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Iran-Russia Visa Waiver to Be Finalized Next Year

Iran-Russia Visa Waiver to Be Finalized Next YearIran-Russia Visa Waiver to Be Finalized Next Year
Nearly 35,000 Iranians visited Russia in 2015, which marks a rise of more than 115% compared to a year ago 

Formal talks for visa-free travel between Iran and Russia will begin as early as next year, says Iran’s Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanaei.

In a long post on his personal channel on the smartphone messaging app Telegram, Sanaei noted that “efforts to ease travel between the two countries follow a three-phase plan devised a year ago”, IRNA reported.

The first phase, which calls for mutual relaxation of visa procedures for people active in trade, science and tourism sectors, went into effect in February.

Officials in Tehran and Moscow are currently working on the logistics of waiving visa requirements for group tours, which is the second phase of the plan.

According to Sanaei, implementing total visa-free travel is the third and final phase of the scheme, on which formal talks will begin next year.

At present, Iran’s Mahan Air and Russia’s Aeroflot fly between the two countries, connecting Moscow and Astrakhan to Tehran, but in the past two years Iranian airlines Iran Air and Me’raj offered seasonal flights, increasing the total number of weekly flights in summer to 15.

According to Rosstat (Russia’s state statistics service), nearly 35,000 Iranians visited Russia in 2015, which marks a rise of more than 115% compared to a year ago. Russia expects about 70,000 Iranians to visit this year.

Iran is said to be a top 20 tourism source market for Moscow.

 Need to Promote Iran Attractions

Both Russian and Iranian tourism officials have frequently expressed the desire to facilitate travel between the two countries in the past year.

While facilitating travel is expected to help Russia boost its inbound numbers, neither experts nor tourism officials are convinced that Iran will instantly benefit from a visa-free regime.

Because Iran and its attractions are not well known in Russia, Iranian officials have their work cut out for them, a point that even Oleg Safonov, the head of Russia’s Federal Agency for Tourism, acknowledges.

“During a recent meeting, Safonov said Iran has the potential to attract a substantial portion of Russia’s 30 million outbound tourists, as long as steps are taken to market Iran’s attractions in Russia,” Sanaei said.

According to Safonov, a third of Russian tourists travel to visit historical sites and learn about various cultures, making them a prime target for Iran.

The Russian official has reportedly advised Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization to open a tourism information office in Russia and urged those active in Iran’s nascent travel sector to cooperate with the Russian media to promote Iran’s sites of attraction.

Recep Safarov, who headed a Russian economic delegation to Mazandaran Province in July, was quoted as saying by ISNA that there is a “lack of effective campaigning and advertising in Russian media” to promote Iran as a destination.

“Russians have to learn about Iran and what it has to offer,” he said.

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