Nurturing an ecological conscience in our national parks via standards of eco-tourism

September 26, 2022

Rakhmanovskoe Lake in East Kazakhstan

Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan

Protected natural areas, in particular national parks, play a special role in the development of ecological tourism. Kazakhstan, with its abundance of intact and pristine natural sites has great potential for the development of ecotourism. Breathtaking natural landscapes, unique ecological trails, combined with ethno-cultural tourism, will impress even the most demanding tourist.

Today in Kazakhstan, you can see the rich biological diversity of forests, mountains, deserts and lakes in 15 national parks (Merke National Park will be documented by the end of the year).

According to national statistics in 2021, about 1.5 million people visited national parks, 40 percent more than in 2020. And this indicator is growing dynamically from year to year. This trend, on the one hand, is positive for the tourism sector, and on the other hand, it increases anthropogenic pressure on nature, causing degradation of ecosystems and biological diversity.

Visitor center of the Altyn-Emel National Park

Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan

UNDP – a long-time player in eco-tourism

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been supporting Kazakhstan for many years in the development of ecological tourism as one of the measures for the conservation of biological diversity and sustainable development of regions. UNDP support consists in improving the legal framework for ecotourism; taking into account best practices and generally recognized international standards; providing expert and methodological support in developing an ecotourism development strategy for specially protected areas; arranging tourist routes and trails; training SPA employees; and developing «green» businesses in the border areas.

Today, one of the key documents regulating eco-tourism is the Environmental Code, adopted in 2021. UNDP took an active part in the development of this document: with the expert support of UNDP in 2021, the definition and principles of ecological tourism in the territories of state national natural parks were introduced into the Environmental Code and by-laws for the first time. These included regulation of the number of tourists, use of an ecological mode of transport, prevention of harm to biodiversity, informing tourists about the places visited, minimizing the generation of municipal solid waste and involving the local population so they too benefit from tourism development.

A national standard for ecological tourism was also developed with the support of UNDP involving the general and additional requirements for various types of services in the field of tourism. The standard is based on the recommendations and experience of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and international sustainable tourism certification systems (Travelife, Earthcheck).


National parks – in the spotlight for eco-tourism planning

Along with the need to create a legal framework, an important aspect is the territorial planning of ecological tourism. At present, national parks have been identified as the basis for the development of ecotourism in the country, which are primarily created to preserve the objects of the natural reserve fund. Within the framework of UNDP projects in Kazakhstan in 2007-2018, functional zoning of lands with a total area of ​​more than 20 million hectares was carried out in Akmola, Kyzylorda, Almaty regions. This work was continued in 2021-2022 in seven administrative districts of the Almaty region.

In recent years, due to the dynamic growth in the number of tourists visiting specially protected natural areas, the regulation of loads on tourist routes has become relevant. The best practices for the development of ecological tourism show that the calculation of recreational load norms sets the maximum allowable volumes and mode of use of tourist routes and should be an integral part of any project documents for the development of tourism.

In this regard, UNDP together with its national partners, is also piloting new approaches to planning the development of ecotourism in national parks, helping to develop norms for recreational loads. Together with scientists from the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, UNDP developed methodological recommendations for calculating the norms of recreational loads on tourist routes and trails of protected areas. Using this methodology, the norms of recreational loads were calculated for 27 tourist routes in four national parks, such as Katon-Karagai, Sairam-Ugam, Charyn, Kolsai Rivers and in the Syrdarya-Turkestan regional natural park.

Sairam Ugam National Park. Sairamsu Lake.

Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan/Vitalie Shuptar

Nurturing, protecting nature via creating tourist routes

Separately, it is necessary to note the importance of arranging tourist routes, taking into account the permissible recreational loads. Tour routes pass through various unique natural and historical and cultural places where tourists receive verbal or written (e.g. stands, notices) information.

In 2022, UNDP will provide support in the arrangement of three pilot tour routes in the «Sairam-Ugam», «Katon-Karagai» and «Kolsai Rivers» national parks, taking into account the terrain features and its corporate identity. The construction will be completed this fall. As part of the development activities, entrance groups, information signs, viewing platforms, recreation areas and thematic notices containing key information about the biodiversity of specially protected areas will be installed.

Charyn Canyon, Almaty Region

Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan/Vitalie Shuptar

One of the fundamental principles of ecological tourism is the active socio-economic participation of local residents and their benefit from this activity. Within the framework of UNDP projects, much attention is paid to building the capacity of local communities so that they can find their niche in the ecotourism sector in the regions.

For example, 15 artisans from Almaty, East Kazakhstan and Turkestan regions were trained in the manufacture of souvenir products from wood, felt and patchwork at the «QAZAQ-ONER» Handicraft Development Centre in 2019. The acquired knowledge allowed people to improve their skills, many of them opened their own workshops and continue to work on making souvenirs for tourists.


Since 2020, the second stage of the «Eco-Damu» Loan Programme is being implemented, which is aimed at providing financial support to rural entrepreneurs and residents, including in the field of ecotourism. According to the interim results, «Eco-Damu» has already financed 10 business projects for the creation of guest houses for a total of Tenge71.0 million.

Thus, UNDP provides systematic support for the development of eco-tourism in Kazakhstan thereby realizing the potential of this key sector for the country's economy and prioritizing the maintenance of a balance between nature and human for a sustainable future.