Russia hatches plan to become top tourist draw

  • Thursday 25, July 2019 01:16 PM
Sharjah24 – AFP: With ambitious plans to become one of the world's top 10 travel destinations, Russia is offering tours off the beaten track and lifting visa restrictions to attract more visitors.
A year after it successfully hosted the World Cup, the ex-Soviet country is looking for new ways to attract international visitors with the goal of more than doubling tourism revenues to $25 billion by 2035.

"Young people will now be able to see Russia in a way their parents could not," Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Association of Russian Tour Operators said.

Russia's rich cultural heritage and its spectacular scenery ranging from subtropical Black Sea resorts to Siberia's Lake Baikal and the volcanoes of Kamchatka make the country an obvious draw for visitors.

But the difficulty of obtaining visas, a lack of contemporary-style accommodation and transport links outside the main cities still put off many visitors.

Nearly 25 million tourists visited Russia last year, making it the world's 16th most popular destination, according to the World Tourism Organisation. They largely came from the ex-Soviet bloc and China.

During last summer's World Cup, Russia offered visa-free entry for international fans and Lomidze said the tourism sector had hoped for a substantial boost from the tournament played in 11 Russian cities.

"But the effect of the World Cup was practically reduced to zero by the eternal problems with visas," she said.

Apparently aware of the problem, President Vladimir Putin has ordered the government to introduce electronic visas, which are free of charge and issued quickly, for citizens of a number of countries.

Electronic visas will come into force in October for stays of up to eight days in the former imperial capital of Saint Petersburg and the surrounding region, though Russia has not yet said which countries' citizens can apply.

From July, there has been a similar deal for travellers from 53 countries visiting the Western exclave of Kaliningrad, formerly part of Germany.

Since 2017, nationals of 18 countries have been eligible to receive free e-visas to visit Russia's Far East including the Kamchatka region where tourists can ski and trek in pristine landscapes.