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Uzbekistan's Development of National Preventive Mechanism against Torture

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As part of the implementation of Uzbekistan’s Action Strategy, which marked the beginning of a new stage of democratic transformations and modernisation of the country, international human rights standards are being actively implemented. The outcomes of which are recognized by international experts, writes Doniyor Turaev, deputy director of the Legislation and Parliamentary Research Institute under the Oliy Majlis.

As early as in 2017, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who visited the country as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that, ‘The volume of constructive human-rights related proposals, plans and new legislation that has emerged since President Mirziyoyev took up office is remarkable.’[1] ‘Human rights – all categories of human rights – figure very prominently across the five sets of priorities laid out in the over-arching policy document guiding these proposed reforms – the President’s 2017-21 Action Strategy. Anyone wishing to understand what underlies the changes starting to take place in Uzbekistan – and what lies behind my visit – should look closely at the Action Strategy.[2]

Today, Uzbekistan is a party to the ten core international UN human rights instruments, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (hereinafter – the Convention against Torture), and consistently taking measures to implement provisions thereof into national legislation.

Taking into consideration the fact that progress in the sphere of human rights, and in particular, in the prevention of torture, is one of the indicators that demonstrate the level of maturity of democracy in the country, the issues of compliance of the relevant national legislation with international standards are of prime importance in the course of ongoing reforms for Uzbekistan, which is building a law-governed democratic state.

Based on the obligation to take effective measures to prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment arising from the Convention against Torture, Uzbekistan, along with the adoption of a set of measures in this area, is making appropriate changes to the legislation.

In view of this, let us consider the latest, core, in our opinion, changes in the national legislation relating to the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Firstly, amendments have been made to article 235 of the Criminal Code, aimed at enhancing liability for the use of torture, expanding the range of possible victims and those who shall be held liable.

It should be noted that the previous version of article 235 of the Criminal Code

restricted the prohibited practice of torture to the actions of law enforcement officials and did not cover acts by ‘other persons acting in an official capacity’, including those ‘acts that result from the instigation, consent or acquiescence of a public official’. In other words, the earlier version of the article 235 of the Criminal Code did not contain all the elements of article 1 of the Convention against Torture, to which the UN Committee against Torture has repeatedly drawn its attention. Now, the new version of this article of the Criminal Code provides for the above elements of the Convention.

Secondly, articles 9, 84, 87, 97, 105, 106 of the Criminal Executive Code have been amended and supplemented with norms aimed at better safeguarding the rights of convicts, including securing their rights to exercise, psychological counseling, safe working conditions, rest, leave, labour remuneration, access to health care, vocational training, etc.

Thirdly, the Administrative Liability Code has been supplemented by new Article 1974, which provides for administrative responsibility for obstructing the legal activities of Parliamentary Ombudsman (the Commissioner of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights).

In particular, the article provides for liability for the officials’ failure to perform their duties to the Commissioner, creating obstacles to his/her work, providing him/her with deliberately false information, the officials’ failure to consider appeals, petitions or their failure to meet the time limits for consideration thereof without a good reason.

Fourthly, important amendments have been made to the Law ‘On the Commissioner of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights (Ombudsman)’ (hereinafter - the Law), according to which:

– correctional facilities, places of detention and special reception centres are covered by the one concept of ‘places of detention’;

– a sector to facilitate the Commissioner’s activities on the prevention of torture and ill-treatment is created within the structure of the Commissioner’s Secretariat;

– the powers of the Commissioner in this area are prescribed in detail. In particular, the Law has been supplemented by new article 209, according to which the Commissioner may take measures to prevent torture and other ill-treatment through regular visits to places of detention.

Also, in accordance with article 209 of the Law, the Commissioner shall create an expert group to facilitate his/her activities. The expert group shall be composed of representatives of NGOs with professional and practical knowledge in the field of jurisprudence, medicine, psychology, pedagogy, and other areas. The Commissioner shall determine the tasks for the members of the expert group and issue special orders to allow them to freely visit places of detention and other facilities from which persons are not permitted to leave at will.

