Russia simplifies tourist visas to St Petersburg, Leningrad region

By Lu Wenao Source:Global Times Published: 2020/1/12 19:18:40

A boat runs on a canal in St Petersburg. Photo: CNSphoto

Russia has introduced an e-visa policy for Chinese tourists planning to visit Russia for the European Football Championship games that will be held in St Petersburg. 

Asian markets are the fastest growing tourism exporters to Russia, with China being the leading country, Sergei Korneev, deputy head of the Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (Rostourism), told reporters during a recent trip to China.

Russia welcomed 4.2 million tourists overall in 2018, Russian news website Vesti reported, citing the Federal Security Service (FSB) border service. The number of Chinese ­tourists that year amounted to nearly 1.3 million, ­according to Rostourism. 

"According to the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, the increase in the number of tourists from China was as high as 21.9 percent for 9 months of 2019," it said in a press release. 

Rostourism said it expects that introducing electronic visas for Chinese citizens is an effective way to provide an additional increase to the flow of both group and individual tourists from China by more than 20 percent. 

"The electronic visa and the UEFA European Championship are a kind of an international level quality trademark, proof of high class hospitality industry in Russia as a whole, because we have the legacy of the very recent FIFA World Cup," Korneev told reporters. 

Previously, only the Far East region of Russia was available for Chinese tourists to visit by applying for an electronic visa. The available regions have expanded to St Petersburg and its surrounding Leningrad region as well as Russia's semi-exclave, the Kaliningrad region.

In 2021, the electronic visa system will come into operation in all regions of the Russian Federation, according to Rostourism.

People watch a New Year firework show in St Petersburg. Photo: Xinhua

Hosting the games

During the 2020 European Football Championship, three matches of Group B and one quarterfinal match will take place at the Krestovsky Stadium in St Petersburg in June and July.

The Group B games of Belgium and Russia on June 13, Finland and Russia on June 17, Finland and Belgium on June 22 will be played there, with a July 3 quarterfinal pending. 

"The next summer St Petersburg, being a pearl of the world culture, ­architecture and history, a city, ­without which one hardly can ­imagine Europe, is hosting UEFA EURO 2020," said Alexey Sorokin, CEO of the UEFA EURO 2020 Saint Petersburg Local Organizing Structure. 

"We are inviting football-art-architecture-lovers from all over the world to our northern capital." 

"The FIFA World Cup experience had proved that Russia is easy and convenient to be visited. Holders of tickets for UEFA EURO 2020 matches will again be able to enter the Russian Federation on a visa-free basis through a preliminary obtaining a Fan ID - Fan Passport," he added. 

The Fan ID system was also used in 2018 as all holders were granted a multiple-time visa-free entry to Russia after the end of FIFA World Cup in August 2018. 

Boasting numerous canals and more than 400 bridges, as well as being on the UNESCO World ­Heritage list, St Petersburg witnessed a surge to 9.1 million tourists in 2019, Russia's TASS news agency reported, citing Yevgeny Pankevich, chairman of the St ­Petersburg Committee for Tourism Development earlier this month. 

The number of tourists was almost twice as large as the city's population of 5.35 million. Compared to 2018, the number of visitors grew by 10 percent. 

The number of visitors increased in autumn and winter of 2019, partly due to the introduction of e-visas since October 1, noted Pankevich, as the e-visa, available to apply for citizens of 53 countries and regions, is valid during 30 days and allows stay in St Petersburg and the Leningrad region for up to eight days.

Since the e-visa system was introduced, 100,000 people have applied for it. During the past three months, more than 60,000 travelers holding e-visas visited St Petersburg and the Leningrad region, Pankevich said. 

Employees pose for a photo at the Fan ID center in St Petersburg. Photo: Xinhua

Transfer hub 

Rostourism experts are sure that in addition to matches, St Petersburg, Russia can become a convenient hub for tourists from Asia on their way to other European Championship host cities. 

The 2020 UEFA European Football Championship will be held in 12 cities in 11 countries from June 12 to July 12. 

London, Rome and Munich are among the cities that will host key matches in the knockout stage.

Last month, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) issued a ban on Russia participating and hosting world championships, casting a cloud on Russia's sports appeal. 

But Korneev reaffirmed that the ban will have little effect on the tourism sector, as sports enthusiasts can also find different sports to participate in Russia when the country has sufficient sports facilities after hosting multiple games.
Newspaper headline: Sporting attraction

Posted in: EUROPE

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