After COVID-19, Russia rolls out the red carpet for Indian tourists again

After extending e-visa facility, plans afoot to issue foreign tourist card to tide over transaction woes

Updated - September 04, 2023 09:58 pm IST

Published - September 04, 2023 09:14 pm IST - Moscow

Nearly 20,000 people from India have visited Russia this year.

Nearly 20,000 people from India have visited Russia this year. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Russian authorities are pulling out all the stops to lure Indian tourists in a bid to shore up arrivals in a post-pandemic scenario and amid the ongoing Ukraine imbroglio.

While the e-visa facility with validity for 60 days and a processing time of just four workdays was extended to Indians last month, efforts are under way to tide over issues around the rouble and the inability to access plastic money arising out of the sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States.

The India outreach is part of a tourism reboot, with under two million people visiting Russia from outside the former Soviet states last year, according to state news agency Tass.

Bulat Nurmukhanov, head of the International Cooperation Division of Moscow City Tourism Committee, said the Russian government was working on a plan to issue a foreign tourist card to facilitate payments. “Some legislative amendments have to be made in this regard, but the idea is to allow someone in India to apply remotely for a bank card for mirror payments in Russia. One could transfer money from the Indian bank account to a bank account in Russia and access local services by scanning QR codes,” he said.

Indian tourists currently lack convenient payment options, being unable to use their Mastercard and Visa credit and debit cards, and suffer a double-transaction loss when converting their rupees into dollars and then roubles on arrival in Russia.

Mr. Nurmukhanov said while the Ukraine issue had resulted in some decline, tourist arrivals had already surpassed the 2021 figures “despite the challenges and perceptions”.

While there has been a significant bump in arrivals of Chinese and Arab tourists, the impact of the e-visa roll-out would be available by October after analysing the quarterly data from the Russian border control agencies, he said.

“We are still on our way to restoring the flow of Indian tourists to Moscow to pre-COVID-19 levels. It was a very steady growth before the pandemic, 12-15% year-on-year growth. Based on the first half of this year, we have already received about 20,000 Indians in Moscow – 56% higher than the same period last year. Indians are coming back,” Mr. Nurmukhanov said.

In its India-focused outreach, the Moscow government is pitching the historical heritage, relative proximity, gastronomic variety, world-class amenities and value for money of Europe’s largest capital to holidayers. “Russia is infrastructurally ready to compete with Dubai and Paris,” said Evgeny Kozlov, chairman of the Moscow City Tourism Committee.

While Aeroflot is operating flights five days a week to New Delhi and planning to resume flights to Goa from October, other carriers such as Emirates offer connecting flights from Dubai. Russian authorities are hoping for a resumption of flights by Indian carriers as well as chartered flights à la those ferrying Russians to Goa.

Reciprocal arrangements

Sources in the Indian Embassy in Moscow told journalists that New Delhi had reciprocated several of the Russian initiatives such as e-visas in four days to tourists visiting India from that country. The Tourism Ministry as well as the governments of Goa and Kerala are slated to participate in round-table discussions in Moscow from September 12-14.

There are also plans in the works to engage Russian social media influencers to restore inward traffic to India; while over three lakh Russian tourists visited annually before the pandemic, the numbers are down to around 80,000-90,000 of late.

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