Hospitality: for whom Russia is ready to simplify visa regime

Tour operators are asked

At the moment Russia is negotiating with 40 countries about the visa facilitation and 24 on full repeal, said in early March, the official representative of Russian foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova. To expand the list of countries she refused. Another representative of the Ministry confirmed that such a question “is indeed on the agenda”, “the negotiations are in the active phase”, but the process is not completed, so the country is not known.

The Foreign Ministry statement was made after nine tour operators published an open letter to the Minister Sergey Lavrov: the company, including “Intourist” and “wind Rose”, proposed to simplify visa regime for foreigners, for example for transit tourists, as well as to introduce visas at the border. According to their estimates, this will lead to a rise in visitors from Western countries on average by 30%.

Both in Tbilisi and Tallinn

The letter was signed by Lavrov, tour operators Intourist, “wind rose”, “My CU”, “Tari Tour”, a network of city sightseeing bus City Sightseeing, providing ships rental company “Astra Marin”, service of booking of hotels “Academservice”, the flotilla Radisson Royal, a tourist, a diversified holding “Group of UTS”: all of these companies occupy about 50% of the market of entrance tourism in Russia, said the head of the Committee of the Association of tour operators of Russia (ATOR) on inbound tourism, Deputy General Director of “Academservice” Alexander Kurnosov.

According to the companies, most foreigners refuse to go to Russia at the stage of obtaining a Russian visa is a time — consuming, costly and very time-consuming process. “According to the Washington Cato Institute, the number of “refuseniks” reaches 90% of the original applicants. We get only the “tough nuts”, determined to see Russia, often elderly people. Young middle-class Europeans prefer to go without the hassle of the visa Tbilisi, Lviv, Tallinn or Burgas than in St. Petersburg, Kazan, Karelia or Sochi,” the letter reads.

The head of the Federal Agency for tourism (Rostourism) Oleg Safonov then offered 3-4 times to $20-30 to reduce the cost of a single entry visa to visit Russia. In this case, the Federal tourism Agency expects to increase inbound tourist flow by 20-30%, according to the response agencies on request : this will ensure the influx into the economy of approximately $6 billion and will contribute “to increase the volume of exports of services”.

“Simplification and reduction of visa formalities is one of the strategic decisions on the development of inbound tourism in the Russian Federation pursued currently by the Federal tourism Agency”, — quoted Safonov, “Interfax”.

According to Rostourism, in the first nine months of 2015 visited Russia to 2.54 million foreign tourists by 13% more than in the same period of 2014 and almost as many as during the whole previous year (2.58 million people). The number of Russian tourists traveling abroad, by contrast, was seriously reduced: for the same nine months by 31% to 9.99 million.

Not for Americans

According to the head of the Committee of the Association of tour operators of Russia (ATOR) on inbound tourism Alexander Kurnosova, who applied to the Foreign company had hoped for simplification of visa requirements for tourists from Europe and North America. But he doubts that the countries of these regions are present in the list of 24 States, which said Zakharova.

With the US visa regime was softened for the last time in 2011 citizens of Russia and the United States received the right to sue for a three-year multiple entry visas, about some new steps towards liberalization neither Moscow nor Washington is not mentioned.

Discussion of the prospects of visa-free regime between Russia and the EU was conducted from summer 2002 to complete this process was planned to 2008-mu, then the timing shifted for 2011-2012. Closest to the abolition of restrictions on the parties reached in 2010: the mutual waiver of visas was a major topic of the December Council, EU — Russia, and before that the Kremlin has proposed a draft agreement — free visits and short tours. But then it was limited to a discussion of the project.

With the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, 6 March 2014, the European Council (summit of heads of state and government of the EU) decided to freeze negotiations with Russia on visa-free regime, said the head of press and information Department of EU delegation in Russia Soren Liborius.

As explained a source in European diplomacy for the EU visa issue is a tool of “soft power”, which, however, can be used only once. So the Russians were able to enter the EU, Moscow’s relations with the European capitals should be “just perfect”, he says. Now Brussels has given the green light to a visa-free regime with Georgia and Ukraine, citizens of Moldova do not require visas for travel in EU from April 2014.

Apparently, the remaining countries mentioned in the statement of the Foreign Ministry, are further removed from Russia, for example in Africa, suggests Kurnosov from ATOR. To say that the tourist flow from these countries to Russia will rise, it is premature, he believes that now it is less than 20 thousand people per year.

A course to the East

On the agenda remain at the Moscow talks on easing the visa regime with China and India. Now the Chinese visa Russians get when entering the country, Indian visas are issued online.

Beijing is interested in further easing of the visa regime, until it is repealed. About it in November 2015, said the head of the Department of Europe and Asia, the Chinese Foreign Ministry GUI Zunyu. He noted an increase in the number of Chinese tourists to Russia, but at the same time recognized that a reverse tourist flow in recent times is reduced. For the first nine months of 2015 in China drove less than half of Russian tourists than last year: 285 thousand 609 thousand against the Total number who visited the people’s Republic of China the Russians fell 30%, to 1.49 million to 1.05 million

In December 2015 during the visit to Moscow of Indian Prime Minister Narendra modi, Russia had already simplified its visa regime for Indian businessmen: if earlier to obtain a business visa required invitation letter from authorized organizations (there are four on each side), now you only need an invitation from a Russian legal entity.

