with experts and practitioners in the tourism industry. Qualitative research’s major distinctive attribute is that the concentration on real issues, conventional situations with the strong, rich information, holistic approach (Amaratunga et al., 2002). Non-probability convenience sampling was used for the selection of the interviewees. The main advantage of the non-probability sampling techniques is that samples are chosen according to subjective judgment than a random selection. In order to complete this research, non-probability convenience sampling method was implemented. This method is known for being a most practical way to collect primary data (Altinay et al., 2005).

In a qualitative research, a small sample size can be questioned, however, Patton (2002) points out that, sampling has to be considered according to the purpose and the background of the study. Nevertheless, according to Bertaux (1981, p.35), fifteen is the smallest acceptable sample size.

In this research, the data saturation was observed after the twenty interviews that consist five interviews with academicians, five interviews with governmental officials, and ten interviews with private sector representatives. Participants were Executive Director of Community Based Tourism Department in Kyrgyzstan, Primary Partner in a Swiss Association for International Cooperation, Director and Deputy Directors of Tourism Department, Executive Director of  Kyrgyz Association of Tour Operators, Coordinator of Environmental Management and Sustainable Development Program, Academicians, specializing in tourism industry and tourism marketing, Experts of Tour Branding, Directors and Chairman of Travel agencies and Chairman of Tourism Committee. Respondents were contacted personally and meetings were arranged by phone and email letters, mostly at the respondents’ workplaces. Interviews lasted from one hour up to two and a half hours. Conversations were recorded with permission of the interviewees.

Interview questions were generated based on the knowledge from the literature review (Altinay et al., 2007). The interview questions organized by the division of two sections. The first section includes the negative and positive impacts of tourism. The second section covers the perception of sustainability concept. The questions were open-ended and some questions had sub-questions in order to gather more probes and opinions. 

The researchers used an investigative instrument such as taking self-notes, short memos during the interview procedure and while recording and articulating the findings (Saunders et al., as cited Altinay et al., 2007). Hence, it gave a benefit for the researcher to document reflections and additional information in the categories followed in the primary research and analysis. Interviews were taken during the period of July up to September 2016. The gathered information was transcribed, and similarities of the answers between the respondents appeared by listening to the records for several times, continually comparing them among participants, and putting them under the coding method. The qualitative results characterized by themes, specifically capturing the negative and positive outcomes of the economic, socio-cultural, and environmental impacts of tourism, and perception of sustainability concept.



Based on the interviews with academic staff, government officials, and the practitioners, main themes are identified on the tourism development in Kyrgyzstan. Interviewed respondents had high job positions of general managers, chief executives, directors, deputy directors, professors, and coordinators of the tourism development program in the country. Largely participants’ work experience in the tourism industry was from 10-20 years and over.

In the interviews, the meaning of sustainability was asked to determine the level of knowledge and awareness of the respondents.  Those respondents from the academic environment are informed far well about the concept more than private sector or the government officials. The understanding and the knowledge of sustainability concept given by academicians were much broader. Academicians’ pointed out that the economic, socio-cultural, and environmental issues are concerning the participation of all stakeholders in tourism development. Community involvement identified as one of the important principles. However, private sector respondents seem to be not aware much about the concept and the sustainability approach viewed as the fashionable word.

Government representatives demonstrated awareness of the importance of the concept, however, have not been able to articulate their opinion and mostly relating the meaning to have a balance between economic growth and environmental resources. The respondents’ demonstrated reluctance and indicated that the strategies change constantly with the changes of the top government officials. Political instability, weak governmental institution coordination, and cooperation entail uncertainty and present disinterest of the concept. According to academicians many types of research has been done and strategies generated, however, most of them could be on the shelves gathering dust, the ideas were not heard, suggestions refused or not applied fully. Some respondents are not concerned about sustainability concept, as Kyrgyzstan is a very new destination and they do not host a big amount of tourists; however, it could be beneficial for future generations. Private sector respondents emphasized that tourism should take a holistic and comprehensive approach in order to achieve sustainability which exists as a big gap in the system.


Findings on Economic Impacts of Tourism

Generally, the respondents’ perception of the economic impacts of tourism were positive. Tourism development generates employment opportunities and it is the source of considerable income for government treasury. Moreover, economic growth facilitates tourism infrastructure, building new hotels, restaurants, cafes, attractions, and entertaining zones.

Hence, quality and standard of living increases without a doubt, at the same time the cost of living raises. Seasonality of the tourism industry is seen as a negative side that generates low wage paid job opportunities and long working hours. Furthermore, the respondents point it out that seasonality of the tourism industry entails to the increase of the costs especially at the peak time of the season.


