Kazakhstan wants a Palace on Wheels along Silk Route

June 10th, 2008 - 11:26 am ICT by IANS  

By Neelam Mathews
Astana, June 10 (IANS) Spurred by the success of the Palace on Wheels and other luxury train services in India, Kazakhstan has sought help from India’s tourism ministry for similar packages along the famous Silk Route that dates back over two millennia. “We would like to have a luxury train along the Silk Route, which is similar to India’s luxury trains, including the Palace on Wheels,” Kazakh Vice Minister for Tourism and Sports Kairbek Uskenbayev said.

“We could even consider joint partnerships to improve the quality of our product,” Uskenbayev told IANS after attending a presentation organised here by the Indian tourism ministry.

The presentation, at the invitation of the Kazakh government, was to address tour operators, hoteliers, investors and officials on brand and logo development for the hospitality industry and share their expertise in luxury trains.

Officials said a train service on the Silk Route via Kazakhstan runs through Central Asia covering Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, but the tracks needed to be standardised to broad gauge and wagons upgraded.

The new luxury train will be a part of five tourism projects on Kazakhstan’s list of priorities for which it has a budget exceeding $30 billion, explained the Kazakh tourism and sports minister.

The Silk Route, which dates back to around 110 BC, stretched from China and the Indian subcontinent to Central Asia and Europe. It was used not only by the traders to transport their merchandise but also by monks, pilgrims and soldiers.

Kazakhstan’s economy is expanding as fast as India’s and China’s with a growth of 10 percent expected this year, due mainly to its huge hydrocarbon reserves and mineral resources.

M.N Javed, deputy director with India’s ministry of tourism, said as part of the growing bilateral ties, a two-day road show will be held in Almaty this September to push the relationship further, especially in the hospitality sector.

The event will coincide with a meeting of mayors from cities falling on the Silk Route train service to discuss common visas to present the region as a single tourist destination.

“We would like to learn from India’s experience in brand building to build our own brand,” said Uskenbayev, referring to the Incredible India campaign of the Indian tourism ministry that has secured worldwide acclaim.

At present Kazakhstan receives around six million visitors a year with a target to grow to 10 million by upgrading its infrastructure over the next four years.

With business and tourism traffic between India and Kazakhstan expected to grow further in the near future, Air Astana is hoping to expand its services to India, the airline’s President Peter Foster said.

The airline, 51 percent owned by the Kazakh government and the rest with BAE Systems of Britain, wants to step up its scheduled services to New Delhi to three this summer from the present two, Foster said.

The professionally managed Air Astana was recently declared the fourth fastest growing airline in the world by Airline Business magazine. It plans to induct two more A-320s in the next two months to expand its fleet to 21 aircraft.

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