People, Travel

Russia Wants More Citizens to Visit Iran

Russia Wants More Citizens to Visit IranRussia Wants More Citizens to Visit Iran

The head of the Russian Federal Tourism Agency, Oleg Safonov, hopes for an increase in the tourist flow from Russia to Iran after the easing of the visa regime.

“Our tourism ties are actively developing, Iranian tourists visit the Russian Federation very actively. The tourist flow from Russia to Iran is not that big, but I think the potential of our cooperation is very serious,” he said, according to the Moscow-based Vestnik Kavkaza news website.

The Russian official added that the Kremlin and Tehran have signed an agreement for 2016-18 on cooperation in tourism.

As part of the agreement, the two countries eased visa requirements on February 6, in a move dubbed by Russian media as “the first step toward a visa-free regime.”

According to Safonov, the Iranian authorities are prepared to consider the abolition of visas for Russian tourists. “Tehran is ready to consider the possibility of the introduction of a visa-free regime between Russia and Iran,” TASS cited the head of the agency as saying.

The Foreign Ministry in Tehran insists that it would only approve bilateral visa waivers.

Last month, Maya Lomidze, the executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, pointed to a lack of familiarity with Iran’s culture and tourism potential as the main factor preventing more Russians from traveling to the country and said, “Iran has the potential to attract 100,000 Russian tourists every year.”

While that figure is four times greater than the current number of Russians visiting Iran, it is a far cry from the three million and four-and-half million Russians who travel to Egypt and Turkey respectively; the two countries Iran hopes to replace following Russia’s travel ban against those states.

According to Rosstat (Russia’s state statistics service), nearly 34,000 Iranian tourists visited Russia in the first nine months of 2015, a rise of more than 110% compared to the same period a year ago.