Uzbekistan aims to attract German tourists by offering visa-free travel
Uzbekistan said Friday it will allow German citizens to visit for up to 30 days visa-free to boost tourism as the ex-Soviet country emerges from long-term isolation. Germany will be the second European Union country after France to gain visa-free travel to Uzbekistan, which has opened up somewhat since the death of its long-reigning hardline leader Islam Karimov in 2016. Germans will be able to enter the central Asian nation visa-free from January 15, the Uzbek tourism committee said Friday, three months after authorities granted French citizens the same 30-day visa waiver.
The impoverished country is highly dependent on commodity exports and has made developing tourism a priority. In particular, the government is keen to show off the lavish Silk Road heritage of cities such as Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand.
According to the Uzbek tourism committee, 18,094 Germans visited Uzbekistan in 2018, almost five times as many as in 2016. Reform-touting Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev is set to visit Germany this month after meeting US President Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron last year. These high-profile visits are seen as rewards for his steps towards greater openness following the death of Karimov, under whom Mirziyoyev served as prime minister for 13 years.
The current president has reversed a number of policies that hampered the tourism sector in recent years. Among the restrictions he scrapped was a ban on photography in the capital Tashkent's ornate metro that had led to police detentions of unsuspecting tourists. Mirziyoyev's bid to boost tourism in the immediate aftermath of Karimov's death suffered a false start, however.
In December 2016, he issued an order easing or cancelling visa requirements for visitors from 27 developed countries but this was reversed a month later before actually coming into force. The reversal was attributed to resistance within the powerful security apparatus. Uzbekistan offers visa-free entry to citizens of Turkey, Israel, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan, in addition to the long-standing reciprocal visa-free entry for citizens of most former Soviet countries.
(With inputs from agencies.)