Here it should be noted that the Law establishes the main elements of the preventive mechanism - regular visits to places of detention.

Although Uzbekistan is not a party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (hereinafter – the Protocol), it can be said, however, that, taking into consideration its provisions, as well as within the framework of fulfilling its international obligations and the provisions of the Convention against Torture, the country has created itsnational preventive mechanism’.

Based on the provisions of the Protocol, a ‘national preventive mechanism’ (hereinafter – NPM) means one or several visiting bodies established, designated or maintained at the domestic level in order for the prevention of torture and other inhuman treatment. Article 3 of the Protocol obligates States parties to set up, designate or maintain such bodies.

The rationale of establishing an NPM was substantiated in detail by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture (A/61/259). According to him, the rationale ‘is based on experience that torture and ill-treatment usually take place in isolated places of detention, where those who practise torture feel confident that they are outside the reach of effective monitoring and accountability.’ ‘Accordingly, the only way of breaking this vicious cycle is to expose places of detention to public scrutiny and to make the entire system in which police, security and intelligence officials operate more transparent and accountable to external monitoring.’[3]

The Law, as already stated above, establishes a new preventive mechanism, which grants the Commissioner the right to take measures to prevent torture and ill-treatment through regular visits to places of detention, as well as to take similar measures at other facilities from which persons are not permitted to leave at will.

In addition, important steps have been taken recently to strengthen the national system for the protection of human rights, in particular:

– the National Strategy of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Human Rights has been adopted;

– in order to implement the National Strategy and further expand the powers of the Parliament in exercising parliamentary control over the implementation of Uzbekistan’s international human rights obligations, the Parliamentary Commission on Compliance with International Human Rights Obligations has been established;

– the position of the Commissioner for the Rights of the Child has been established;

– measures have been taken to improve the status of the National Human Rights Centre of the Republic of Uzbekistan;

In addition, it should be separately emphasized that Uzbekistan has been elected to UN Human Rights Council.

To date, in order to further implement international norms and improve national legislation and preventive practice in this area, the Parliamentary Commission on Compliance with International Human Rights Obligations, together with the competent state authorities, carries out the following:

First. According to the Protocol, certain categories of institutions inherently fall within the scope of the definition ‘place of detention’ and could be stated in a non-exhaustive definition in national law for purposes of clarity.[4] For example, such institutions can include psychiatric institutions, juvenile detention centers, places of administrative detention, etc.

In this regard, the issue of including in the legislation a number of the main institutions, which the NPM can regularly visit, is being considered.

Second. In accordance with the Convention against Torture, the concepts of ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ are differentiated depending on the form, purpose of committing and the level of severity of the suffering inflicted on the victim by this act.

In view of this, the issue of differentiating the concepts of ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ and establishing in the legislation of their clear definitions and measures of liability for these acts is being considered.

Third. As part of the implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture, the quality of information and educational activities on human rights is being improved, that is, work is underway to inform about the essence and content of laws on the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. It is planned to include the subject of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment in training programs not only for law enforcement officials, but also for medical, pedagogical personnel and other employees who may be involved in the treatment of persons in places of detention.

Fourth. The issue of ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture is being considered, and in view of this, it is planned to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to Uzbekistan.

Thus, it can be noted that active, targeted and systemic measures are being taken in Uzbekistan to further improve the national preventive mechanism aimed at better prevention and averting of torture and attempts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It should be admitted that, of course, there are still a number of unresolved problems in this area in Uzbekistan today. However, there is political will to move forward with human rights reforms.

In conclusion, we would like to quote the words of the speech by the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council stating that Uzbekistan ‘shall continue to strictly suppress all forms of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment’, and ‘as a member of the Human Rights Council shall defend and actively promote the universal principles and norms of international human rights law.’


[1] [1] See ‘Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at a press conference during his mission to Uzbekistan’ (https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21607&LangID=E).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Report of the Special UN Rapporteur on torture, para. 67, UN General Assembly A61/259 (14 August 2006).

