Building the world’s next tourism hot spot

If you’re planning a vacation, odds are Uzbekistan has not been at the top of your list. That could change very soon, though, as the University of South Carolina enters a partnership to nurture the burgeoning tourism industry and service economy in the former Soviet republic.

From Conde Nast Traveler featuring the country as, potentially, one of 2019’s hottest destinations, to international headlines about “the most fascinating country you’ve never been to,” Uzbekistan is gaining momentum towards an economic rebirth centered around customer service. With stunning architecture, history-rich landmarks and vibrant markets, it’s easy to see why tourism trendsetters are eager to explore the Silk Road less traveled.

“Our industries have the ability to connect cultures, inspire adventure, strengthen global economies and enrich people’s lives."

Mark Rosenbaum, retailing department chair

As part of the country’s initiative to build service economy infrastructure, leaders from two of its capital city universities, Tashkent University of Economics and Tashkent University of Information Technologies, visited UofSC’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management (HRSM) in Columbia this summer. After meeting with HRSM’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management and retailing department, the institutions developed a memorandum of understanding to establish a new academic and research collaboration. That memorandum has been accepted in principle and awaits final approval from the Board of Trustees.

“This Uzbekistan initiative is an exemplary reflection of how entrepreneurial and dynamic our college is,” HRSM dean Haemoon Oh says. “This partnership embodies our vision of a powerful learning arena where passionate students, teaching excellence, innovative scholarship and industry leaders come together to advance the world’s customer experience industries. We are thrilled to work with our partners at such a level of national economy for a country like this.”

The partnership aims to build cross-cultural learning, global research and workforce development opportunities. Ultimately, it has the potential to help Uzbekistan build its retailing, e-commerce, tourism, food and beverage, sport and entertainment industries while elevating academic and career experiences for students in South Carolina.

“Our industries have the ability to connect cultures, inspire adventure, strengthen global economies and enrich people’s lives," says UofSC retailing department chair Mark Rosenbaum. “The post-Soviet states are realizing that the future lies in customer services, and Uzbekistan is a fresh canvas in many aspects.”

Getting there is already much easier than it would have been even five years ago, with more flights from major airports to Tashkent and new visa procedures to make it easier for tourists to visit.

Once there, visitors will find startling beauty and thousands of years of history. Three of the most important stops on the ancient Silk Road from China to Turkey are in Uzbekistan, and many buildings from those days still stand and have been restored. The walled city of Khiva, built in the sixth century, is in many ways unchanged and serves as a sort of living museum, home to 50,000 people.

The momentum has begun to build for Uzbekistan, and UofSC faculty will help it grow, working side by side with native academics, industry experts and government officials. Rosenbaum and School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management director Drew Martin will visit Uzbekistan later this year for the next step in what could become a partnership that improves the service economy and quality of life for an entire nation.