Travel Visa-Free to St.Petersburg

Some foreigners to St.Petersburg will soon be able to wave goodbye to the arduous task of queuing up for visas for their trip to Russia's most beautiful and visited city, after a new government bill is published on 20 May. The initiative will allow travellers visa-free trips if they arrive by sea in St.Petersburg or one of the other six sea ports that dot Russia's northern coast and are staying in the country for three days or less.

The idea behind relaxing the entry requirements, into a country notorious for it's obsession with bureaucracy, is to make it more attractive to take a short-stay in St.Petersburg as it's predicted there will be a slump in tourist numbers visiting because of the economic downturn. Tourists who arrive on scheduled cruise ships already have the visa requirement waviered and this change now means other sea-fearing travellers will benefit from the same deal.

Federal Tourism Agency head Anatoly Yarochkin trumpeted that the move would lead to a doubling of tourists who arrive by sea through St.Petersburg and Kalingrad. However a spokesperson for the Russian Tourism Industry suggested that while the visa-free travel would be 'convienent' for tourists, she indicated that any increase would be negligible. Indeed, it's difficult to see exactly how many more tourists this will actually affect as requirements of the visa-free scheme are that travellers have to stick to the schedule of their tour groups and have to remain with their fellow travellers. Hmmm. And while the offer allows you to travel throughout the country it's limited to up to three days, so the Trans-Siberian Express is pretty much out.

The city, by far the country's most visited with 80 per cent of visitors, is steeling itself for leaner pickings from the tourist trade. The city's tourism department is predicting a 30 per cent decrease in tourists and when 18 per cent of the workforce is employed in the hospitality industry, that's bound to have a significant knock on effect.

The city estimates 2.3million tourists visited St. Petersburg last year, with just over a fifth of these - 500,000 - arriving by sea.

Russia's other port cities where travellers won't need a visa for up to three days are:


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