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City news, 09.08.2004 15:11

Free visas for Russians in bid to halt tourist slide

cyprus By Jean Christou

IN AN attempt to stave off dwindling tourist arrivals from Russia, the government has decided to keep visas free of charge until the end of 2004 and possibly the end of 2005.

After more than a decade of visa-free travel between the two countries, which boosted tourism and business between the two countries, the visa regime was re-introduced for Russians this year after Cyprus joined the EU on May 1.

The visas normally cost £6.

“Sixty per cent of visas are issued on the day of application with the rest provided within 24 hours," said Alexis Phedonos-Vadet, a consul at the Cypriot Embassy in St Petersburg. According to the embassy in Russia, less than one per cent of Russians are refused a visa, the St Petersburg Times reported yesterday.

According to Cyprus Tourism Organisation statistics, tourism from Russia fell 14 per cent in the first six months of this year. So far this year, 38,415 Russians visited Cyprus between January and June, compared to 44,621 last year.

In total, 114,792 Russians visited Cyprus last year, 122,961 holidayed on the island in 2002 and 128,504 in 2001. Arrivals from Russia peaked at 146,044 in the year 2000.

The St Petersburg Times said that the five most popular destinations for people from the city in 2003 were Finland with 26.8 per cent, Germany in second place with 16.8 per cent, and Turkey, France and Bulgaria each attracting 9.4 per cent of St Petersburg travellers.

“St Petersburgers travel to Cyprus less than Muscovites, as many of them prefer quiet resorts in nearby Finland and the Baltic countries,” the Times said.

Leading Russian tour operators told the Times that after the re-introduction of visas to Cyprus this year, the flow of travellers to the island dropped by 20-25 per cent. Irina Ionkina, leading manager on Cyprus of the local Super Nova travel agency, said her company was selling less than half as many tours to Cyprus as in the previous year.

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(c) 2000