Mining threat to Mongolian tourism

Mining overshadows tourism and drives Mongolia’s economic growth. Indra Boulder, director of the Mongolian National Tourism Organization (MNTO), said mining has replaced agriculture as Mongolia’s tourism competitor.

In 2004, tourism accounted for 13.4% of Mongolia’s GDP. This figure is gradually decreasing and now accounts for 10% of the country’s gross domestic product. Meanwhile, mining accounts for 30 percent of Mongolia’s GDP. That figure is expected to rise further, according to Ulaanbaatar-based consultancy Resource Investment Capital.

Whatever tourism does, growth will be directly affected by mining, Boulder said. She also said it was unfortunate that mining companies were able to secure land use rights to historical places including the Bichitkad Valley, Dahad Valley and the sacred meditation site of Dhanzaravya. It is sad to see irreversible change taking place.

A common question is why Mongolia cannot grow through tourism and mining. Human resources also have a major impact on the tourism industry, industry insiders say. Enebish, the owner of Tseren Tours, said the unskilled workers hired were trained in language and management skills and, once competent, they left to apply for better-paying mining jobs. Ebenish saw this firsthand when five of the best employees left Tseren Tours for the mining industry. Even the hospitality and transportation industries provide services to the mining industry. Although the Hyatt and Radisson hotels recently opened in Ulaanbaatar, that hasn’t done the tourism industry any favors.

Most of those who travel to Mongolia are for business purposes. Of the 457,514 people who visited Mongolia in 2011, 43 percent were Chinese. That’s why the data is quite skewed. Most of these Chinese are businessmen, said Stephen Kreppel, director of the National Marketing Coordination Office (MNMCO) of the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Only 90,000 of them were genuine leisure-seekers. Kreppel questioned the government’s policy on building tourist complexes to entertain tourists.

Surprisingly, some tour operators say mining has nothing to do with the issue. They argued that the mining project was a localized project in an area without tourism. Gantemur Damba of the Center for Sustainable Tourism Development, on the other hand, has yet to draw conclusions and is watching to see what happens.

Despite various views on the issue, Danba bravely said that Mongolia is large enough to accommodate all industries, including mining and tourism. But the situation has reversed due to problems with the government’s land protection policy. The suggested solution is for the government to formulate a clear policy on land use rights, with residents and the tourism sector agreeing in the middle. Hopefully in the years to come, the mining company will continue to prosper and Mongolia’s rich history and amazing places will attract tourists.

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