Tourism in Mongolia is big business, but why? Why is this industry so important and how should it best be managed? Read on to find out…
Tourism in Mongolia
Mongolia, a land often associated with its legendary nomadic heritage, stands as a testament to the harmonious coexistence of age-old traditions and vast, untouched landscapes. From the rolling dunes of the Gobi Desert to the bustling streets of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia offers a travel experience that’s both enriching and unique. In this article, we’ll journey through the heart of Mongolia’s tourism offerings, exploring a country where the spirit of the Great Khan resonates amidst the echoes of modernity.
Geographical overview of Mongolia
Mongolia is a landlocked country located in East and Central Asia, bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east, and west. The country has an area of 1.56 million square kilometres (603,000 square miles), making it the 18th largest country in the world.
Mongolia is largely divided into three regions: the Gobi Desert in the south, the steppe region in the centre, and the mountainous region in the north and west. The Gobi Desert, covering an area of 500,000 square kilometres (193,000 square miles), is one of the world’s largest deserts and is known for its extreme temperatures, ranging from -40°C (-40°F) in winter to over 40°C (104°F) in summer.
The steppe region, covering roughly 80% of the country, consists of grassy plains and is the traditional home of nomadic herders who raise livestock such as horses, yaks, sheep, and goats. This region is also home to the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, as well as many other cities and towns.
The mountainous region in the north and west includes the Altai Mountains, which stretch across the western border with China and Russia, and the Khangai Mountains in the central part of the country. This region is known for its rugged terrain, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife, including wild horses, ibex, and snow leopards.
Mongolia’s climate is characterised by long, cold winters and short, cool summers, with temperatures varying widely depending on the region. The country is also prone to harsh weather conditions such as sandstorms and blizzards.
The tourism industry in Mongolia
Mongolia’s tourism industry has been steadily growing in recent years, as more travellers discover the country’s unique cultural and natural attractions. The country’s vast landscapes, rich history, and traditional nomadic culture make it an appealing destination for adventure seekers, cultural enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike.
One of Mongolia’s biggest draws is its stunning natural scenery, including the Gobi Desert, the Altai Mountains, and the vast grasslands of the steppe region. These areas offer opportunities for activities such as hiking, horseback riding, camel trekking, and camping.
Mongolia’s cultural attractions are also a major draw for tourists. The country’s history stretches back thousands of years, with evidence of early human habitation dating back to the Stone Age. Visitors can explore ancient cities, monasteries, and other cultural sites, and learn about Mongolia’s rich history and traditional way of life.
The country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, is a hub for cultural activities, with museums, theatres, and galleries showcasing traditional Mongolian arts and crafts. Visitors can also enjoy traditional music and dance performances, sample local cuisine, and shop for handmade souvenirs.
Mongolia’s tourism industry is still developing, and the infrastructure and services available to tourists vary widely depending on the region. However, the government has identified tourism as a key sector for economic development, and efforts are underway to improve facilities and services for visitors.
Overall, Mongolia’s unique combination of natural beauty and cultural heritage make it an increasingly popular destination for travellers looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Statistics about tourism in Mongolia
Here are some of the most current statistics available and the time of publication about tourism in Mongolia:
- In 2019, Mongolia welcomed a total of 609,621 international visitors, representing a 9.3% increase from the previous year.
- The largest source markets for tourism in Mongolia are China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
- The tourism industry contributes around 5% to Mongolia’s GDP, and the government has set a target to increase this to 8% by 2025.
- There are over 700 tourism-related companies operating in Mongolia, including tour operators, accommodation providers, and transport services.
- The most popular activities for tourists in Mongolia are trekking, cultural tours, horseback riding, and adventure activities such as off-roading and camel riding.
- Ulaanbaatar is the main entry point for international visitors, with the majority arriving by air at Chinggis Khaan International Airport.
- The average length of stay for international tourists in Mongolia is around 10 days.
- The majority of tourists travel to Mongolia during the summer months, from June to August.
- The government of Mongolia has identified tourism as a priority sector for development and has implemented policies and programs to support its growth.
