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The Silk Road: more tourism progress in 2017

Steve Keenan

November 14, 2016

Around 80 tourism professionals came together during World Travel Market in London last week to hear the latest developments in the promotion of The Silk Road to travellers.

There are now 33 countries associated with the Silk Road network, which covers several historic trading routes from Asia to Western Europe, and increasingly sophisticated marketing is being applied from destinations, tour operators and ground handlers along the ways.

There is also increasing media coverage, from bloggers and social media. Tour operator Wild Frontiers is one of many to launch extensive Silk Road itineraries this year, and live blogged along the route for Nat Geo Travel.

Traditional media like Wanderlust magazine now routinely features ways to cut up Silk Road travel. And two television series aired during 2016, both in conjunction with the UNWTO Silk Road Programme: one led by Dr Sam Willis on BBC and another from comedian David Baddiel on the Discovery Channel

The Silk Road programme is led by the UN World Tourism Organization, which is fronted by Alla Peressolova – who was again at WTM to welcome seminar attendees to the talk.

Alla revealed that the UNWTO is developing a Western Silk Road Tourism Development Initiative in 2017, with countries such as Greece playing a prominent role. And social media is at the forefront in disseminating news and answering questions from travellers along the way.

Greece is part of The Silk Road by virtue of its sea route from Venice to Pireaus, the port for Athens, explained Polytimi Vrachati, head of audiovisual media at the Greek National Tourist Organization.

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And she added: “We work social media day and night – we hear the visitor needs: we need to be present at every stage of travel We publish in Greek and English, with more languages to come.

“It’s about storytelling: we have to tell the truth. Otherwise, the tourist won’t trust you. That means no photoshopped images, user-generated content and more.”

Ongoing work to ease access of travel along The Silk Road is progressing. In 2008, 87% of travellers needed a visa for a Silk Road destination – by 2013, that had dropped to 73%, and the figure continues to decline.

The UNWTO is also establishing a Silk Road Facebook page in 2017, which will complement a closed Facebook group page for writers planning to visit one of more of the 33 countries associated with the route. That group already has 75 members.

The rapid shift to social media and digital was illustrated when moderator Mark Frary of Travel Perspective, which helped create the seminar alongside the UNWTO, told the audience that the travel brochure is dying: travel giant TUI is scrapping all brochures by 2020, after reporting that demand for them had fallen by 50% in the past two years.

Younger travellers getting inspired in different ways, the seminar heard. A speaker from Ak-Sai Travel in Kyrgyzstan said the company now offered solar powered tents, while involving itself in community tourism – such as cleaning up glaciers (see its Facebook page).

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Good quality internet was also available throughout Kyrgyzstan, she said. “Kyrgyzstan is a very small country so when people come, you have to tell them everything they face. They need to be prepared, so we let them know before we come.” (Editor’s note: I remember getting 4G throughout Armenia three years ago!).

The seminar also heard from a couple of writers who have been travelling The Silk Road. Christoph Santner and Christine Papadopoulos of Realmakers said it is ‘the Age of the Digital Nomad,’ the people – like them – who don’t own a house but live on the road.

The couple come from traditional media and are creating films as they travel, using Digital Nomads Forum, a free platform to find editors and save them time. The site also exchanges news, reviews and plans with other on-the-road travellers.

“It’s about creating something. It’s a new lifestyle: it is estimated there will be 1bn people in the world living in this way. The biggest groups are in their mid-30s, who have had some experience.”

Photos: From top – Solar powered tents in Kyrgyzstan, Ak-Sai travel; an enthusiastic Silk Road supporter; Alla Peressolova of the UNWTO meets the audience

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