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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Russia and India to hold talks on visa-free tourism

The countries are considering whether to scrap visa requirements for groups of tourists, a Russian official said

Moscow and New Delhi plan to start negotiations in June on potential visa-free travel for tourist groups, with a view to striking a bilateral deal by the end of the year, a Russian government official has said.

The idea was raised in 2022 by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan, with the Russian president calling for accelerated negotiations on an agreement.

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”The process regarding group visa-free travel has progressed. The Indian side has responded, indicating that they are in the final stage of internal coordination. I believe that we will hold the first consultations with them to discuss the draft agreement in June,” Nikita Kondratyev, director multilateral cooperation at the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, said. “We are planning to ink the deal by the end of this year,” he added.

Speaking during the International Economic Forum ‘Russia – Islamic World: KazanForum 2024’ earlier this week, Kondratyev noted that an agreement with India would replicate the success of visa-free tourism already established with China and Iran.

Moscow initiated visa-free group tourism with Beijing and Tehran in August last year. Since then, travel between the countries has surged, according to various reports.

Chinese tourists accounted for almost half of visitors to Russia in the first quarter of 2024, according to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR). The data shows that overall, foreign arrivals more than tripled compared to the same period of last year. The other top-five countries making tourist trips to Russia were Turkmenistan, Türkiye, Germany, and the UAE.

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Earlier this year, Russia telecoms operator Megafon also reported a surge in arrivals from China and the Middle East, citing roaming data. According to the company, the tourist flow from China at the beginning of 2024 increased by 2.5 times compared to the same period of last year. Moscow and St. Petersburg are the most popular destinations for tourists from China. The cities and their surrounding regions account for more than 57% of all trips.