Most popular tourist attractions in Mongolia
Mongolia has a wealth of attractions for visitors to explore, from its stunning natural landscapes to its rich cultural heritage. Here are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Mongolia:
- Gobi Desert: The Gobi is one of the world’s largest deserts and a popular destination for tourists looking to experience Mongolia’s rugged beauty. Visitors can explore the desert by camel or jeep, and see attractions such as the Khongoryn Els sand dunes, the Flaming Cliffs, and the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains.
- Khuvsgul Lake: This pristine alpine lake in northern Mongolia is a popular destination for nature lovers, offering opportunities for hiking, boating, and fishing. Visitors can also learn about the traditional way of life of the local Dukha people, who rely on reindeer herding for their livelihoods.
- Terelj National Park: Located just a short drive from Ulaanbaatar, Terelj National Park is a popular destination for day trips and weekend getaways. The park offers opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and camping, and features attractions such as the Turtle Rock and the Aryabal Temple.
- Karakorum/Erdene Zuu Monastery: Karakorum was the capital of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, and the site of many important historical events. Today, visitors can explore the ruins of the ancient city and the nearby Erdene Zuu Monastery, which was built in the 16th century and is one of Mongolia’s most important Buddhist sites.
- Ulaanbaatar: Mongolia’s capital city is a vibrant cultural hub, with museums, galleries, and theatres showcasing the country’s rich history and artistic traditions. Visitors can also explore the city’s many restaurants, shops, and nightlife venues.
- Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park: This national park in central Mongolia is home to the dormant Khorgo volcano and the Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake. Visitors can hike to the summit of the volcano for panoramic views, or explore the surrounding grasslands and forests.
- Tsaatan Community: The Tsaatan are a small ethnic group of reindeer herders who live in the remote taiga forests of northern Mongolia. Visitors can learn about their traditional way of life and take part in activities such as reindeer sledding and hunting.
- Hustai National Park: Located just a short drive from Ulaanbaatar, Hustai National Park is home to the world’s only wild population of Przewalski’s horses, as well as many other species of wildlife. Visitors can go on guided tours to see the horses and explore the park’s beautiful grasslands and hills.
- Orkhon Valley: The Orkhon Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its natural beauty and historical significance. Visitors can explore the ruins of ancient cities and temples, including the Tuvkhun Monastery and the Orkhon Waterfall.
- Altai Mountains: The Altai Mountains stretch across the western border of Mongolia, offering opportunities for hiking, mountaineering, and wildlife watching. Visitors can also learn about the traditional way of life of the local Kazakh people, who are known for their falconry and handicrafts.
Most popular types of tourism in Mongolia
Mongolia offers a diverse range of tourism activities and experiences that cater to different interests and preferences. Here are some of the most popular types of tourism in Mongolia:
- Adventure Tourism: Mongolia’s vast landscapes offer endless opportunities for adventure activities such as trekking, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking, and off-roading. The Gobi Desert is particularly popular for its sand dunes and unique landscapes that offer a thrilling experience for adventure seekers.
- Cultural Tourism: Mongolia has a rich cultural heritage that dates back to the time of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. Visitors can learn about traditional nomadic lifestyles, visit Buddhist monasteries and shrines, attend local festivals, and explore ancient ruins and archaeological sites.
- Wildlife Tourism: Mongolia is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including endangered species such as the snow leopard, the Gobi bear, and the Przewalski’s horse. Visitors can go on guided wildlife tours and nature walks to see these animals in their natural habitats.
- Ecotourism: Mongolia has a pristine environment with a unique ecosystem that is worth preserving. Ecotourism activities in Mongolia include bird watching, nature walks, and camping trips to explore the flora and fauna of the region.
- Spiritual Tourism: Mongolia is a predominantly Buddhist country, with many ancient monasteries and sacred sites scattered throughout the country. Visitors can visit these sites to learn about Buddhism and experience spiritual practices such as meditation and prayer.
- Culinary Tourism: Mongolian cuisine is known for its hearty meat dishes, dairy products, and traditional beverages such as airag (fermented mare’s milk). Visitors can learn about local culinary traditions and attend cooking classes to experience the flavours of Mongolia.