[4] See Guide for the Establishment and Designation of NPMs (2006), APT, p.18.

Uzbekistan

Worthy of the timeless monuments of the glorious past: In 2022 Uzbekistan will see the grand opening of Silk Road Samarkand, a unique tourist complex

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In 2022, Silk Road Samarkand, a multifunctional tourist complex designed to become a modern attraction not only of the city of Samarkand, but also of the entire Central Asia, will be opened for visitors. The complex will combine cultural, gastro, medical and business tourism facilities.

The new complex will house world-class hotels, specialized boutique hotels, contemporary public spaces, parks, recreation and sports areas, authentic restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as an international congress hall and sites of cultural interest. The state-of-the-art project developed by an international team of architects and engineers will allow for combining various thematic zones into a balanced architectural ensemble without parallel in the entire region of Central Asia.

The scale and significance of Silk Road Samarkand are to make it a well-deserved follow-up to the sublime monuments of the past and a driver of tourism development in the region. The name of the center was selected deliberately: the routes of the Great Silk Road passed through the territory of current-day Uzbekistan from the II century BC until the XV century, and ancient Samarkand was one of the most important stops for trade caravans.

The location

The new complex is located in the eastern part of the city and covers an area of about 260 hectares. It centers around the affluent waterway of the Samarkand rowing canal, which in Soviet times served as a training base for the USSR national team and a venue for All-Union competitions.

The complex includes multiple various zones. To the north of the rowing canal is a Business Cluster, including a congress hall and four upscale hotels with beautified territories. The Southern Cluster includes four boutique hotels, each operating in their own medical and sanatorium area of activity, as well as an eco-village, the Eternal City historical and ethnographic complex, and some shopping areas.

The business cluster

Silk Road Samarkand has eight hotels, four each on the northern and southern banks of the rowing canal. They will provide for a total of about 1,200 rooms. To the left of the congress hall, a 22-storey five-star Samarkand Regency Hotel with 234 rooms, including executive suites and two presidential suites, will be put up. This is the first and only hotel in Central Asia being part of LHW, the world's leading hotels association.

Savitsky Plaza, a hotel named after Igor Savitsky, an honored artist of the Uzbek SSR and a collector of avant-garde art objects, is distinguished by its one-of-a-kind interior design and has 179 rooms available for the guests.

Other hotels of the highest category include Silk Road by Minyoun with 242 rooms and Stars of Ulugbek by Lia! Minyoun, named after the great astronomer and mathematician of the Timurid era, counting 174 rooms. Both buildings are managed by the leading Asian hotelier Minyoun Hospitality.

All hotels have conference rooms, meeting rooms, restaurants, bars, gyms, SPAs and swimming pools.

The Congress Hall

At the international congress hall, a multifunctional hall, presidential and VIP halls, rooms for delegations and meeting rooms, as well as banqueting room and exhibition hall will be available.

The medical cluster

The medical cluster of Marakanda Park Hotels will be situated to the south of the rowing canal. Each of the four boutique hotels specializes in a certain type of medical services: preventive medicine, detox, joint and spine treatment, and pulmonary medicine. The second floors of the hotels are allocated for health centers. In addition to medical and treatment rooms, the hotel guests will be offered the services of a cosmetician, massage, mud therapy, therapeutic showers, infrared sauna, pressure chamber. The offered programs are developed for 3, 7, 10 and 14 days of stay. The hotels of the cluster will have a total of 366 rooms.

The Eternal City

Over more than 10 hectares, the image of an ancient city has been recreated, inviting guests of the resort to experience the history and traditions of the lands and peoples of Uzbekistan. Artists, artisans and craftsmen will "settle" on the narrow streets. Visitors to the city will be offered to try national cuisine from different eras and regions of the country and watch authentic street performances. The Eternal City will provide guests with an exceptional opportunity to find themselves at the borderline of Parthian, Hellenistic and Islamic cultures, and observe the diversity of the bygone centuries' heritage with their own eyes. The author and curator of the project is the famous modern Uzbek artist Bobur Ismoilov.

