Plateau Perspectives champions ecotourism in Kyrgyzstan


Plateau Perspectives, a non-government organization that aims to promote conservation and sustainable development in the Tibetan Plateau region of China and the mountains of Central Asia, is at the forefront of ecotourism development in Kyrgyzstan. The group is working towards “purpose driven tourism” in Central Asia through a variety of means, including a trial ecotourism venture, policy briefs, academic research and an engaging short film.

In October 2019, Plateau Perspectives, in collaboration with Horseback Planet Society, launched a trial ecotourism venture in the Lake Issykul region of Kyrgyzstan. The purpose of the journey was to collaborate with and support two mountain communities actively engaged in the conservation of the elusive snow leopard and other endangered wildlife and their habitats in the Tianshan Mountains. Participants of the trial adventure came from China, Canada, Germany and Kyrgyzstan, and included nationally renowned Chinese actress Hao Xingqi. This ecotourism venture was undertaken in partnership with Ilbirs (Snow Leopard) Foundation, Araketke-Bereket and Ecoland Travel.

Building upon this first venture, Plateau Perspectives is leading the creation of a short film about Kyrgyzstan to bring greater international attention to the country’s potential for ecotourism. The film, titled “The Future We Want: Building Partnerships in Ecotourism and Conservation for Mountain Sustainability”, is a 20-minute documentary filmed on location. Produced by Marc Foggin and Pavel Bolshakov, it is an integral part of the ecotourism and community-based conservation project undertaken by Plateau Perspectives and Horseback Planet Society, co-led by long-time friends and project partners Marc Foggin and Chris Yuan (那么). The film follows a small group of travelers as they explore the mountain region through ecotourism, partnering with two community conservancies in the vicinity of Lake Issykul - the Shumkar Association, comprised of former poachers who now monitor and protect local wildlife, and the community-run Baibosun Nature Reserve in the Tianshan Mountains.

In their policy brief, Plateau Perspectives explains that Kyrgyzstan is the perfect opportunity to implement purpose-driven tourism that is both sustainable and community-based. Central Asia remains relatively little known on the global stage, but tourism is on the rise: more than three million people visit Kyrgyzstan each year. With visa-free entry for nationals from many countries, Kyrgyzstan has become the most accessible country in the region. Its mountains, wildlife, culture and uncounted possibilities for adventure have made it a ‘rising star’ of tourism in Central Asia.

Purpose-driven tourism is different than regular tourism in that it is "high value, low number" and, more importantly, it seeks to advance the fundamental values and aspirations held by society. In Plateau Perspectives' work, two types of purpose-driven tourism come together: community-based tourism and ecotourism. Community based tourism seeks mainly to promote people's wellbeing, whereas ecotourism aims not only to bring benefit to local communities but also to protect the environment and to enhance environmental awareness. Both of these approaches have already begun to take root in Kyrgyzstan. For example, the community-centred work of Ilbirs Foundation in Kyrgyzstan is enabling local associations comprised of former poachers to protect critically endangered wildlife while also supporting themselves through ecotourism.

Plateau Perspectives is also shining a spotlight on the importance of biodiversity in mountains. They prepared a policy brief on the topic that also addresses the possibilities for responsible tourism and sustainable mountain development. The brief explains that tourism in mountains may be leveraged to contribute to meaningful adaptation by agro-pastoralist communities living in these fragile socioecological systems in the face of climate change and globalization.

The way forward in Kyrgyzstan may include many purpose-driven tourism initiatives, including the development of a “Great Tianshan Trail” modeled after the Great Himalayan Trails in Nepal and beyond.

Read more

View the film teaser

Read Plateau Perspectives’ policy brief on ecotourism

Read Plateau Perspectives’ policy brief on mountain biodiversity

Photo from Richard Slaby

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