Russia may offer visa-free entry for tourist groups from India, Brazil and South Africa as fellow members of the BRICS group of countries, President Vladimir Putin said.
Global competition to attract foreign tourists is tough and Russia has lagged behind significantly in developing infrastructure and services, Putin told a meeting of the State Council on Monday in Yalta, Crimea. Russia’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March last year prompted U.S. and European Union sanctions that have helped tip the Russian economy into its first recession since 2009.
“Liberalizing the visa regime almost always leads to an increase in tourist inflows” and it’s worth considering an extension of visa-free travel already enjoyed by tour groups from China to other BRICS countries, Putin said. Visits from Israel doubled after visas were abolished, while those from Turkey grew 41 percent, he said.
The ruble has tumbled 45 percent against the dollar in the past 12 months, the world’s worst-performing currency among more than 150 tracked by Bloomberg, amid a slide in oil prices and the impact of sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine. Amid the worst international tensions since the Cold War, tourism numbers from the EU fell in the first quarter, while Russians hit hard by the currency’s decline also cut back foreign travel.
The ruble’s decline makes Russia more attractive as a destination, while domestic tourism grew by almost 30 percent in 2014 as Russians priced out of travel abroad took holidays at home, Putin said. The inflow of foreign visitors to the country rose 16 percent in the first quarter to 7.35 million, of which more than 255,000 were tourists, according to official statistics.
China provided the largest number of tourists in the first quarter, at 41,000, followed by Turkey and Israel. It’s important “to promote opportunities for recreation and travel in Russia, both domestically and abroad,” Putin said.
As many as 4 million state officials are barred from international travel by the Kremlin, RBC newspaper reported in May. Putin was pressing for a visa-free regime with the EU before the start of the Ukrainian crisis, which has prompted the Kremlin to turn away from Europe and toward closer ties with the BRICS group of countries comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.