The place of attraction

Resort guests will enjoy green pedestrian zones, open spaces and a well-designed environment. The entrance will be decorated in traditional motifs reminiscent of the majestic arches of Registan. Sports grounds and bike paths, the Volcano aqua zone with swimming pools and a variety of cafes and bars are sure to become a place of attraction. Bicycle rental will be available.

“Samarkand was a major stop on the Great Silk Road, a place where entire civilizations crossed. We believe that Silk Road Samarkand will become a center of international tourism, where residents of the city, tourists, travelers and businessmen from all over the world will be able to spend time with pleasure and benefit. I am sure that the opening of the complex will launch a new era in the history of tourism in Samarkand,” said Artiom V. Egikian, CEO of the managing company of Silk Road Samarkand.

Accessibility

The complex is easily accessible by transport: it takes 20 minutes by car to get there from the historical center of the city, 15 minutes from the international airport and 25 minutes from the train station. The project includes the construction of a road junction and a bypass bridge. You can get to the resort both by car (parking lots are available) and by special shuttles that will be launched when the center opens.

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Development of the economy of Uzbekistan in the first half of 2021

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Despite the ongoing pandemic in the world, the economy of Uzbekistan has reached record growth rates. According to the State Statistics Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the gross domestic product for the first six months of this year increased by 6.2%. For comparison: over the same period last year, due to the pandemic and lockdowns, the economy grew by only 1.1%, and in the first three months of 2021 - 3%, writes Ruslan Abaturov, Centre for Economic Research and Reforms.

At the same time, it should be noted that Uzbekistan’s main trade partners’ economy is stabilizing at the end of the six months and returning to the growth trajectory. Thus, Kazakhstan's GDP increased by 2.2%, against the decline for the same period last year by 1.8%. The Kyrgyz economy is gradually decreasing, in January-June, the rate of decline slowed to 1.7% against 5.6% in the first half of 2020. China maintains dynamic growth this year, where a 12.7% increase in GDP is recorded in the first half year. In Russia, GDP grew by 3.7% during January-May.

In Uzbekistan, inflation in the consumer sector continues to slow, despite serious price hikes for certain commodities such as carrots and vegetable oil. According to the results of six months, prices increased by 4.4% while in 2020 over the same period - by 4.6%. By May 2021, prices decreased by 0.2% due to seasonality. The largest increase in prices is noted for food products - by 5.7% (in the first half of 2020 - 6.2%). The rise in prices for non-food products is also slowing down - 3% against 3.6% in January-June 2020.

The inflow of investment in the first quarter of this year has shown positive dynamics. Investment in fixed assets rose by 5.9% against a decline of almost 10% in the same period last year. Investments from the budget decreased by 8.5%. Investments and loans attracted under the guarantee of the government decreased by more than 36%, and their share in the total volume of investments fell to 8.9%. The inflow of investments from non-centralized sources has noticeably increased - by 14.9%. Investments at the expense of the population and own funds of enterprises increased insignificantly - by 4.4% and 4.7%, respectively. A significant inflow of investments is due to the growth of attracted loans from commercial banks, foreign direct investment and credit funds from abroad.

The positive dynamics of production is noted in all sectors of the economy. The main drivers are industry and the service sector.

The industrial sector in January-June demonstrates high growth rates - 8.5% against a decline of 0.3% over the same period last year. The mining industry grew by 7.5% (a decline of 18% in January-June 2020), the manufacturing industry - by 8.6% (4.9%), electricity, gas and air conditioning - by 12.1% (8.4%). The production of consumer goods increased by 7.7% against the growth of 1.2% in the same period last year, with the outstripping dynamics in the production of food products.

