7 August 2019
An international Geotourism Forum took place in Shakhrisyabz, Uzbekistan, on 1-3 August 2019. The meeting, which brought together international and national participants from tourism sector, media, geosciences, international experts and local authorities, was organized by the State Committee for Tourism Development and the State Committee on Geology and Mineral Resources of Uzbekistan.Central Asia is rich in diverse geological structure forming beautiful landscapes with significant scientific value and esthetical assets. This diversity is coupled with enormously rich cultures and biological diversity. However, there is a limited understanding of the importance and value of geological heritage and a Soviet-time inherited perception about geology being exclusively interesting for mining purposes prevails among national authorities in Central Asian states, communities and the population at large. Little is known about the potential of natural, including geological, heritage for economic development for local communities, in particular through promotion of sustainable tourism by establishing geoparks.
For the first time such forum was held in Central Asia, discussing sustainable geotourism promotion through geological sites. During this forum a field visit was organized to Kitab State Geological Reserve, which Uzbek authorities promote to become their first aspiring UNESCO Global Geopark. A geological stratotype of the Emsian stage of the Lower Devonian system (393.3 – 407.6 mln years ago) was defined at the Kitab in 1989 and ratified later by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). It is an important geological site, open previously only for researchers of various disciplines of geosciences to conduct their studies. Now, in order for a larger population to learn about the geological sites of Kitab, the area is to be promoted for visitors, and a new geotourism route was inaugurated during the forum.
The forum therefore provided with a good platform, where for the first time scientists, who study geology from Uzbekistan and outside, tourism experts, media, local population and other experts discussed the potentials of developing geotourism in the country through promotion of geological sites and local development. UNESCO, as the only agency in the UN system, promoting international cooperation in geosciences and which promotes Global Geoparks as one if its designated sites, was invited to participate and contribute to the event. Given UNESCOs mandate to promote cultural, biological and geological diversity, based on the principles of conservation and sustainable development, it is expected to enhance cooperation with Uzbek authorities on notably promotion of geological heritage, sustainable geotourism and geoparks. It must be noted that none of Central Asian countries is part of UNESCO Global Geoparks Network and, moreover, there are no aspiring geopark projects.