Indian tour groups may get visa-free access to Russia

Indian tourists are impressed by sparkling Moscow and elegant St Petersburg. Source: TASS

Indian tourists are impressed by sparkling Moscow and elegant St Petersburg. Source: TASS

With Rostourism expecting the number of tourists visiting Russia to rise, it thinks that visa requirements will be dropped for tour group travelers coming from India, Iran, and Vietnam. So far, such an arrangement exists only with China.

Rostourism expects the numbers of tourists coming to Russia will increase and thinks tourist groups from India, Iran and Vietnam will be exempt from requiring visas to visit Russia. The share of incoming tourists from these countries to Russia is only 2.5%, but should the visa legislation be liberalized, this figure could grow by 50%.

Rostourism is considering the possibility of concluding intergovernmental agreements on visa-free tour group travel with India, Iran, and Vietnam, Nikolay Korolev, deputy head of the agency said Friday, May 6.

Svetlana Sergeeva, representative of Rostourism told Kommersant that for now, no official documents have been prepared, but the agency fully supports liberalization of the visa regime. Korolev said a mutual visa-free regime for group tours will contribute to the growth of tourist flow to Russia from India, Vietnam, and Iran. Tour operators agree.

According Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Association of Russian Tour Operators, visa liberalization could increase the number of tourists coming from these countries by 50%. Citizens of India, Vietnam, and Iran have to follow standard procedures now to get Russian visas.

Korolev noted that Rostourism was basing this prediction on the successful experience of signing an agreement on mutual visa-free group travel with China. This agreement was concluded in 2000, but the programme took a long time to implement, Lomidze said, and began working only in 2006-2007. Rights for visa-free group travel of Chinese tourists to Russia, and vice versa, have been granted only to Chinese tour operators accredited by Rostourism. China is the only country with which such an agreement has been concluded.

Formally, agreements on simplified tourism exchange procedures are in place between Russia and Poland and Norway, but in both these cases, it is limited to inhabitants of the border zones (up to 30 km) of Kaliningrad and Murmansk Oblasts and the neighbouring countries, which can cross the border using special permits.

At the tourism market in March, the issue of liberalization of Russian visa legislation was much discussed. Several inbound tour operators sent a letter to Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, asking him to consider the possibility of introducing electronic visas and free transit through Russia for Europeans. According to their calculations, this could increase the flow of tourists into the country by 30-40%. In late April, Senator Igor Chernyshev introduced a draft bill in the State Duma that would implement a system of electronic tourist visas for EU and US citizens. This document has been sent to the State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation.

Rosstat figures show that in the first nine months of 2015, the number of foreign travelers to Russia increased by 13.4% ; the most significant increase since 2008. Out of 2.5 million foreign tourists visiting Russia, India’s share was 0.9% (compared to the same period in the preceding year, their number increased by 67%), Iran’s share was 1.3% (+ 111%), Vietnam’s share – 0.3 % (+ 53%). Assuming that introduction of mutual visa-free group travel with these countries would raise the number of tourists by 50%, then the total inbound tourist flow to Russia could increase by more than 1%.

First published in Russian by Kommersant.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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