Enhancing Winter Tourism: Must-Experience Winter Events in Mongolia

2024-02-11 15:29:15

Ulaanbaatar, February 11, 2024 /MONTSAME/. By declaring 2023-2025 the “Years to Visit Mongolia,” the Government of Mongolia is doubling down on efforts to develop its tourism sector and attract more tourists to Mongolia. 

For 2023, the Government has launched a series of initiatives to encourage visitors to explore Mongolia, resulting in specific and noteworthy outcomes. By November 2023, over 600,000 foreign tourists had visited Mongolia, providing USD  1 billion (equivalent to MNT 3.4 trillion) to the country's economy. It is a twofold surge in tourist numbers compared to the 290,414 foreign visitors who arrived in Mongolia in 2022, generating an income of USD 350 million or MNT 1.2 trillion. Before the coronavirus pandemic in 2019, Mongolia experienced a peak in tourism with a record of 577,300 visitors. Remarkably, in 2023, the number of tourists surpassed this previous high.

Mongolia, characterized by an extreme climate and renowned for having one of the coldest winters globally, receives most tourists during the warm summer and autumn seasons. While Mongolia offers unique winter tourism events, including the Snow and Ice Festival and the Eagle Festival, from October to April of the following year, the number of tourists to Mongolia decreases significantly. To tackle this issue, under the “Years to Visit Mongolia," the Mongolian Government aims to achieve three key objectives: 1) establishing a year-round flow of tourists, 2) developing sustainable winter tourism adapted to the region's extreme climate, and 3) carrying out activities to attract visitors throughout all four seasons. In this regard, the Government announced in November 2023 a commitment to undertake and implement policy measures to develop winter tourism.

Mongolia is a country where winter tourism can be fully developed. 

During the winter season in Mongolia, a variety of activities await enthusiasts, providing a diverse and enriching travel experience. Some of the interesting activities to decorate your travel plan are Horse Trekking Tour, Reindeer and Two-Humped Camel Tours, Dog and Horse Sledding, Ski Vacation, Ice Climbing, Staying with Reindeer Family, Catching the Winter Sunrise, Ice and Snow Festivals, Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian Lunar New Year), Winter Life of Mongolian Herder, Winter Hunting, Ice Fishing, Ice Bath, Bathing in Hot Springs on the plains covered with snow and frost, the Main Shamanistic Ritual “Great Sacrifice” on the third day of Tsagaan Sar, and Ice Knuckle-Bone Shooting. Also, there are regular events. On November 18-20, 2023, the Taliin Tumen Aduu [Steppe Horse Festival] was held for the ninth time at the Batnorov soum of Khentii aimag. The Festival aims to safeguard the nomadic tradition of horse herding, promote the talents and capabilities of herders, and ignite the pride of being true Mongolians among young generations.

Horse herders from every corner of Mongolia gathered at the steppe in eastern Mongolia for the Festival along with over three thousand horses. Activities include a horse race, horse-lassoing competition, presentation of horse breed, child jockey parade, an expo of Khentii brand products, concerts of folklore music, dances, and horse photography exhibitions, and an event to select the best mare of Khentii aimag. It is a sight to remember seeing thousands of horses galloping, locals dressed all in colorful, beautiful national costumes sitting on elegantly equipped horses, and surrounding winter steppe landscapes. Visitors to the Festival also observed the complex “Tengeriin Andgai” [Oath of the Sky] and the newly established Berkh Underground Mine Museum.

The Mongolian Camel Festival is a spectacular winter event that attracts numerous tourists to Uvurkhangai aimag, Mongolia. The Camel Festival is organized in winter by aimags with large camel herds, such as Umnungobi, Uvurkhangai, Gobi-Altai, Dundgobi, Dornogobi, and Bayankhongor. This year, the Camel Festivals were organized in Arvaikheer soum of the Uvurkhangai aimag on December 1-2, 2023, and in Gobi-Altai aimag on December 20, 2023.

Since 2001, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Mongolia and Khuvsgul aimag have jointly organized the "Blue Pearl" Ice Festival in Khatgal soum to develop winter tourism and raise awareness about the importance of protecting Khuvsgul Lake, making it a valuable tourism product. It is remarkable that ice festival enthusiasts travel 2000 km along the route Ulaanbaatar-Darkhan-Erdenet-Bulgan-Murun-Khatgal-Khui Tolgoi. In recent years, the number of participants has increased notably, drawing over 20,000 people each year.

During the "Blue Pearl" Ice Festival, an ice knuckle-bone shooting, ice spear archery, an ice crafts exhibition, a "Blue Cup" poetry festival, and a "Winter Fashion" national costume fashion show were organized. There were also numerous peculiar competitions, such as horseshoe horse racing, ethnic art festivals, multi-ethnic cultural performances, shaman's ceremonies, and fire festivals, which drew both domestic and international visitors and travelers. Foreign tourists can participate in the “Competition for Tourists” at the “Blue Pearl” Festival, which offers entertainment competitions of Mongolian singing, cooking shows, curling, and national fashion shows. Talented ice sculptors additionally bring an ice village, skating rinks, and photo-worthy installations to life at the "Blue Pearl" Festival on Khuvsgul Lake, inspiring a love for the mountains, water, and the natural world. In general, most tourists who visit Mongolia during winter head to the "Ice Festival" in Khuvsgul aimag, the "Camel Festival" in Umnugobi aimag and Bayan-Ulgii aimag, and the "Eagle Festival" in Ulaanbaatar.

Since 2000, the Eagle Festival has been organized annually in anticipation of the Mongolian Kazakhs’ Nauryz (Nowruz), the celebration of the sun and spring, and the spring season when flowers start to bloom. The Festival aims to revive eagle hunting customs and traditions of the Kazakh people, inheriting the intangible cultural heritage of hunting with eagles to the descendants, promoting this tradition to tourists and making it a tourism product. Today, Mongolia is one of the few remaining nations that preserve the long-standing tradition of eagle hunting in the world. The Festival is held twice a year, first in Ulaanbaatar in the spring (March 4-5) and then, in Bugat soum, Bayan-Ulgii aimag in the fall (October). Specifically, the Festival starts with a parade of eagle hunters dressed in traditional costumes on horseback, proudly showing their most trusted friend "Eagles" on their hands. After that, dressed in full eagle hunting regalia and mounted on groomed decorated horses, the entrants compete for awards, such as Best-Looking Eagle and Owner, Best Eagle at Hunting Prey, and Best Eagle at Locating Its Owner from a Distance.

Currently, the Minister of Environment and Tourism is preparing to raise awareness about the Mazaalai bear, a critically endangered species found only in Mongolia, host the Gobi Desert's longest dog sledding tour, and launch the "One Sheep, One Tourist" eco-tourism program. The Ministry is also planning to organize an international conference on adventure tourism in Mongolia in 2025. In addition, to bolster its winter tourism sector, the Mongolian Government has taken several strategic steps: extending operating hours at Borshoo, Khankh, and Tsagaan Lake ports to facilitate year-round air travel, and launching targeted "Mongolian Winter" marketing campaigns.