- Photography Tourism: Mongolia’s vast landscapes and unique culture offer many opportunities for photography enthusiasts. Visitors can capture stunning images of natural landmarks, wildlife, traditional festivals, and cultural ceremonies.
- Health and Wellness Tourism: Mongolia’s natural hot springs and traditional medicine practices such as acupuncture and herbal remedies have made it a popular destination for health and wellness tourism. Visitors can relax and rejuvenate in a natural spa environment while learning about the traditional healing practices of the region.
- Educational Tourism: Mongolia’s unique history, culture, and environment provide opportunities for educational tourism, particularly for students and researchers interested in topics such as archaeology, anthropology, and environmental studies.
- Business Tourism: Mongolia’s booming economy and strategic location make it an ideal destination for business travellers. The country has a growing number of business hotels, conference centres, and networking events catering to the needs of corporate visitors.
Economic impacts of tourism in Mongolia
Tourism has become an important industry in Mongolia and has contributed significantly to the country’s economy in recent years. Here are some of the economic impacts of tourism in Mongolia:
- Employment: Tourism has created employment opportunities in various sectors such as hospitality, transportation, and tour guiding. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism in Mongolia employed over 130,000 people in 2019.
- Foreign exchange earnings: Tourism generates foreign exchange earnings through the spending of international tourists on accommodation, food, transportation, and other tourist activities. According to the National Statistics Office of Mongolia, the tourism industry contributed 6.8% of the country’s GDP in 2019.
- Regional development: Tourism has the potential to stimulate economic development in remote and rural areas of the country. Tourists often visit areas outside of the major cities, which can help to diversify the economy and promote regional development.
- Infrastructure development: The growth of tourism in Mongolia has led to the development of new infrastructure such as hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, and transportation services. This infrastructure development can benefit not only tourists but also local residents.
- Entrepreneurship: Tourism in Mongolia has created opportunities for entrepreneurship and small business development. Many locals have started their own businesses, such as guesthouses, tour companies, and souvenir shops, to cater to the needs of tourists.
- Government revenue: Tourism also generates revenue for the government through taxes, fees, and permits. The government can use this revenue to invest in infrastructure development and other public services.
Overall, tourism has had a positive impact on Mongolia’s economy by creating employment, generating foreign exchange earnings, promoting regional development, and stimulating entrepreneurship and infrastructure development.
Social impacts of tourism in Mongolia
Tourism can have both positive and negative social impacts on the host community. Here are some of the social impacts of tourism in Mongolia:
- Cultural exchange: Tourism provides opportunities for cultural exchange between tourists and locals. Tourists can learn about the local culture, customs, and traditions, while locals can share their knowledge and experiences with tourists.
- Preservation of cultural heritage: Tourism in Mongolia can promote the preservation of cultural heritage by raising awareness about the importance of preserving historical sites and monuments.
- Employment: Tourism can provide employment opportunities for locals, which can improve their standard of living and contribute to poverty reduction.
- Community development: Tourism can stimulate community development by providing funds for the development of local infrastructure, such as schools, healthcare facilities, and public parks.
- Social tension: Tourism can also create social tension between tourists and locals, especially when there is a clash of values or expectations. For example, tourists may not respect local customs and traditions, or may behave inappropriately, which can cause resentment among locals.
- Environmental impact: Tourism in Mongolia can have a negative impact on the environment, which can in turn affect the social well-being of the local community. For example, pollution and environmental degradation can affect the health and well-being of locals.
- Inequality: Tourism can exacerbate social inequalities, especially if it only benefits a small segment of the local community. For example, if only a few individuals or companies benefit from tourism, it can create a wider gap between the rich and poor.
Overall, tourism can have both positive and negative social impacts on the host community. It is important for tourism development to be planned and managed in a sustainable manner to minimise negative impacts and maximise positive outcomes for the local community.
Environmental impacts of tourism in Mongolia
Tourism can have significant environmental impacts, both positive and negative, on the host destination. Here are some of the environmental impacts of tourism in Mongolia:
- Natural resource depletion: Tourism in Mongolia can contribute to the depletion of natural resources such as water, land, and energy. This can lead to overuse of these resources, which can cause environmental degradation and impact the local ecosystem.
