Aisha is a Kyrgyz entrepreneur who aims to show the real Kyrgyzstan to travellers. In 2017, with her business partner Mirzabek, she set up a company called Kyrgyz Tourism which focuses on community-based tourism. It is about local communities welcoming tourists and letting them experience the authentic way of life, traditions and habits.
Aisha and Mirzabek started working in the villages of Kyrgyzstan, developing their concept of social entrepreneurship. Being familiar with the local communities, Aisha and Mirzabek are able to offer tourists original trips during which they get the chance to experience the traditional Kyrgyz culinary products and traditional arts and crafts, such as the Kyrgyz felt-making techniques.
“We know the places and the people and can act like a bridge to help visitors experience the Kyrgyz communities’ hospitality”, Aisha tells.
At Kyrgyz Tourism they are always ready to tailor programmes based on their guests’ interests. Aisha says that recently she made a special itinerary to share the local traditional food and dairy product culture with a visitor who came by the company’s office asking questions about horse milk. It turned out she is a well-known food writer from Scotland, and she wrote an article for the Financial Times, published in March 2022: ‘In Kyrgyzstan, a taste of the purest milk imaginable’.
The number of tourists using Kyrgyz Tourism has been slowly increasing during 2022. The company aims to reach around to 500-1000 people by the end of the year. Aisha and Mirzabek’s target for 2023 is 1500 visitors, therefore they are thinking about scaling up in terms of staff and office space.
Developing skills in tour guiding
Aisha participated in the Silk Road Heritage Guide Training organised by the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations in Central Asia in 2020-21. It was the first tour guide training she had ever done.
Aisha explains that the training enhanced her knowledge on tour guiding and taught her valuable lessons. She found the international trainers’ lectures inspiring.
Together with two other training participants, she developed a cross-border Silk Road tour, an 18-day programme for tourists to travel through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. After piloting the programme in May 2022 with a group of seven Belgian tourists through Beyond Borders, they have adapted the programme based on the feedback. They are planning to offer the tour again in 2023 for a group of maximum 10 people.
The Silk Road Heritage Guide Training was implemented by the regional UNESCO office and funded by the European Union.
Paving the way for more women in tourism
Even though gender equality in the Kyrgyz business environment has taken steps forward, many challenges remain. Tourism is a traditionally male-dominated sector in Kyrgyzstan. Before launching her career as an entrepreneur, Aisha had been promoting women’s entrepreneurship in Kyrgyzstan. She wanted to show that women can also work in tourism, and she provided support for women interested in the field.
COVID-19 changed the work
Aisha tells that after COVID-19 pandemic she has observed a change in tourists’ plans and wishes. They are looking for immersive experiences and want to experience emotions. People are also ready to make quick decisions regarding their travel plans. They do not want to wait and plan activities taking place only sometime in the future.
Community oriented and always on the move
After finishing her university studies, Aisha’s plan was to go and live abroad. However, as she quickly found work in Kyrgyzstan’s rural community-based tourism field, she decided to stay. She describes the Kyrgyz people as community oriented, meaning that community development and team work are highly valued. Another characteristic of the Kyrgyz people is their mobility.
“In Kyrgyzstan, I feel that freedom is in our blood. We come from tribes of nomads, always on the move. And this gives us an independent spirit.”
As a tour guide working in community-based tourism she can combine these important aspects of her life.
About the project
Aisha Mambetalieva took part in the Silk Road Heritage Guide Training organised by the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA) in Central Asia in 2020-21. The training was part of the Silk Road Heritage Corridors programme implemented by UNESCO in the region and funded by the European Union. Aisha is based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where she co-manages the tour company Kyrgyz Tourism, founded with her business partner in 2017.