One of the most common concerns about the Mongolian tourism industry is that the country lacks a coordinated strategy and has not sufficiently promoted itself abroad. However, with the country looking to make tourism a major long-term economic driver, supporting diversification from mining and encouraging greater development – particularly in the countryside – sector leaders and officials are looking to develop a more cohesive strategy and unified structure to oversee the industry. Indeed in recent years, many initiatives have been made to improve the public and private partnership of the in industry towards greater competitiveness of the sector.

A NEW STRATEGY: The Mongolian National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) has been working on a new national marketing strategy that includes a programme for tourism. Stephen Kreppel, the director of the National Marketing Coordination Office at MNCCI, said that the country needs to hone its message and focus on key high-value markets, and promote tourism through effective channels, particularly the internet and adventure tourism operators.

As in other sectors, Kreppel points out that Mongolia cannot compete on price alone, given the costs of getting to and around the country and the strength of the tugrik, the national currency. Thus it needs to increase its earnings per visitor while ensuring that the country preserves and properly markets its unique characteristics, notably the millennia-old nomadic lifestyle, the steppe and the Tibetan Buddhism that Mongolia has made great efforts to preserve. “What the industry needs is a unified strategy that conforms with a national marketing strategy,” Kreppel told OBG. “We need to attract tourists who will stay for three to four weeks and engage with Mongolians. There has been a strategy of just increasing the number of visitors, but Mongolia cannot absorb mass tourism.”

IMPROVEMENTS: Thus the strategy asserts that Mongolia should target “low-volume, high-value, long-haul tourists” for both economic and social reasons. Beneath this aim are a large number of suggestions that can be made, including a single authoritative website for information and marketing; the promotion of special tourism products; the introduction of more licensed taxis; and a campaign to ensure that visitors feel welcome and are well-informed about its culture and history.

Kreppel suggests that investment in the new strategy should total around $2m – cash readily available thanks to its mineral wealth. However, he suggests that the basics of the strategy could be implemented for as little as $666,785. Sector operators OBG interviewed were strongly receptive to the suggested policies. “Currently Mongolia is not geared to promotion,” said Helge Reitz, the managing director of Ulaanbaatar-based Nomads Tours. “We need to start developing a marketing strategy and create the image that there is a lot of unspoiled nature here, a nomadic herding culture, Buddhism, and a friendly welcome. We need to show the variety of landscapes from snow-capped mountains to the Gobi and hundreds of kilometres of forest, as well as the history and legacy of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan.”

PULLING TOGETHER: The strategy puts considerable emphasis on the need for a single national tourist board, unifying and drawing on the talent of the several organisations that are currently vying to represent the sector. One of the organisations that already promotes the country abroad is the Mongolia National Tourism Organisation (MNTO).

The MNTO has examined several best-practice models of tourism development, most notably in Croatia, Hungary and Germany. Each country has lessons it can teach Mongolia, B. Indraa, the director of the MNTO’s governing board, told OBG. Croatia has a relatively homogeneous tourism product, while Hungary has shown commitment to a master plan, and Germany has strong sector leadership and an excellent record in promoting public-private partnerships, which Indraa sees as an important model for tourism development.