Aziz Soltobaev, KG Labs: We Believe That Tourism Has Tremendous Potential in Kyrgyz Republic
Last Friday Bishkek had Travel & Tourism Ideation Session #1 — one of the four events to discuss current problems in the industry and to generate potential ideas and projects to be realized at the hackathon. The session also had a number of speakers including heads of Trekking Union of Kyrgyz Republic, Kyrgyz Tour Operators Association and Community Based Tourism Association. They shared their vision of the current situation in the industry and challenges the latter has. A recent registration law was discussed among other problems the tourism sector is facing at the moment. While it was noted at the event that the recent legislation change would have a negative impact on the industry, there was some good news — State Registration Office submitted a proposal to extend registration period from 5 days to 30.
The major event, hackathon itself will take place in December. Meanwhile, there are more events coming before that. All of them are organized by KG Labs Public Foundation, whose mission is to promote technology entrepreneurship in Kyrgyz Republic. We've asked Aziz Soltobaev, Chairman of KG Labs, several questions about the coming hackathon.
A lot of people here know you as a founder of Svetofor leading e-commerce company, and you are not only that, you're one of KG Labs co-founders. Could you please tell us more about how you ended up co-founding KG Labs. What's KG Labs's ultimate mission?
My way of opening of KG Labs Public Foundation was pretty much organic. Over the last ten years our fantastic team and co-founders built leading online shopping marketplace in Kyrgyz Republic and been engaged in dozen of interesting technological endeavors in Central Asian region and China. For over the last five years I've been extensively travelling all around the world and all the time visiting tech related places and meeting tech leaders, who built successful startups. After establishing executive body and taking sabbatical period, I was thinking of what makes me happy as a person. I've realized that happiness comes from giving back to society. One of the most memorable moments were guest lectures, public speaking series, coaching of colleagues and helping them to achieve goals and fulfill dreams. I decided to share my knowledge and expertise in larger scale. I believe that focus on tech entrepreneurship is the most optimal way for Kyrgyz Republic to successfully transform into knowledge-based economy. Thus, together with a partner we founded KG Labs Public Foundation. The mission of KG Labs is to boost tech entrepreneurship in Kyrgyz Republic.
You are organizing a second hackathon already, the first was Garage 48 Bishkek 2015 with experts from Estonia. Why tourism this time? And who are you planning to bring as mentors and experts in December?
Until 2015, concept of hackathons were pretty novel and unknown to local community. Local stakeholders were not interested and reluctant to participate. I was meeting with almost every key player in community to convince them to join hackathon. We brought Estonian based team Garage48 and it was a tremendous success. There had been over 100 participants and we finally engaged local stakeholders in creative process. We have got so much positive feedback and success stories that we decided to continue this tradition and explore different forms of hackathons. We decided to pick tourism because of many reasons. First of all, the year of 2016 was called by government as a year of Tourism. Secondly, Kyrgyz Republic is growing as a top travel destination and we saw digital gap between demands of potential customers and Kyrgyz tourism and travel industry players. Therefore we decided to make it travel and tourism related event. This is a great event because we are gathering in one creative space with local industry professionals, design gurus, technological entrepreneurs and technical experts. We expect to see international mentors from Estonia and Russia helping local teams to develop minimum viable products. Moreover, there will be a dozen of distant mentors and a couple of great speakers from all around the world this December.
What is your personal opinion on how tourism is developing in our country? What challenges and opportunities do you see?
We believe that tourism has tremendous potential in Kyrgyz Republic with those efforts put together by Kyrgyz Government, international donors and private sector in upcoming years. Our country was named as top travel destination by numerous leading magazines. We just have to be ready to meet customer expectations and surprise with some new tourism revelations. I saw how Siem Reap changed in two years after it was named top destination by TripAdvisor, bonanza for local residents and economy now. I think the same thing could happen to us. I think that tourism industry should work more on prevailing customer expectations and developing right value proposition packages.
What's next? How do you see tourism's role in your mission? Is it an anchor sector you would like to focus on or will you be trying to cover the other sectors going forward?
I believe this event will engage new tech entrepreneurs to seek opportunities in tourism industry. I want to prepare a great team, who could continue doing travel hackathons annually. KG Labs will not stop on tourism industry and will continue promoting cross sector collaboration in textile (apparel, fashion), agriculture, ecommerce and food processing industries in upcoming year of 2017.