Since 1991, coinciding with the independence of the former Soviet States, there has been a revival of the Silk Road interests – for cultural exchange, trade and tourism. Encouraged by this development, UNWTO decided, at its General Assembly in Indonesia in 1993, to create a long-term tourism project that would promote a special Silk Road tourism concept. As a historical landmark, the Samarkand Declaration on Silk Road Tourism was adopted in 1994 by 19 participating countries under the inspiration of the President of Uzbekistan and the then Secretary-General of UNWTO. A special logo of the UNWTO Silk Road Tourism Project was subsequently adopted to unite all countries, organizations and the private sector under a common visual banner. Since then 24 member states actively participate in the UNWTO Silk Road Project. Several meetings and forums were held, some of which concluded with the adoption of new Declarations. UNWTO has published several studies on the issue of the Silk Road, as well as brochures for further promoting the Silk Road concept. In 2004 the UNWTO Silk Road Tourism Office, hosted by the Uzbek government and with support of UNWTO was opened in Samarkand. In 2006 another colour brochure was published, which presents a mosaic of tourism products, sites and attractions of the Silk Road region as a whole, with the objective of contributing to a better knowledge of its tourism potential.
The Silk Road is a project designed for the countries involved and it is the participating countries which stand to benefit from its outputs and activities. The active participation and close collaboration and cooperation witnessed between the countries themselves on one hand, and the countries and UNWTO on the other, has assisted the Secretariat in taking a number of tangible actions to establish the Silk Road as a viable tourism product and in creating awareness of the Silk Road in the primary source markets. The countries, on their part, have moved forward with the development of infrastructure and superstructure. All in all, a lot of ground has been covered since the project got off the ground in 1994 but, like the Great Silk Road itself, there is still a long way to go. And, the UNWTO intends to continue its journey on the road to further progress and development with the active assistance and cooperation of all the participating countries.
UNWTO Silk Road Project- Meetings and Forums
Several major initiatives that have marked the promotion and development of the Silk Road project have taken place since the launching of the project in 1994. To begin with, it was vital to differentiate the participating countries according to their different degrees of commitment. Hence, three concentric circles were identified: the first circle consisted of the Central Asian and Caucasian countries which had just started opening up their borders for tourism.
UNWTO's main efforts in this circle were, and still are, to prepare the countries, via action plans, training facilities, formulation of legislation, frontier formalities and statistics, for the projected growth in tourism. The second circle comprised countries that had already opened up their sites of the Silk Road and gained certain experiences with this tourism product. These countries included China, Pakistan, Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey.
UNWTO's effort in this circle is to strengthen their ongoing activities of development and promotion of tourism. The third circle covered the terminals of the Road on both ends such as Japan, the Korean peninsula, the ASEAN countries, the Arab countries and Europe. UNWTO's aim is to create Silk Road awareness in these areas as they are the main generating markets for Silk Road tourism.
The Second International Meeting on the Silk Road was held in Tehran in April 1997. Also supported by UNESCO, the meeting brought national tourism administrations, international organizations, tour operators and journalists representing 27 nations with the common goal of reviving the legendary Silk Road through tourism. The primary aims of the meeting were to broaden international understanding and expand cultural exchanges, both within the Silk Road region, and between individual Silk Road countries and the rest of the world. The meeting suggested a number of measures for the Silk Road countries to adopt with a view to achieving a high degree of sustainable tourism development as also conservation and preservation of the natural and cultural environment. In addition, the meeting also recommended the establishment of a Silk Road website on Internet, an annual Silk Road Tourism Day and Motor Rally, and adoption of a Silk Road official anthem.
The UNWTO General Assembly session held in Istanbul, Turkey from 17-24 October 1997, provided another opportunity to the Silk Road countries to meet within the framework of the General Assembly and review the project's progress. This meeting resulted in two new initiatives: first, development of an action plan to link the Silk Road handicrafts centres drawing the experience of a UNDP project in Uzbekistan; and, second, to support a proposal by a New Zealand media group to prepare a 26-part television travel series on the Silk Road attractions.
Another major marketing initiative was launched at the Silk Road Travel Forum in Kyoto, Japan in February 1998. Japan is a major source market for the Silk Road and the Forum was organized with the specific objective of familiarizing the Silk Road countries with the profile of the Japanese outbound market, its salient characteristics and, how the Silk Road inbound tour operators should approach the Japanese market.
The Third International Meeting on the Silk Road was held in Tbilisi from 02-05 November 1998 with the aim of continuing the planning and marketing process which the project started four years ago and to take a stock of the current situation and, then decide how to proceed.
The fourth International Meeting on the Silk Road held in Bukhara on 27 October of 2002 adopted the Bukhara Declaration on Silk Road Tourism, which stressed the benefits of sustainable tourism development and outlined specific steps to stimulate cultural and ecological tourism to Silk Road destinations. The document appealed to Silk Road countries to ease visa formalities while it urged outbound markets to assess the situation in these countries in a balanced, unbiased manner.
The Meeting also accepted Uzbekistan's offer to host a Silk Road Office in Samarkand, the city where the Silk Road Project was launched in 1994. The office was officially opened in October 2004 in Samarkand and carries the name UNWTO “Silk Road Tourism Office”.
The meeting also expressed the need to update the Silk Road brochure: a new edition of the brochure has been published and circulated