No I am not taking the Michael, but how many people would link the exotic allure of Samarkand and Macclesfield? Yet there is a strong link between the two which has been reinforced by the admission of the town into the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) Silk Road Programme. For all of you outside the north west who don’t know, Macclesfield was the centre of the silk industry in the UK. (even the local football team is known as the silkmen) and is home to the Silk Heritage Foundation. With 4 museums and linked shops, this heritage is important to the growth of the town. Just as it was to Samarkand, today in modern day Uzbekistan.
The Silk Road Programme is a group of 26 countries who are linked by the medieval routes that transported silk back from China. Marco Polo would have been just one of thousands of travellers who, each year, would have brought back the goods of the east for the west to buy, although he wouldn’t have known it by that name. A few years ago those countries through which merchants would have passed set up, with the help of UNWTO, a group to develop tourism. Now the action plan which will make travel along the route easier (imagine the potential number of customs checks and border crossings that exist now) is being put together. Just as our ancestors would have marvelled at stories of what we call the silk road, this programme will remind us of the feel it once provoked. And Macclesfield will be part of it.
To join the programme, Macclesfield had to undergo inspections from UNWTO and will now take part in the drafting of the action plan along with all the other nations and interested groups. In years to come could Macclesfield be seen by Samarkand residents as exotic as we see their city?
The programme plans not only to make it easier for us to travel the road and develop tourism in nations through which the road passes but to develop tourism with a sustainable face. As Marco Polo might have stayed with local inhabitants when he journeyed, will we be able to do the same in the future so we can see life as it is today? What do we know of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan? Very little I expect unless you are an adventure traveller. But then China was difficult to travel in 40 years ago just as North Korea and Myanmar are today. In the next few years the hope is that the Silk Road will be firmly on the travellers’ map.