Travellers tempted with marketplace

Travel industry experts speak about the advantages of electronic visas and online pitfalls awaiting tourists

The issue of electronic entry visas to the Russian Federation has been roaming in the travel environment even since the preparation for FIFA-2018, and in the past half a year it has been actively discussed by industry experts at congresses and forums. Thus, the chairman of the Russian Association of Business Travel Vadim Zelensky noted at the Travel Expert Forum in December 2018 that due new options of electronic visa issue the travel flow to Russia may increase by 20-25% in the next two years. And here we are, in February 2019 the news came from the Ministry of Economic Development which is now closely focused on the development of a special platform (marketplace) which will allow foreigners to get an electronic visa for a short 3-8 day trip to the Russian Federation.

There has been little information so far. Neither the format, or the operational features, or the visa issue rules are known. However, many experts already say that the new system will considerably raise Russia`s position in travel ratings.

The foreign traveller`s peace of mind

The Russian Association of Business Travel (ABT-ACTE Russia) often invites foreign speakers to our events, so we know perfectly well that one hour`s speech in Russia means at least 10 hours of paperwork for the Russian visa, without regard to regalia and the status of the expert. Frequently, for Europeans, tourists from North America and other countries who are used to a visa-free regime, a trip to Russia is a very big compromise, and for many of them – an elementary unwillingness to face bureaucratic difficulties. Everything that is so well-known to our travelers who are happy with a five-year Schengen like children, is at least odd and unpleasant for most tourists of the world. Therefore, in comparison to the current situation, the electronic novelty offered by the Ministry of Economic Development is an indisputable step forward.

As Alexey Gorshkov, managing director of Zelenski DMC, told us, European tourists are greatly troubled by the procedure of getting a visa to the Russian Federation. "It includes correct filling of forms (although, visa centers help them in this case), and the need to provide additional documents, but the most important thing is the personal visit to consulates / visa centers, as well as the fact that you have to give away your passport for a certain period of time", the expert explained.

Because of visa issue difficulties, Russia loses prospective business travellers, who want to hold, for example, an incentive event in our country. “Those who are determined to go to Russia, will make the visa and come. Those who only consider such an option, will learn about visa procedures and choose another destination. It is true both for corporate groups and individual travellers. Organizers of the incentive trip will put Russia to the very bottom of the list of prospective destinations, as they understand that they will have to collect 100, 200 or 300 passports", A. Gorshkov explains.

The way out of the "single-entry" situation

It is no secret that the main travel destinations that are the most demanded by foreign tourists include only Moscow and St. Petersburg. And the point is not at all that other regions are not interesting for travelers. Russia is often perceived as a “single-entry” destination because of all those bureaucratic difficulties of visa issue. This is why the electronic system of visa issue will become a mighty driver of regional tourism development.

“Regions with a high travel potential are left without tourists who will hardly ever come back to visit Kazan, Ekaterinburg, Volgograd, etc. as well. I think that simplification of the visa regime will have a positive impact on the development of regional tourism and will fulfil the whole travel potential of Russia”, A. Gorshkov emphasized.

Electronic visas will also facilitate the development of the “City-weekend” segment which is nowadays very popular with tourists, especially with mobile young people. However, in the opinion of deputy CEO of Akademservice Alexander Kurnosov, in this case a lot will depend on how the procedure of electronic visa issue will be realized: within what period of time and on the basis of what documents it will be issued, how much it will cost.

“If a simple invitation from a travel agency or a booking of hotel in Russia is enough for a foreigner to receive an electronic visa, it will lead to a significant growth in the number of trips of foreign citizens to the Russian Federation, especially in the “City-weekend” segment”, A. Kurnosov explains.

A lot of technical questions

Just like in case of any electronic novelty, first of all, technical aspects of the electronic visa system leave experts asking questions. In A. Gorshkov`s opinion, it is there that the most pitfalls may exist. At least, until the system is fine-tuned. “But the first successful experience already exists - it is the fan ID", the expert hopes.

Experts in online technologies also find a lot of "buts". One of the main issues is the way the so-called marketplace, which is now developed by the Ministry of Economic Development, will operate. It has been announced so far, that the platform will allow foreigners to receive an electronic visa for a short-term (3-8 days) trip to the Russian Federation, but on condition a full package tour is purchased. Besides, at first, entrance to the country with the electronic visa will be possible only through Moscow or St. Petersburg.

The lack of detailed information raises a lot of technical questions. Thus, Roman Blinov, development director in Corteos, a software company, says that industry experts have no clear understanding of the concept of the project yet: whether this service will be available to everyone or only to the staff of specialized agencies, what information will be available there, who will be engaged in content creation and upload.

"Usually the content of a marketplace is added independently, by platform participants – like we have done it in Corteos, when the module created can be placed on a marketplace, and it is available to all users. I do not really understand what content the marketplace developed by the Ministry of Economic Development shall be filled with", R. Blinov noted.

In his opinion, the system can yield positive results in case some kind of a platform or a travel product aggregator is created: travel agencies will upload their content there, and the user will choose the product, thus getting an opportunity to receive an electronic visa. "If a highly bureaucratic complicated system nobody understands is developed, it can on the contrary frighten prospective travellers", R. Blinov explains, adding that Corteos representatives have already sent their offer of cooperation to the Ministry of Economic Development.

The world without borders or the political "mirror-like response"?

Of course, for ordinary tourists any effort necessary to get an entry visa is an extra pain in the neck, even if it is eased a little by "the magic online pill". Theoretically, we are looking forward to peace throughout the world and the absence of any borders or at least their zero visibility at the time of crossing. Roman Blinov, for example, assumed that in the future a special electronic data storage medium will be developed, which will include information on all the visas and passport stamps: you have crossed the border – the information has been registered, received the visa – information has been registered again, etc. "But there are probably not less than 20 years ahead", the expert noted.

Until then, we only have to hope that the system of electronic visa issue will become a global and a common practice both in Russia and in other countries. That public authorities, in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Federal Migration Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, will find practical solutions to protect the platform against "undesirable elements" and mercenary users, as well as resources for the introduction of the system and its seamless operation.

“All this requires changes in the document processing procedures, the corresponding qualification of the staff of visa and consular services, additional expenditure on IT, introduction of biometrics, etc. For the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs there is also the requirement of the so-called "mirror-like response", because not all the European or North American countries will be ready to introduce electronic visas for Russians in the near future. Therefore, it is largely a question of political will – what is more important for us: the tourist flow and the growth of export of services or the compliance with the "mirror-like" visa requirements”, A. Kurnosov notes.

“Time has come! Nowadays digital technologies have spread in absolutely all the spheres. Money is on cards, state services are in the electronic form, electronic CMTPL (Compulsory Motor Third Party Liability) insurance policies have already been introduced, driving licenses will be electronic too starting from 2020. Some areas have successfully switched to the digital format, and some are biding their time. But if we want to make a stake at tourism, it is necessary to introduce the electronic visa regime (if the political environment does not allow us to cancel them at all yet)", A. Gorshkov concluded.

Our Association of Business Travel will keep the finger on the pulse and return to the electronic visa issue again. Come to our events and follow the news!