Mongolian nomadic culture attracts 40 percent of tourists

The Mongol Messenger
2016-10-14 08:18:27

What does first come to your mind when you hear the word ‘Mongolia’? Many would name Chinggis Khaan.  But what should also click in your mind when you think about Mongolia?  Nomadic lifestyle.  In the dialogue of Mongolian identity, the term ‘nomadic’ rightfully weighs in.  ‘Nomadic’ is definitely one of the many identities Mongolians nowadays tag themselves with, and feel proud of. 

From ancient times, nomadic lifestyle was Mongolians’ universal way of life; every family lived in gers, looked after five different animals, moved several times a year mostly at the change of season to different pastures, and respected and lived in harmony with the nature.  That was the classic and original definition of ‘nomadic’.  Back then, being nomadic herders was normal -- everybody was a nomad. 

In the 21st century, almost half the population of Mongolia lives in the capital city with the rest dispersed in 21 Aimags. Nomadic herders constitute one third of the population of Mongolia. In this scenario, nomads are special and interesting.  To foreigners, nomads are indigenous, phenomenal and original folks.  With number of nomads decreasing due to penetration of urbanization and modernization, Mongolians’ pride in nomadic lifestyle and wish to maintain the original way are even deeper. 

‘Nomadic’ is a brand that Mongolian tourism wears.  It is understood on various levels that Mongolian ‘nomadic’ brand should be marketed more if Mongolia were to develop and benefit more visibly from its tourism sector. 

With such an aspiration, an international conference is being hosted in Ulaanbaatar these days by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in cooperation with the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the World Cities Scientific Development Alliance (WCSDA).  The ‘International Silk Road Conference on Nomadic Tourism and Sustainable Cities’ began on October 13, bringing together more than 300 participants including from Silk Road Member States, tourism experts, partner UN agencies and UNWTO Affiliate Members to address the potential of tourism initiatives focused on nomadic tourism and sustainable city tourism.

WCSDA made a proposal to hold its annual meeting in Ulaanbaatar to the corresponding officials and following a mutual agreement, the meeting was integrated into the framework of the Silk Road conference, reported the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.  The Ulaanbaatar Mayor’s Office is also partnering with the organization of this major conference during which a crucial agenda on nomadic tourism is expected to be covered. 

The opening ceremony was attended and addressed by guests such M.Enkhbold, Mongolian Parliament Speaker, Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of UNWTO, Dong Yan Zhang, President of WCSDA, D.Oyunkhorol, Minister of Environment and Tourism and S.Batbold, Mayor of Ulaanbaatar. 

“There is a Mongolian proverb that goes ‘While father is alive, get to know people; while horse is strong, travel to see places’. It shows how travelling has always been an undetachable part of Mongolian culture and customs”, said Speaker M.Enkhbold in his opening remarks.

Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of UNWTO

“Today, Mongolia receives almost 400 thousand international tourists. As I heard from the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Mongolia strives to make this number a million. Mongolia definitely deserves it and can do even better. I am delighted that the Minister and the administration are quite aware of the importance of setting targets because tourism is going to be a main contributor to some of the economic challenges this country is facing”, said Mr. Rifai during a press briefing after the opening ceremony.

He continued, “I believe that the current administration is on the right track. Convening of this conference is of great significance to Mongolia both in establishing the leadership position of Mongolia, and in highlighting the importance of tourism in this country. And there’s no better proof to this than the high level of representation and the number of countries that are represented in this meeting”. It’s his third time in Mongolia, and he believes it is definitely not the last time.

Vast agenda divided in three sessions

Linked through a shared history and a common cultural heritage, the 33 Silk Road Member States are in a unique position to leverage from each other by collaborating in a number of areas, especially marketing, product development, tourism route development, travel facilitation, cross border initiatives and the sustainable development of Silk Road Cities. 

The keynote presentations of the Conference are themed ‘The Potential of Nomadic Tourism along the Silk Road’, ‘The Power of Community Connection in today’s Smart Cities’ and ‘Connecting Land, Spirit and People through Nomadic Culture’.  The first presentation is based on the journey of author; film maker and adventurer Tim Cope inspired by his desire to understand the nomadic way of life. 

