At the beginning of this year, Kazakhstan introduced visa-free travel for citizens of EU and OECD countries for a maximum of 30 days. Previously, for UK citizens, the allowance was 15 days. The visa change is in part motivated by the nation’s capital, Astana, hosting EXPO 2017, which 2-3 million people are expected to attend to discuss the event’s main theme for “Future Energy: Solutions for Tackling Humankind’s Greatest Challenge.”

Kazakhstan is also investing in its future. The last three years have seen record levels of investment from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) providing loans and technical cooperation for more than 30 projects in the country.

With the Expo, heavy international investment and the new visa rules all in place, the Central Asian nation is clearly seeking to lift its presence on the international stage. In the early 2000’s, Kazakhstan saw average GDP increases of 8% annually. More recently, growth has slowed down, but could this coming year see a new boost?

According to the EBRD, their investment priorities include climate, tariff and infrastructure regulation, privatisation, green economy and renewable energy, domestic financial sector and corporate governance. Other contributors to funds helping to encourage business growth through international projects and consultancy in the region include Shell and the U.S. Treasury.

The visa entry rules have also been simplified for several other countries to help promote both tourism and business travel to the country. The nation’s principal airline and flag carrier, Air Astana, is looking forward to the increased opportunities this change will allow:

“The extension of the visa free regime in Kazakhstan for British and Irish passport holders to 30 days re-enforces the desire to create a favorable business environment, and to assist in developing the tourism potential…The expanding list of countries on the visa free regime is a great boost for Kazakhstan and Air Astana.”

The airline will be increasing the number of direct flights between London and Astana to five a week, with further increases in 2018 to support the country’s growth.

At Reed & Mackay we’ve seen relatively low but steady volumes of trips booked to Kazakhstan over the last three years. With 2017 set to be an eventful year for the country, we’ll be watching to see how demand evolves to gauge the success of Kazakhstan’s ambitious growth plans.