TURKMENBASHI, Turkmenistan (TVLW) – Turkmenistan’s leader inaugurated the construction of a $5 billion (2.4 billion pound) tourism complex on the Caspian coast on Monday, his latest gesture to open up the reclusive nation to the world.
Locked away during Soviet times and later under the 21-year rule of Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan has been slowly opening its doors since Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to power a year ago.
Unlike Niyazov, who banned ballet and opera during his rule, Berdymukhamedov has sought to attract foreign investment and turn his desert nation into a tourist destination.
On Monday, he officially opened construction of a complex on Turkmenistan’s Caspian Sea coast, where he plans to build dozens of new hotels, fountains, roads and parks.
“Any government that has such a coast would see it as a huge blessing,” he said after a ceremony. “Turkmenistan is actively integrating into the global community while following its own model of development.”
State media have touted the area as a tourist hotspot but critics believe its long, cold winters and remote location dent its allure as a tourist destination.
The Turkmen leader said the government would earmark $1 billion for the project, not far from the Iranian border, while foreign companies including Russia’s Itera and France’s Bouygues have pledged to put in a further $4 billion.
He vowed to introduce tax breaks for construction companies and easier visa procedures for tourists — a step forward for a country which was first in the ex-Soviet block to introduce a visa regime for other former members.
Separately over the weekend, Berdymukhamedov opened a project to build a 560 mile railway that would eventually link Iran and Russia through Central Asia.
“Turkmenistan is turning into an important transport centre for the continent which will economically benefit the nation,” the state Turkmen news agency reported.