The service sector, such as tourism, catering and accommodation, demonstrates impressive dynamics - an increase of 18.3% in the first half of the year versus an increase of 2.6% in January-June 2020. The transport sector is actively recovering after last year's decline: freight turnover increased by 14.1%, passenger turnover by 4.1%. Retail trade in the period under review increased by 9%.

A slowdown in relative to last year is noted in agriculture to 1.8% versus 2.8%, which is due to difficult weather conditions this year and lack of water. The growth rates of the construction sector also slowed down to 0.1% against 7.1% in the first half of 2020.

Foreign trade also managed to overcome the recession. In the first half of this year, sales grew 13.6% to $18 billion. In the same period last year, there was a significant decline of 18%. During the period under review, exports grew by 12% to $7.1bn and imports by 14.4% to $11bn. In the second quarter, Uzbekistan sold gold abroad against the background of positive price conditions on the world market. However, it should be noted that in the first six months the volume of exports without gold increased by 36.4% and reached $5.7bn.

In the structure of exports, the volume of food supplies to foreign countries increased by 6.3%, chemicals by 18.6%, industrial products by 74.4% (mainly textiles, non-ferrous metals), machinery and transport equipment doubled.

At the same time, there is an increase in imports of food products by 46.2%, industrial products by 29.1% (mainly metallurgical products), chemical products by 17%. Imports of machinery and equipment with the largest volume increased by 1.4%.

Thus, according to the results of the half-year, the economy of Uzbekistan is actively overcoming the consequences of the crisis and reaching the dynamics ahead of the pre-crisis indicators.

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Uzbekistan is a tourist country

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Since ancient times, Uzbekistan has been in the center of Great Silk Road and has a great historical, cultural and architectural heritage. Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva are the brands of the ancient culture of the East. The landscapes of mountains and deserts of Uzbekistan attract attention and admiration of the Internet community. Therefore, the tourism potential of this country can hardly be overestimated and the government is making significant efforts to develop it, writes Khasanjon Majidov, Leading Researcher at the Centre for Economic Research and Reforms.

Explosive development of tourism

At the beginning of 2016, a process of radical reform of the tourism industry was launched in Uzbekistan. More than 60 regulations were adopted related to the development of tourism industry during the 2016-2020.

The visa regime between the countries was simplified. In 2018, Uzbekistan introduced a visa-free regime for citizens of 9 countries, in 2019 for citizens of 47 countries, in 2020 - 2021 another 5 countries. As of May 10, 2021, the number of countries for citizens of which a visa-free regime is granted in the Republic of Uzbekistan is 90 countries.

In addition, citizens of about 80 countries have the opportunity to apply for an electronic visa in a simplified manner. Five new types of visas have been introduced for foreigners: "Compatriot", "Student", "Academic", "Medicine" and "Pilgrimage". According to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the simplification of the visa regime has yielded positive results. In particular, in 2019, if the average growth in the number of foreign tourists was 26%, then the growth rate among the countries where the visa-free regime was introduced reached 58%.

The government took comprehensive measures to develop tourism infrastructure. Firstly, 22 types of requirements regulating the activities of hostels related to the type of budget housing have been canceled. In particular, the procedure for mandatory certification of hotel services provided by hostels has been canceled and the practice of working with a unified register of guest houses and hostels has been introduced. Secondly, in order to increase the number of small hotels, entrepreneurs were provided with 8 standard projects of small hotels up to 50 rooms free of charge and this measure is developed based on the experience of Turkey and South Korea.

As a result, the number of placements in the country has increased dramatically. In particular, from 2016 to 2020, accommodation places increased from 750 to 1308 and the number of guest houses increased 13 times to 1386. Their number is planned to be increased to 2 thousand.

As a result of the reforms in the tourism sector from 2016 to 2019, the number of tourists increased from 2.0 million to 6.7 million. The dynamics of the increase in the number of foreign tourists in 2019 compare to 2010 amounted to a record 592% (an increase of more than 6 times). It is noteworthy that the growth in the number of tourists from different regions occurred in different ways. For example, the number of visitors from Central Asian countries increased by an average of 22-25% per year, while the annual growth among tourists from non-CIS countries was 50%. At the same time, positive results were noted in domestic tourism. Compared to 2016, the number of domestic tourists in 2019 almost doubled and amounted to 14.7 million.

Impact of the pandemic

It should be noted that due to the restrictions imposed against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and the consequences of the global crisis, the tourism industry has suffered serious losses. In particular, the number of foreign tourists visiting Uzbekistan decreased by more than 4.5 times, to 1.5 million, and the volume of tourist services fell to $261 million in 2020.

Taking into account the current situation, the “Uzbekistan project” was developed. Safe travel guaranteed ("Uzbekistan. Safe travel guaranteed"), which is a new system of sanitary and epidemiological safety for tourists based on world standards. Certification of tourism objects and related infrastructure, tourism services based on new sanitary and hygienic requirements for all state border posts; air, railway and bus stations; objects of tangible cultural heritage, museums, theaters, etc. To mitigate the consequences of the pandemic for the tourism industry, the Safe Tourism Fund was formed at the expense of an initial contribution from the Anti-Crisis Fund, as well as payments for passing voluntary certification implemented within the framework of the “Uzbekistan. Safe travel GUARANTEED ".

Tourism players received a number of benefits and preferences to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The income tax rate was reduced by 50% of the established rates, they were exempted from paying land tax and property tax of legal entities and the social tax was set at a reduced rate of 1%. They also partially reimbursed interest expenses on previously issued loans from commercial banks for the construction of accommodation facilities and expenses for renovation, reconstruction and expansion of the material and technical base. Subsidizing accommodation facilities is provided in the amount of 10% of the cost of hotel services from June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021. In total, 1,750 tourism entities received benefits on property tax, land and social taxes in the amount of about 60 billion soums.

Diversification of directions

In recent years, Uzbekistan has been focusing on the diversification of tourism services and the development of new types of tourism. In particular, much attention is paid to increase the flow of tourists through MICE tourism, which is organizing various tournaments, meetings, conferences and exhibitions in Uzbekistan. The traditional sports tournament "Game of Heroes" in Khorezm, the "Art of Bakhchichilik" festival in Surkhandarya, the "Muynak-2019" rally in Karakalpakstan and others have been held. The government approved the Action Plan for the development of MICE tourism in Uzbekistan.

Film tourism is an important tool for shaping the country's image, providing information to potential tourists. For the development of film tourism in Uzbekistan, a regulation has been developed on the procedure for reimbursing part of the costs ("rebate") of foreign film companies when creating audiovisual products on the territory of Uzbekistan. Moreover, foreign film companies have released films such as Basilik, Khuda Hafiz and Al Safar. Last year, foreign film companies shot 6 feature films in Uzbekistan.

Pilgrimage tourism. In order to create special convenience for those visiting Uzbekistan for the purpose of pilgrim tourism, new requirements have been introduced for hotels, a map of the country's mosques has been developed and posted in the mobile application. The first Pilgrimage Tourism Forum was held in Bukhara and 120 foreign guests from 34 countries took part.

Medical tourism. In Uzbekistan, measures are being taken to develop medical tourism and attract more tourists to medical organizations. In 2019, the number of foreign citizens visiting Uzbekistan for medical purposes exceeded 50 thousand. In fact, this number can be higher, since determining the number of tourists visiting private medical clinics is still a difficult task.

Conclusion

In recent years, Uzbekistan has been recognized as the best travel destination in the world by The Guardian, the fastest growing country in the eyes of Wanderlust and the best growing tourism destination according to Grand voyage. As a result of consistently implemented measures, Uzbekistan has climbed 10 positions (22 places) in the Global Muslim Tourism Index, compiled by Crescent Rating. In addition, the World Tourism Organization ranked Uzbekistan 4th in the list of the fastest growing countries in the tourism sector.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the tourism of Uzbekistan needs to transform its business models through innovation and digitalization. It is necessary to develop such market segments as agro and ethno tourism.

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