Turkmenistan hopes for tourist take-off with $2.3bn bird-shaped air terminal

It has very few visitors and features on few travellers’ bucket list destinations. Indeed, it is notoriously difficult to get a visa to visit Turkmenistan, the central Asian nation, four-fifths of which is covered by desert. But, nevertheless, the country has opened a spectacular $2.3 billion air terminal in the shape of a swooping falcon at Ashgabat International Airport. It is hoping that it will help it become an international transport hub and offset a plunge in traditional revenues from gas exports.

We have all the opportunities to become a transport bridge facilitating economic cooperation between Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and South Asia

President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

The former Soviet republic has traditionally relied on exports of natural gas as its main source of foreign currency and revenue. But a decision by Russia, once the biggest buyer of Turkmen gas, to halt imports has sent the country into economic decline. Undeterred, it has invested billions in terminal, a railroad project connecting Central Asia to Iran, a $2 billion port on the Caspian Sea and a railway through Afghanistan. Perhaps it will mean that Turkmenistan gets more than the current 100,000 tourists a year - after all, Ashgabat holds a Guinness World Record for the highest density of white marble-clad buildings, the largest indoor Ferris wheel and, at 133m, the world’s tallest flagpole.