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Russia keen on sealing visa-free group travel deal with India

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Moscow: India and Russia are working towards a regime for visa-free entry for groups, and the Russian side has said it is expecting “some development” soon in the negotiations.

Talking to IANS here, Sergyey Korneev, Deputy Head of Russia’s Ministry of Culture and Federal Agency For Tourism, said that they are keen on getting the agreement concluded soon to attract more Indian tourists to Russia.

“The discussions are at a serious level and as a tourism body we are in favour of the liberalisation. We are doing it at a priority level,” Korneev told IANS after holding discussions with a group of travel agents from India whose visit was organised by Russian Information Centre.

“We regret that we have already missed some movement, we want to change the situation about Indian arrivals,” he said. “As tourists Indians are very nice, we have a strong historical connection.”

At present Russia has such an agreement with China under which tourists in groups of five to 50 persons, accompanies a tour operator registered in both countries, to visit the country without a visa for up to 15 days.

Around 20 million Indians travelled abroad in 2015. As number of Indian tourists visiting Russia has increased, the Russian government is hoping a bigger share of the pie.

The discussions for visa-free travel to Russia have been on for a long time, and Korneev said details of the negotiations are with the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The two sides are looking at allowing groups with five members, but Korneev added that they will try to bring the number down to three so that small families can also be covered under this.

He said that Russians love Indians and some Indian television channels are very popular in Russia.

He said that Russia had a wide variety of tourist experiences to offer to visitors — from the North Pole to mountains to sea beaches.

Head of the Federal Tourism Agency, Oleg Safonov, meanwhile, called India a “very promising source” of inbound tourist flow to Russia.

“In recent times, the tourist market in the country, as in other countries of Asia, is growing rapidly. The number of tourists is already around 20 million people a year and in the future it can grow significantly. Our task is to attract travellers from India to Russia and to achieve popularity like Britain or France among Indian tourists,” he said.

Safonov called the group visa free travel a “promising solution” to this.

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