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Inflow of European tourists to Russia may decrease in half due to visa problems

February 22, 2013, 11:46 UTC+3

There is also serious concern over France. Last year, the number of tourists from the country decreased ten percent

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The inflow of holidaymakers from Europe to Russia this year may decrease in half, a source of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta. First of all, the question is one of Spain and Germany. The association is concerned over the number of tourists from the countries most of all.

There is also serious concern over France. Last year, the number of tourists from the country decreased ten percent, and it may decline 20 percent more this year.

Such rates are also expected for Finland and Estonia. Alarming signals are received from Portugal, the association's executive director Maya Lomidze said.

Russia is visited by 2,5 million foreign tourists a year, and almost half of them are Europeans.

The reduction of the tourist inflow from Europe is connected with two factors, the association believes. First, visa centres began operating along with Russian consulates in a number of European Union countries last year. Tour operators have no possibility at present to submit documents directly to consulates. As a rule, visa centres are opened in the cases when there is a large number of people leaving the country. The centres have opened, but do not work well. In practice, the first month of work is the most difficult. The staff only begins to work. But in the case of the Russian centres, the situation did not improve in a month, in two months and in five months, Lomidze noted.

According to the expert, the situation is complicated by the fact that Russia changed the regulations for foreign tourists to submit application forms and cancelled group invitations. Formerly, tour operators could fill out application forms and submit them for group tours, but at present, each form is filled by the person individually. The tourist must sign it personally. And if there is a mistake in the form, it must be filled out again. It takes much time, the director explained.

Because of this, for example in Kaliningrad, the number of holidaymakers from Germany has decreased 40 percent, according to the association. The further loss is inevitable. So, sometimes, a visit to Russia is included in a combined tour of Scandinavia, Poland and Russia. German tour operators just exclude Russia from the list, because visas are processed too long, Lomidze noted.

The alternative should remain to improve the situation, the association of Russian tour operators believes. It must be possible for operators to submit documents to a visa centre or a consulate. First, the form must be simplified, and group invitations must be returned. It depends on the Russian Foreign Ministry to take the decisions, Lomidze noted.

Experts remind that the reduction of the tourist inflow from Europe is a negative factor for Russia's economic development, despite the fact that the number of visiting Europeans in the country is too low -- about a million people a year. Nevertheless, they spend about 200 million euros in the country, without the cost of tours taken into account. As for the statements about 10-percent growth of the number of tourists in 2012, it was given by South American countries, China, Turkey and Asian countries -- citizens of countries who have the right for visa-free visits to Russia.

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