Findings on Socio-Cultural Impacts of Tourism

The interest of learning foreign languages increased by the development of tourism among the host community as well the geography, culture, cuisine, and traditions of the tourists.  In some rural areas, young residents started to take courses for being a tour guide, as they know the local area better than others do. Therefore, they can take part in the generation of tour packages for travel agencies and contribute to the local economy and society. Moreover, hospitality is known as the main advantage in Kyrgyzstan, it is very much a tradition and culture. Therefore, community’s recognition of culture, uniqueness, identity and pride escalates promptly. Consequently, some of the forgotten traditions, customs or ethnic games revitalize entailing the enrichment of the traditions and attracting more travellers. Reborn of historical heritage sites and restoration of some other sightseeing sites such historical and natural museums, monuments demonstrates that tourism development has a significant positive influence. Moreover, the demand for handcrafting souvenirs, jewellery or traditional outfits increases, not only because of the visiting tourists but also among the host community and nationwide. Traditional values and identification of the culture enhance along with tourism development. One of the respondents shared that one of the communities in one of the regions of Kyrgyzstan that makes only handcrafted Yurts (traditional dwelling houses. Firstly, it differentiates them from other communities, secondly gives them community identification, thirdly, it attracts more tourists and fourthly, it contributes to the economy of the community.  Consequently, the quality of life improves, tourism infrastructure improves, especially in the rural areas as well as the desire to learn more about other countries, traditions and culture and willingness to visit which broaden the perception and understanding of tourism service. The majority of the respondents were the least worried about the negative socio-cultural impacts on tourism in the case of Kyrgyzstan, by explaining that the country does not host the amount of tourist that would damage socio-cultural values of the community. However, they expressed concerns in some cases when young residents try to imitate the behaviour of the tourists, change the appearance style or try to speak the visitor’s language. The same situation observed in the cases of crime, drugs, and prostitution.


Findings on Environmental Impacts of Tourism

According to the respondents, positive environmental impacts can be identified by improved recreational or beautification of the community infrastructures such as local parks, playgrounds and improving the landscape design. The majority of respondents emphasized that some communities learn more about the behaviour of the caring environment from the tourists, especially littering is the main concern. Visitors are more responsible, respectful, and simply educated in environmental issues. Therefore, it promotes of being more respectful towards nature and activates some campaigns from the government institutions and private sectors. Moving forward, tourism development stimulates to protect wildlife, landscape, and environment. One of the respondents mentioned “The Snow Leopard Trust”. Kyrgyzstan is the member of this international organization. The aim of it which to protect from the distinction of the wild habitat, from illegal hunting and trust cooperates under the community-based projects providing information and understanding the importance of the wildlife. Participants were well informed about the negative environmental impacts such as air pollution, noise, traffic and parking congestions, water pollution, littering and wastewater recycling. However, in the case of Kyrgyzstan, it is not at the stage of concerning environmental degradation which caused by the tourism development. Yet, littering was a concern of respondents but rather done by the local people and lack of education or poor upbringing was the explanation. Nevertheless, water pollution was associated with the development of tourism, especially in the area of where beach tourism which is developing in Issyk-Kul Lake, as wastes from the restaurants, hotels and harmful oil leakages from some water sport activates can significantly damage the quality of the water, surface.


Tourism Development as a Stimulator: Three Clusters

After an in-depth study of the findings, the three common themes were identified from the respondents’ views, concerns, and perceptions on tourism development in the country (see Figure 1). Tourism development provides job opportunities and economic growth as it discussed at literature review and consequently enhances the quality of life.

Figure 1: Tourism Development as a Stimulator: Three Clusters


Tourism industry needs to be comprehended as one of the main economic contributors of the country. Identifying tourism as a profitable industry, it will attract local entrepreneurs to invest or even attract foreign investors. By providing information and training, the host communities, with relevant sources, broaden their mind and can contribute and be part of the development more. By the progress of tourism development, the residents are expected to gain the education in different fields, for instance, becoming tour guides, learning the historical facts, surrounding nature, different foreign languages, etiquette, and providing a good service quality. Tourism developments initiate to explain more about the importance of the education in human resources, and growing young generation are participating in such seminars, training where it can be taught and explained.  Additionally to education perspectives, interest in environmental science and policy subjects have grown, which is fascinating and fundamentally important part of the tourism industry.  Lastly, it has been observed that tourism infrastructure improved in Kyrgyzstan over the past years. However, it still needs massive progress in this area. Abovementioned perspectives are dominated by the development of the tourism; it facilitates to understand that new perspective that tourism offering enhances the quality of life and happier, satisfied society.

Tourism development can enhance the identity of the culture and preserves the traditions that ancestors left behind. According to the respondents, tourism development stimulates the cultural identity, glory, and pride in Kyrgyzstan. The manufacturing of traditional outfits or using the traditional ornaments, patterns on the products, become an identity and a national brand. Unforgotten traditions from the past can be revitalized with tourism development. The World Ethno sports Confederation established in Kyrgyzstan to developing this idea of revitalizing traditional games and promoting them in the international level of competition games. Country identity is what needs to be differentiating the tourism product or destination from others. 