The two-day conference was divided into three sessions.  The first session was titled ‘Creating a Stronger Business Environment for the Growth of Nomadic Tourism’.  As a rising niche tourism market, nomadic tourism has the potential to attract new investment opportunities and support the development of local economies.  This session will focus on strategies and best practice examples aimed at securing a competitive and sustainable business environment and assess the role of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in generating revenue and creating job opportunities.

The second session on ‘Addressing Cultural and Environmental Concerns while Safeguarding Nomadic Heritage: how tourism can help’ addresses how the Silk Road is rapidly becoming one of the most visited international travel routes with an abundance of natural and cultural tourism sites.  Although to be welcomed, an increase in visitation also brings challenges, such as the protection of the environment and the maintenance of necessary heritage standards.  This session will assess the potential and challenges of developing nomadic tourism trails and products in line with the principles contained in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The third session dealt with ‘Unlocking the Potential of Nomadic Tourism through innovative approaches and themed events’.  According to research conducted by UNWTO, 80 percent of global travelers are aware of the Silk Road.  This session, primarily focused on nomadic tourism products and will explore how to make the most of this potential by discussing strategies and best practice examples in the areas of marketing, promotion, and capacity building.

Minister reports on the outlook of Mongolian tourism

During her opening remarks, D.Oyunkhorol, Minister for Environment and Tourism gave a report on the current statistics of tourism industry in Mongolia. Mongolia joined UNWTO in 1990. As of 2015, tourism revenue constituted 3.2 percent of GDP and 13 percent of foreign investment. Around 400 thousand tourists travelled to Mongolia in 2015. Majority of the tourists were from Asia & Pacific region and European countries.

In tourism sector, 613 tour operators, 349 tourist camps and 468 hotels including Shangri-La, Ramada, Best Western, Kempinski and Holiday Inn are operating and creating around 50 thousand job opportunities. Major tourism projects such as Water Park, Open Museum of Kharkhorin, Great Maitreya, Alungoo Complex and Zaisan Amusement Park are being implemented.

A study was conducted on international tourists to speculate that 60 percent of the tourists come for natural beauty and wonderful landscapes and around 40 percent come to see and feel Mongolian nomadic culture. Also, 60 percent of the tourists expressed their intentions and wishes to visit Mongolia again. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has set a target to welcome 1 million tourists to Mongolia by 2020.

D.Oyunkhorol, Minister for Environment and Tourism

Mongolia attaches great significance to the conference

This conference is considered to be a concrete step towards implementing the objective ‘Mongolia will become the center of nomadic tourism’ which was reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 of Mongolia.  During the conference, over 100 vacancies will be taken directly, and over 800 indirectly. 

As the conference brings together more than 150 international guests and participants who are staying in Mongolia for 4-5 days, around Tgs 1 billion cash inflow was estimated to benefit Mongolia.  The expected increase in arrival of tourists is to visibly contribute to the economy of the country more in 2017. 

Moreover, the conference could work as a tool to facilitate Mongolia’s reputation as the native land of nomadic tourism in global tourism scene.  As the topic of nomadic tourism along the Silk Road is concentrated upon at this conference, Mongolia aspires to build its national tourism brand with a leading position in this area.  The prospective benefits of the conference include diversification of the economy, surge of employment and growth in many spheres of the economy.

In this globalizing era, society itself is creating a strong, rising demand for tourism making it one of the fastest growing industries globally.  A report by the UNWTO states that 1.1 billion people travelled in 2015 with the industrial growth reaching 5 percent; according to preliminary speculations, the number of global tourists is expected to become 1.8 billion. 

By choosing and maintaining a certain brand as an identifying aspect of the whole sector and endorsing it with frequency and consistency worldwide, Mongolia could position its tourism sector as a major contributor to the economy and nomadic people’s lives.  Although a goal was set to make tourism a leading industry, the growth of the sector and the process of making it a national brand identifier are not on a perceptible level. 

Therefore, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has been making efforts such as participating in the international ‘ITB’ tourism expo in 2015, working towards making Mongolia a leading destination for ‘nomadic’ tours, and utilizing tourism services and products which are competitive and unique on the international market. 

Aminaa Khatanzorig

Image source:

Photography: B.Chadraabal



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