Artist's rendering of what the future may hold
Despite all of the world's financial woes, "mega resorts" continue to be churned out at a maddening pace. Indoor skiing in the middle of the desert, islands shaped like nations, and the world's first underwater luxury hotel getting underway in Dubai.
An onslaught of glitz in the form of luxury casino hotels in Macau. Abu Dhabi's in the midst of constructing a new Destination Village (adjacent to the equally as impressive Heritage Village), designed to host yachting fleets from around the world, while serving as an interactive point of entertainment and shopping for the whole family. Now, next up vying for the title of World's Most Amazing Place: Turkmenistan?
If the thought of this is skewing heavily towards the disbelieving side of your brain, you are not alone. After all, it is certainly a daunting task to muster up confidence in a land where the cards are stacked so heavily against it. Awaza is poised to be the central point of this megalopolis with a most unfortunate location. There are no international flights in and out of its airport, as securing a visa proves to be extremely challenging. Clean water does not flow easily. The overly ornately-decorated high-rise hotels line the shores of the Caspian Sea whose temperatures are almost never conducive to swimming are a stark contrast to the Soviet-era-style buildings, and do nothing to mask the aromas from the nearby oil refinery.
Expensive river cruise vessels sit idle and spas that tout magically restorative treatments sit empty, and the level of service overall is in serious need of elevation. Global tour operators won't even touch it. Yet in spite of all of this, there are plans for mega-expansion in true Vegas fashion with seven new properties and opulent Western European-inspired waterscapes and attractions.
The regional tourist board websites however will regale you with stories of the Caspian & Awaza Resorts' long history of delivering a truly unprecedented experiences, touting their popularity with the global elite across the handful of 5-star hotels that line the shores of the port, boasting such extra amenities as internet access, outdoor swimming pools, face treatments and even hairdressers, which to the rest of the luxury travel world should just be standard. One Turkmenistan region proudly lists a visit to a graveyard as one of the area's most beloved attractions.
Where does Turkmenistan go from here? Long shrouded in secrecy and known best for the authoritative rule under which it labors, it doesn't appear to be the likeliest candidate to bear the title of World's Best, though it's obviously a curiously well-financed and persistent project.
Perhaps, a better question is whether the world can even handle another mega destination resort? In these trying economic times, the obvious answer should be "no," but everyone loves a climactic drama. If they pull this off, it will go down in history as one of the greatest travel-related underdog stories of all time. Watch this Turkmenistani space.