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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 15:08 GMT
Russia launches fast-track visas
Customs official stamps tourist's passport
Russia hopes to lure more well-off foreign visitors
By the BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov in Moscow

Russia has introduced fast-track entry visas for foreign tourists, in an attempt to significantly boost number of visitors and increase revenues to its struggling tourism industry.

Moscow
Moscow wants to put up street signs in English
Travellers from Western Europe and Japan will now be able to order visas valid for three days through selected agencies.

They will be able collect their visas on arrival at international airports in Moscow and St. Petersburg, or at the border crossing with Finland and Poland.

Short-stay tourist visas will cost $35 dollars.

Red tape

Until recently, a short break in Moscow or St. Petersburg was out of the question for many foreigners.

People waiting to go through customs immigration control at an airport
Russia says its nationals are getting rough deal from foreign consulates

Russian consulates around the world were notorious for their queues, red tape and steep charges.

Of course, they claimed their attitude was not much different from the rough deal the Russian travellers were getting from foreign consulates.

But the biggest loser appeared to be the Russian tourist industry with its meagre revenues from foreign visitors.

Experiment

The Russian regions with a tourist potential like Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad have been lobbying the government for the easing of visa regulations.

Moscow is banking on its new spruced-up image to attract more well-off foreign visitors, and is even putting up street signs in English.

St. Petersburg is in desperate need of money to save its magnificent historic centre from further decay.

Kaliningrad believes it could prosper from a bigger flow of German tourists who come to visit this former Prussian citadel.

Now the government has allowed these three regions to experiment with simplified visa arrangements.

But what Russia might have overlooked is the current atmosphere of economic uncertainty in the West, which is not conducive to foreign travel.

See also:

31 Dec 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Adventure in Russia's wilderness
28 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
First space tourist blasts off
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