The big problem with Turkmenistan's brand new international airport

By Lauren McMah

Turkmenistan's new airport was recently completed at great cost. There's just one problem ...

There are concerns hardly anyone will use Turkmenistan's hugely expensive new international airport. Just 105,000 tourists visited the country in 2015, according to government figures. Photo / AP
There are concerns hardly anyone will use Turkmenistan's hugely expensive new international airport. Just 105,000 tourists visited the country in 2015, according to government figures. Photo / AP

A gleaming new international airport has just opened in Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat, and at first glance, it's really impressive.

The US$2.35 billion (NZ$3.22 billion) complex was designed to replicate the shape of a soaring falcon and promises to process up to 1600 passengers every hour.

But its official opening on Saturday was overshadowed by a sobering realisation — hardly anyone is ever going to use it.

Despite the huge amount of money and effort poured into the airport project, strict visa requirements means only a tiny number of tourists and professionals ever step foot into Turkmenistan, which is regarded as the most mysterious and isolated country in Central Asia.

While tourism is officially welcomed in Turkmenistan, tourists have complained about difficult bureaucratic processes. All international visitors require visas and visits longer than five days require a state-endorsed tour and official guides.

Just 105,000 tourists visited in 2015, according to government figures.

The former Soviet nation was largely shut off from the rest of the world until the 2006 death of its eccentric dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, who called himself Turkmenbashi.

Although little-known, the country is rich with culture and history. The two ancient cities of Konye-Urgench and Merv were impressive stops along the Silk Road and have been UNESCO World Heritage-listed. But of the 200,000 tourists that visit Konye-Urgench each year, only 3000 are foreign visitors.

So while the new addition to Ashgabat international airport is likely to go unnoticed and be unused by most of the world, it will be a great fit for Turkmenistan's capital city, which is known for its bizarre and striking architecture.

In 2013, the Guinness World Records recognised the city as having the greatest density of marble-clad buildings, which was estimated at more than 540, AP reported.

Many are noted for their eccentric designs, such as the state publishing house, which is in the shape of a book.

- news.com.au

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