(MENAFN - Asia Times)
Russia's new e-visa system has attracted almost 2,000 visitors to Vladivostok in six weeks, which isn't enough to significantly boost tourism spending, but operators in the city say they are encouraged by the numbers so far.
China applicants made up almost half of users, followed by Japanese for the single entry e-visa that can be applied for online at , officials in the Ministry for Development of Far East Russia told Asia Times.
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Almost 2,000 tourists in six weeks is a decent result, according to the president of the Far Eastern Association of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers, Roman Ivanishchev, who said with the introduction of a simplified visa system, tourist numbers will grow.
'Our country is quite difficult to visit from the point of view of obtaining a visa. Those two thousand issues confirm that the new system is of interest and gaining popularity. It opens the region up to last-minute travelers," he said.
Once issued, the visa must be used within 30 days and upon arrival allows 8 days in Vladivostok. The electronic visa is issued free of charge for arrivals at Vladivostok port or the city's Knevichi airport.
It's only valid in the region of Far East Russia, where Vladivostok is located.
The e-visa tourism benefits are likely to become more evident when it's valid in other territories of Far East Russia, said Olga Gurevich, chairman of the public expert council for the development of tourism in Primorsky Krai.
That may happen on January 1 next year as the government is expected to expand the e-visa system to the Kamchatka and Sakhalin territories of the Russian Far East through other arrival points.
To use the single-entry business, tourist or humanitarian e-visa, an application is required no earlier than 20 days and no later than four days before the expected date of entry into Vladivostok.
Citizens of 18 countries qualify: Brunei, India, China, North Korea, Mexico, Singapore, Japan, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco, UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey.
According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, since August 1 some 1,974 electronic visas have been issued to citizens of 14 countries. After Chinese and Japanese, Morocco nationals were the largest group of applicants.
'The first person to receive an electronic visa was a citizen of Saudi Arabia,' an official with the Development of Far East ministry told Asia Times.
Daria Guseva, the director of the Tourist Information Center of Primorsky Krai, said the simplified visa regime opens new opportunities.
'The possibility of obtaining an electronic visa gives us new options. Thanks to this system, we can invite people from Qatar, Brunei and other countries to partner in ventures that would have been hard to do before.
"Now, through our partners in Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong, which have transit hubs in air routes, we can become part of the cross-border regional transport routes,' Guseva told Asia Times.
Tourists from Japan showed the most interest in the new visa regime.
"Now we are working in Japan with tour operators to maximize group visitor numbers using this simplified visa and the response that we have received from tour operators so far has been very strong," said Guseva.