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Russia eases visas to lure investors, tourists to Far East

North Korea, Iran join China, Japan among 18 countries chosen for online application program setting Vladivostok as gateway to still untapped region

By ASIA TIMES STAFF

Russia is making it easier for citizens of 18 nations to enter the port city of Vladivostok in a bid to lure gamblers to its new casinos and investors to its resource rich but still largely untapped Far East region.

Iran, China and Japan are among the countries eligible for a new four-day, online application process for “visas on arrival.” Still, with Vladivostok the only point of entry so far approved, travel is restricted to eight days and only within the Primorsky Krai region.

Of the countries on the list, only two – China and Japan – can realistically be expected to make a difference to visitor numbers in the Far East of Russia, according to Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Tourism Industry Union.

An already established visa system for Chinese tour groups of three or more means any boost will likely come from privately arranged visits and business trips. “The e-visa should make life easier especially for business people and those who visit Russia by themselves,” she said.

Visitors from neighboring China rose 15% last year to 1.29 million, outnumbering all the arrivals from the other 17 countries combined, federal government data show.

Of the 16 other countries on the list, eight – Algeria, Bahrain, Brunei, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia – are not even in the top 80 sources for visitors, Russian Border Service data show.

Still, a simpler visa regime could see greater numbers of tourists arriving from the Persian Gulf, said Yuri Schegolkov, deputy dean of the international tourism faculty at the Russian State Financial University.

“The improvement in relations with Iran has resulted in the setting up of charter flights from Iran to Russia, and this country is now a leader in terms of growth in tourist numbers,” he said. “If Iranians are interested in traveling, there is no reason not to try to attract their neighbors in the Gulf.”

The new arrangement will probably begin in September, just in time for the third Eastern Economic Forum on the 6th and 7th of that month in Russky Island, Vladivostok.

The list in full: Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Qatar, China, Japan, India, Singapore, North Korea, Brunei, Mexico, UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey.

The Free Port of Vladivostok is a territory with its own taxation, customs, investment and regulatory regimes and which spans 16 municipalities of Primorsky Krai, including the city of Vladivostok and key maritime hubs in the Khabarovsk, Sakhalin and Kamchatka regions, and the Chukotka autonomous region.


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