Businessmen seek to boost tourist industry by canceling entry visas for some Europeans

© Vladimir Fedorenko
Russian Tour Operators are asking the Foreign Ministry to abandon entry visas for citizens of several European countries, saying that this could stimulate tourism and return the favor to nations known for hospitality toward Russians.

In its open letter to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the association says that it would be of great benefit if the authorities scrapped any visa restrictions for citizens of Italy, Spain and Greece.

The visa liberalization measures could be applied to nations that provide us with a large flow of tourists and at the same time have loyal attitude to Russian travelers. These three countries showed maximum attention and care about Russian tourists, they are thinking about tourist relations between our nations,” the association’s executive director, Maya Lomidze, said in comments to TASS.

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She elaborated that the letter had appeared over the concerns that Russia could reply to the introduction of the Visa Information System by the European Union by complicating its own visa application procedures. In particular, the tourist industry is warning that introducing fingerprinting as part of the visa procedure could dramatically slash the number of European tourists in Russia.

The head of the association spoke of the recent situation in the UK, where Russia started to demand biometric information from applicants along with visa forms, and the number of people who wanted to visit Russia immediately dropped by 90 percent.

Russian diplomats have not announced that the tightening of visa rules by the EU would cause reciprocal measures on the Russian side, but Lomidze noted that she and her colleagues were worried by the fact that there had been no official dismissal of the rumors about such measures. “We decided to act as fast as possible because any attempts at a symmetrical answer would have a very negative effect on tourism in Russia,” she said.

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In August, President Vladimir Putin asked the government to study the possibility of simplifying visa procedures for citizens of BRICS countries – China, Brazil, South Africa and India. He also told the ministers to develop ways to promote tourist trips to Russia in the Russian and foreign media.

According to the Russian Union of Tourist Industry, about 1 million foreign tourists visited Russia in the first 9 months of 2015. Most visitors came from China, Germany and Turkey. Citizens of India and Iran were also showing growing interests in trips to Russia.