Visa-free tourist flows between Russia and China will be digitized

ATOR 19 September 2023 18:34

Russia and China have agreed to sign a new agreement on digitalization of group visa-free travel between the two countries, the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation reported. Experts believe that this will simplify all procedures for visa-free exchange, and also expect that the group tourist flow to Russia from China will resume in the near future.

Minister of Economic Development of Russia Maxim Reshetnikov met with the Minister of Culture and Tourism of the People's Republic of China Hu Heping during the working visit of the Russian delegation to Beijing.


We discussed, in particular, the resumption of the "group visa-free".

Recall that the visa-free channel for organized tourist groups between Russia and China has officially started working since August 2023. The Ministry of Energy believes that the mechanism for Russians to travel to China has been debugged. Since the signing of the Russian-Chinese intergovernmental agreement, more than 20 thousand Russians have gone there.

However, it is necessary to make a reservation that we are talking mainly about trips from border regions.

The incoming flow from China is recovering much more slowly. The Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation expects that after the adjustment of technical processes, the group tourist exchange will work in full-format mode, and the growth of mutual visa-free trips will extend to the central regions of the two countries.


The parties also agreed to sign a new agreement on digitalization of group visa-free travel between Russia and China.

"I am sure that such a measure will greatly facilitate the work of tour operators, coordination bodies and border services. And ultimately, it will allow to increase tourist flows. In the new agreement, our countries need to prescribe key provisions on document verification, compatibility of digital printing and digital signature in accordance with the legislation of the two countries. It is important to carry out this work in parallel with the process of creating a digital service on the Russian side. This will allow us to quickly combine and integrate our systems immediately after the launch of the Russian portal," Maxim Reshetnikov stressed.

Earlier, the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation reported that Russia temporarily suspended digital data transmission in the visa-free exchange procedures and returned to a fully paper document flow.

Participants in the tourism market have repeatedly stressed the importance of resuming digital data transmission (it already worked before the pandemic).

"It is very important that Russia and China have returned to the consideration of a new version of the intergovernmental agreement, which, among other things, involves digitalization. This will obviously simplify all procedures, as well as whitewash tourist flows. If necessary, it will be possible to check at any time where this or that group of tourists is located, where tourists live, etc.," says Alexander Lvov, chairman of the Council of the World Without Borders Association.

In addition, digitalization should minimize the need for intermediaries.

These are, for example, companies that deal with meetings and seeing off tourists at the border. According to the terms of the current agreement on visa-free exchange, a representative of a tour operator company must meet and escort tourists at the border. But not many are ready to keep their employees in the "sterile" area of the airport, so they resort to the services of intermediaries.

With digitalization, this service will no longer be necessary, since groups will not need to be met and escorted.

"There is no final version of the intergovernmental agreement yet. The document will still be finalized and, judging by practice, it may take about six months. Accordingly, by the next season we will have a working system," Alexander Lviv suggests.


According to the expert, the meeting of the two ministers will bring closer the moment of increasing the Chinese tourist flow to Russia.

"I assume that this meeting means that now the necessary signals will be passed at all levels, and the flow of Chinese tourists to Russia will open according to the still valid version of the intergovernmental agreement," the chairman of the Council of the World Without Borders Association notes.

Before the pandemic, China was the main supplier of tourists to Russia. At the end of 2019, Chinese citizens visited Russia for tourist purposes 1.5 million times. In total, the Chinese made 2.3 million visits to Russia in 2019 for various purposes.

This year, for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, China is once again the main tourist donor for inbound tourism in Russia. In the first quarter of this year, the country returned to the top, and in the second – took the first place.

In just 6 months of 2023, Chinese tourists made 32.3 thousand visits to Russia. For comparison, in the first half of 2019, there were 592 thousand visits from China with tour purposes.

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