Tourism industry can enhance the protection of natural resources. Tourism development in Kyrgyzstan enhances the knowledge of caring for nature and learning the importance of ecosystem among the host residents and the nation. One of the nations’ negative challenges to overcome has been observed as littering behavior. Earlier studies have discovered tourist’ environmentally responsible behavior from the perceptions of single commitment, attraction, and participation (Cheng and Wu, 2015). Thus, visiting tourists have a better environmental knowledge than the residents that can be observed by the behavior. Hence, enhancing the environmental quality through tourism development is not enough; even it played a role in stimulating and adopting such behavior. However, it needs to take attention to bigger audience and in such case arrangements from governmental level or non-governmental organizations could provide a holistic approach.


Conclusion and Recommendations

The tourism industry is becoming as one of the fastest growing industries in the world and the main category in export earnings after fuel, chemicals, and food production. The local voice from the representatives should be included and considered in the decision-making process for the tourism development. This study has explored the perceptions of tourism experts and practitioners in Kyrgyzstan regarding the economic, socio-cultural and environmental impacts of tourism and sustainability concept. According to the results, tourism has a positive impact on the economy by generating job opportunities, being a fundamental contributor to economic growth, improving the living standard and support for tourism infrastructure. However, the cost of living increases together with prices. Seasonality of the destination was considered as a negative impact.

In relation to socio-cultural impacts, there is an increased demand for exploring and understanding different cultures, learning foreign languages and geography. The respondents perceived tourism as a source for improving their quality of life, but they have concerns for traffic, gambling, and prostitution. Tourism has a fundamental socio-cultural impact on demand for local arts, handcrafting, and revitalising some of the diminishing traditions or ethnic sport. As an example, World Nomad Games, which is hosted in Kyrgyzstan, is an event attracting participants from more than sixty-two countries. This event united and introduced not only the national games that exist in Kyrgyzstan but also the cultural values, traditions, hospitality, and pure nature. In the global world, this kind of events assisting to preserve the identity and strengthen the pride not only the host country as well the countries that have participated.

In terms of environmental dimension, it was perceived that tourism industry seems to be the less damaging to natural resources in Kyrgyzstan. On the other hand, basic things such as littering needs be regulated by rules and regulations. The littering impact observed among the natives rather than tourists. One more respondent points out that it is residents’ necessity to conserve the environment and conserve natural resources, as it is essential for today and the future generations. Tourism development contributes protecting the environment, landscape, and wildlife. Although, without good planning and sustainable approach it could destroy the beauty of the landscape. Traffic congestion, noise, lack of parking space, water pollution, and wastewater can be observed particularly in the summer season in Issyk–Kul region.

According to the research, sustainability concept was described as fashionable word, stability, and balance between all the principles that trigger from economic, socio-cultural or environmental factors. Some private sector representatives assumed that sustainability is related to a stable growth in international tourist arrivals and the host country can provide the appropriate service in accommodation, transport facilities, and overall satisfaction with the stay. The results demonstrated that private sector representatives have a narrow understanding of sustainability concept. On the other hand, the academicians and government officials emphasized that the principles of community involvement, long-term planning, policy, effective strategies and clear vision can make tourism development closer to the sustainability. Sustainability needs to be evolved through effective planning, instrumental tools that guide and educate.

Sustainable tourism needs to be considered as a fundamental framework for a destination; all stakeholders should agree with and adopt principles of sustainability (Dodds, 2007).  In Kyrgyzstan, some respondents mentioned that tourism industry is in the evolutionary, transaction stages, and developing chaotically. Thus, unsystematic approach directs to uncertainty, lack of motivation, lack of long-term approaches and a shortage of all stakeholders’ participation.

Sustainable tourism development is achievable, however, the stakeholders need to be well informed and provided with information. Moreover, the information and knowledge about sustainability need to be provided to all relevant stakeholders in order to gain awareness about tourism impacts and sustainable tourism development. As Byrd (2007) points out that residents need to be educated and have a knowledge and awareness of the issues, hence at the decision-making process new ideas, solutions, agreements, and disagreements can be discussed and make space for new strategies or approaches.

 Tosun (2001) emphasizes that sustainable tourism should be environmentally responsible, socially well suited, in cultural terms to be proper, relevant, governmentally fair, technologically reassuring and lastly economically feasible for the host public. In Kyrgyzstan, the tourism industry is facilitating under the Ministry of Culture and Technology and named as the Department of Tourism. Department of Tourism should become Ministry of Tourism.

Several limitations occurred during the research. One of them is that data collection was taken from the experts and practitioners only in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. It is likely that some of the respondents have not been confident enough to deliver adequate information and lack of information about the concept itself that have hindered interaction between respondent and interviewer.  Additionally, there is a limited literature on sustainability in developing countries it is mostly oriented in testing developed countries (Altinay et al., 2007).

Further research is recommended for Issyk-Kul region, as it is known for the most visited destination in Kyrgyzstan and this study can utilize in quantitative methodology. Residents are an essential part of tourism development and according to Choi and Sarikaya (2005), one of the elements of alternative tourism development is the support and collaboration of local people. Further studies can frame the appropriate ways of local community’s involvement in planning and implementation phase. Last but not the least, further researches can be very beneficial to determine context and instruction terms of the educational and training programs.




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