Talant Niyazov, a graduate of the University of Central Asia (UCA)’s School of Professional and Continuing Education (SPCE), is a social entrepreneur in the Kyrgyz Republic who sees great possibilities in the year ahead for his hometown of Naryn. In 2017, he was named Youth representative in the Naryn governor’s office, with a portfolio spanning 10 areas including economics, sports, and tourism.

Niyazov makes a special effort to support young people active on local issues in remote areas, especially on health topics. His office also supports social enterprises and crucial infrastructure projects for clean drinking water. In all these areas, he is helping youth leaders build their skills to make business plans to tackle local needs.

Talant sees special potential in tourism. His group has created a website and integrated Foursquare as an information/check-in platform, mapping 1,000 tourist points in the region, and bringing guides and lodging conditions up to standards. Since they started the site in 2015, they have seen a spike in tourist visits, up to 25,000 travelers.

Many Cultures to the Silk Road

Travelers have come to Naryn from many countries, including France, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, and Israel. Foursquare lets travelers make reservations in many languages, relieving the burden of having a website in many languages.

More visitors bring more cultures and communication challenges. Talant’s favorite moment of learning cultural differences came when a group from Belgium booked a visit to Sankol Lake in May, when the water was still frozen. Undaunted, they broke through the lake’s ice and started swimming! After Talant recovered from the shock that Europeans would brave icy water, he was shocked again when they balked at traveling in an old minibus to the caravanserai (a historic caravan stop) at Tash Rabat, a landmark of the Silk Road history. Concerned about the vehicle’s safety, they canceled the visit, choosing instead to go to another lake. They would jump in an icy lake, which Talant thought was dangerous, and yet they had safety fears about a vehicle that he considered standard. These facts made him realize that cross-cultural understanding takes time and effort.

Based on feedback from travelers, Talant and his Naryn tourism group are developing plans to address gaps in local services: opening a canteen, movie theatre, souvenir shop, bike rental shop, and creating public toilet access. The new movie theatre opened on October 24, 2017.

They also set about addressing safety issues and standardizing services. In 10 years, he aims for traveler services to be much better. Talant believes that tourism can significantly benefit local families. In 10 years it may not become a large-scale industry in Naryn, but many family-run travel ventures can grow their incomes.

To build a sustainable travel sector, he encourages more exchange visits with travel professionals in areas that have more developed tourism.

World Nomad Games

The second World Nomad Games in 2016 at Lake Issykul sparked a wave of outside interest in the cultures of the mountains. Tallant hopes the third World Nomad Games in 2018 will continue that growth.

For that, they’re starting to anticipate needs for the games, and have sent young people to Issykul for training in better mapping and safety. “We’re preparing campaign ads and announcements,” says Talant. “I want to improve the local services before we ramp up the individual enterprises.”

Talant is also working with communities on providing other infrastructure needs, including delivery of clean water.

As a result of what he learned at SPCE and the connections he made there, Talant sees more possibilities for services that improve people’s quality of life and enterprises that link them to the world.

Photo at top: Athletes participate in the 2016 World Nomad Games held in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan from September 3 – 8, 2014 with 23 sports featured in the games. Credit: Save the Dream.