- Pollution: Tourism in Mongolia can generate pollution, including air and water pollution, waste generation, and noise pollution. This can negatively impact the local environment and harm the health of both tourists and locals.
- Wildlife and ecosystem impact: Tourism can have a negative impact on wildlife and the local ecosystem, especially when tourists engage in activities such as hunting, fishing, and off-road driving. These activities can disrupt the natural habitat and cause damage to the local flora and fauna.
- Climate change: Tourism contributes to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, accommodation, and tourist activities. Climate change can have significant negative impacts on the local environment, including changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, and sea levels.
- Conservation efforts: Tourism can contribute to the conservation of natural areas and wildlife by raising awareness of the importance of protecting the environment and supporting conservation efforts.
- Sustainable tourism: Sustainable tourism practices can help to minimise negative environmental impacts and maximise positive outcomes. Sustainable tourism practices include responsible use of natural resources, reducing waste and pollution, and supporting local conservation efforts.
Overall, tourism can have both positive and negative environmental impacts on the host destination. It is important for tourism development to be planned and managed in a sustainable manner to minimise negative impacts and promote the conservation of natural resources and the local ecosystem.
FAQs about tourism in Mongolia
Now that we know a bit more about tourism in Mongolia, lets answer some of the most frequently asked questions on this topic:
Do I need a visa to travel to Mongolia?
Yes, most visitors to Mongolia need a visa. You can apply for a tourist visa at a Mongolian embassy or consulate in your home country, or through an online e-visa system.
What is the best time to visit Mongolia?
The best time to visit Mongolia is during the summer months of June to August, when the weather is warm and dry. However, if you are interested in winter activities such as dog sledding and ice fishing, then the best time to visit is from December to February.
What is the currency used in Mongolia?
The currency used in Mongolia is the Mongolian Tugrik (MNT). US dollars and Chinese Yuan are also widely accepted.
What are some must-see destinations in Mongolia?
Some of the must-see destinations in Mongolia include the Gobi Desert, Lake Khovsgol, the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, the ancient city of Karakorum, and the Flaming Cliffs.
Is it safe to travel to Mongolia?
Yes, Mongolia is generally a safe country for tourists, with a low crime rate. However, visitors should take normal safety precautions and be aware of potential hazards such as extreme weather conditions and natural disasters.
What are the best activities to do in Mongolia?
Some of the best activities to do in Mongolia include horseback riding, hiking, camping, visiting traditional nomadic families, exploring ancient ruins, and experiencing traditional Mongolian culture such as throat singing and traditional wrestling.
What is the food like in Mongolia?
Traditional Mongolian cuisine consists mainly of meat, dairy products, and bread. Some popular dishes include buuz (steamed meat dumplings), khuushuur (deep-fried meat pastry), and airag (fermented mare’s milk).
Can I travel independently in Mongolia or do I need a guide?
Independent travel is possible in Mongolia, but it is recommended to hire a local guide or join a tour for safety reasons and to better navigate the country’s remote and rugged terrain.
What is the local culture like in Mongolia?
Mongolian culture is deeply influenced by nomadic traditions and Buddhist beliefs. Hospitality and respect for elders are highly valued in Mongolian culture, and visitors are often welcomed into traditional nomadic families to experience their way of life.
What is the language spoken in Mongolia?
The official language of Mongolia is Mongolian, which is written in the Cyrillic alphabet. English is not widely spoken outside of major tourist areas, so it can be helpful to learn some basic Mongolian phrases before your trip.
To conclude- Tourism in Mongolia
So, that sums up this article about tourism in Mongolia. As we conclude our exploration of Mongolia’s vast and varied tourism offerings, it becomes unequivocally clear that this nation stands as a beacon of unspoiled beauty and deep-rooted traditions. From its nomadic heartlands to its evolving urban centres, Mongolia offers a unique tapestry of experiences, deftly weaving its ancient heritage with the threads of modernity. In the grand tapestry of global tourism, Mongolia emerges as a destination both timeless in its allure and forward-looking in its embrace of the future.
If you enjoyed this article about tourism in Mongolia, I am sure you will like these too: