This is a story of Katon-Karagay, the easternmost region of Kazakhstan, which was on the verge of disappearance due to an extreme outflow of local population but was “rescued” thanks to an initiative of two local entrepreneurs, Serik Tolukpaev and Kairat Ahmed, who loved their homeland and didn’t want it to vanish. In 2019, Serik and Kairat identified the reasons why people were leaving and, to stop this process, established the “Sustainable Development Fund”. The Fund facilitated creation of a long-term regional development strategy and secured financing to help turn local community’s dreams into reality. Sustainable tourism, as a low-impact industry, has become the key driver of local socio-economic growth and a guarantee of environmental quality in the region. Although the outflow hasn’t stopped completely, it remarkably slowed down! In just 4 years, Katon-Karagay’s sustainable development model has become the base of the rural development strategy of Kazakhstan and is now being replicated all around the country. While our approch might not sound “innovative” in the Western world, such a bottom-up and 100% locally-driven sustainable development model is a truly unique concept for Kazakhstan and the whole Central Asian region.
Keywords: community based tourism , local engagement , destination management, labour retention