Kazakhstan is bidding to become a major venue for international events and a tourism hotspot in central Asia. Already well established as a hub for oil and mining resources, the former Soviet republic will host Expo 2017 in capital Astana and former capital Almaty is also vying for the 2022 Winter Olympics. These events have the potential to diversify the country’s economy and stimulate economic growth.

Expo energy

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Expo 2017 will focus on the theme ‘future energy’. The general masterplan, designed by Chicago-based architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, embraces an area of 174 hectares and features exhibition pavilions, residential developments and service areas. Preliminary figures put total investments at about €1.25bn. Some €1bn will go towards the development of the pavilions and the construction of 38 hotels in Astana. The remainder will be allocated for the urban mass transit systems and other transport and communications infrastructure necessary to move the 3 million to 5 million visitors expected.

A definitive business plan is expected to be approved by the end of February 2014, says a spokesperson from Astana Expo 2017, the government firm in charge of developing the event.

Meanwhile, Almaty's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics is gaining momentum, with a final decision from the International Olympic Committee expected in July 2015. Kazakhstan's financial hub and second largest city is already a major destination for investments in the tourism sector. There are already several ski resorts in the mountains surrounding the city and new ones are being planned. The most ambitious perhaps is the Kok Zhailau ski resort, which will include a base resort with hotels and apartments, and more than 50 kilometres of ski slopes.

The final decision by the International Olympic Committee will mean billions of dollars of investment for the host city. The current Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have drawn investment of $50bn, according to Reuters, and some $7bn was invested for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, says a study by the University of British Columbia.

Kazakhstan, which is competing with China, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Ukraine for the Winter Olympics, hopes to replicate the fortunes of South Korea, which turned Expo 2012 in Yeosu into the springboard for a successful bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Tourism hopes

Since achieving independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan has established itself as the second most attractive foreign investment destination among former Soviet republics, second only to Russia. FDI net inflows have steadily grown over the years, reaching $14bn in 2012, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development's 2013 World Investment Report. World-class oil fields such as Kashagan in the Caspian Sea lure investors from all over the world.

The government has now acknowledged the need to diversify its economy and the tourism industry ranks as a high priority. The country still fares poorly in terms of tourist arrivals, but global events such as Expo 2017 and potentially the 2022 Winter Olympics will put the country on the hospitality and tourism map, driving investments and infrastructure developments.