I wrote a post in January 2021 with some predictions and observations for the year ahead. We said that Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan would remain open, but that overland travel would be very onerous, with closed land borders and PCR hurdles.
We got that right, so let’s try another round of predictions as we enter the third year of the pandemic. This time, we will be a bit bolder in our statements, with the risk of being proven completely wrong at the end of the year.
First come Saule’s observations and gambles, then mine.
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will make it as easy as possible to visit
Of course, governments will continue to sow confusion by not communicating or sending out contradictory or wrong information about conditions for entry, but on the ground, there will be few (if any) restrictions. Even PCR tests will not be needed anymore for vaccinated travelers.
Kazakhstan will not reinstate the visa-free regime
They never liked it. The visa-free regime was part of the promotional push surrounding Expo Astana in 2017. Without Covid, it would have endured, but now that the pendulum has swung back in favour of control, the government will not be quick to return to the old policy.
International tourism is of no importance to Nursultan, and 2 years of lockdown has boosted domestic tourism to a level where there is no real need for foreigners anymore.
Prices will go up
On the one hand, there is inflation. Petrol prices are high. On the other hand, there is a lack of supply – tour operators and guides took different jobs, rental companies sold their fleet, planned guesthouse construction did not happen. When tourists return, they will face higher prices for travel services.
Turkmenistan will remain closed in 2022 and beyond
Turkmenistan’s leadership has always been very paranoid about foreigners. 2 years of isolation will have only contributed to that. Turkmens are either starving, stealing, fleeing or committing suicide; the Taliban is at the border. I can imagine Berdy is scared of an uprising. He will want to keep the country on lockdown indefinitely.
The Pamir Highway will remain difficult to access
In 2021, Tajikistan kept its airport open. It will stay open. Land borders on the other hand, were on and off. Some people managed to get through, others didn’t.
I think the border with Uzbekistan will become easier and less confusing to cross in 2022. However, I predict the all-important Kyzylart border between Osh and Murghab that closes the Pamir Highway loop will close down several times next summer. Covid is one reason, but not the main one.
Violent altercations in the Ferghana Valley between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will continue, and this will disrupt the free flow of people across all border crossings. Local protests in Pamir against the rule of the Rahmon family are another good reason to close the borders; lower incomes and higher food prices have increased the chances of a serious uprising in 2022.
The Silk Road will stay quiet
Visitor numbers for Caravanistan in December 2021 were similar to December 2020. December is a time when people start planning their trip for next year, giving us a hint of what 2022 will bring in terms of tourist arrivals. There has been only a minor uptick after mass vaccinations started; page views remain at about 25% of what they were in 2019.
Unlike Saule, I think Kazakhstan will reinstate the visa-free regime. However, continued confusion over entry restrictions in all of the Stans, along with uncertainty over the opening up of key countries like China and Turkmenistan means that a lot of people, especially overlanders, will continue to travel closer to home and avoid the Silk Road for at least another year.
Uzbekistan, as a classic fly-in-fly-out destination, will be the one to buck the trend and attract enough visitors to speak of a recovery – but still no Chinese. More people will visit Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well, compared to 2021, but nothing close to 2019 numbers.
What do you think? Tell us your predictions for 2022.