The representative of the Russian Embassy in Delhi Mikhail Vorobyov even then did not exclude that the parties shall conclude the agreement on mutual extradition of tourist visas for a period of six months, but while negotiations are ongoing.

In the embassies of India and China Russia has not responded to a request to work on easing visa requirements.

This work is being done with Japan. Despite the difficult relations between Moscow and Tokyo (the territorial claims of the Japanese party), in September 2015 during the visit of the head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry by Fumio Kishida to Russia, the sides agreed to continue discussions on enhancing mutual tourism and business visits, said the representative of the Embassy of Japan in Russia Kazuyoshi onisii.

In December 2015, the Russian Ambassador to Japan Evgeny Afanasiev said Russia is ready to simplify visa regime with Tokyo.

Other areas

In late February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow “is interested in the promotion of tourism and are ready for further progress in the liberalization of the visa regime” with the Arab States.

In November of 2015 to cancel the visa regime for owners of diplomatic passports of Russia proposed the Sudan, the same step at the same time Russia has agreed with Kuwait. In December, Lavrov said that the work on visa facilitation for businessmen of Bahrain.

But the tourist flow between Russia and the Arab countries cannot be considered significant. For example, in Qatar, according to statistics from the Federal Agency for tourism for the first nine months of 2015, left 36 thousand Russians. A leader among Arab States in terms of attractiveness for Russian tourists have become the United Arab Emirates went almost 240 thousand tourists (to enter the country on a visa can be filled out online). Data on the number of tourists to Russia from Arab countries are not reflected in the statistics of the Federal tourism Agency.

After the conclusion of a “nuclear deal” with Iran and the subsequent removal of international sanctions intensified dialogue on visa facilitation and on the Islamic Republic. In November 2015 during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Iran was signed the intergovernmental agreement on the facilitation of travel for businessmen, scientists and students — it entered into force on 6 February. As told attache of the Russian Embassy in Iran Andrei Ganenko, the issue of introducing a visa-free regime at the moment is not considered, no further steps on easing visa requirements for Iran now is not planned.

With regard to Latin American destinations, at the end of 2015, it was reported that the Russian government has approved a draft agreement on visa-free regime with Bolivia is the only country on the continent, demanding from the Russians entry documents. Nevertheless in Embassy of Bolivia in Moscow are unable to provide information about the state of negotiations on the abolition of visas.

In the Asia-Pacific region the Russians do not need visas to enter Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia. From popular tourist countries in the region visa-free regime not only with Cambodia (in 2014 the country was visited by 130 thousand Russian tourists). But the representative of the press service of the Embassy of Cambodia said that now no negotiations on the easing or abolition of visa regime with Russia.

The test for South Korea

Last year was one of the most difficult for the Russian travel industry: the fall of the outbound tourist flow because of the desire of Russians to save recorded almost all popular destinations and leaders in Turkey (in January—September of 2015 visited 2,43 million tourists from Russia) and Egypt (1.57 million) — all were “closed”. In November 2015 after the attack, Turkish military aircraft Russian military aircraft Moscow imposed against Ankara’s sanctions, recommending operators to cancel tours to Turkey. A little earlier were suspended Charter flights to Egypt — after the crash of the Russian airliner A321 carrying Russian tourists.

Co-owner TEZ Tour Alexander Burtin in an interview in February, acknowledged that market imploded “more than doubled”. The General Director of tour operator Pegas Anna Podgornaya said that “shortage of demand” major tour operators are diversifying the business, covering all directions — inbound, outbound and domestic tourism.

TEZ Tour for three years developing its tourism, said PR Director of the company Akhanov Larissa: “We began to work on the reception of tourists in St. Petersburg. Today the ruble prices give the opportunity to relax cheap, build attractive tourism product prices. Weak ruble bad for leaving, but good for entry and travel within the country”. Now the main part of the city, taken by TEZ Tour, are tourists from China, CIS and Europe — Germany and France.

To develop inbound tourism in Russia, it is necessary to provide a number of factors such as the softening and simplification of the visa regime, security and the General atmosphere of hospitality in the country, infrastructure, the provision of a sufficient number of hotel rooms in different price segments, adds Akhanov.

“We want to say that the market of inbound tourism in Russia is developing sluggishly — growing at 4-5% in real terms per year. This is largely due to the visa regime of Russia”, said Kurnosov. According to him, there is a good example: once in 2014, Russia and South Korea abolished the visa regime, tourist flow increased significantly — from 40 thousand tourists in 2013 to 70 thousand by the end of 2015.

Agree with him and the General Director of “Intourist” Leonid Marmer: the abolition of visas will increase the number of tourists from European countries by 25-30% in the first year, he told the newspaper “Kommersant”.