19 Sep 2023 18:34

Russia, China to sign agreement on digitalizing visa-free trips

MOSCOW. Sept 19 (Interfax) - Russia and China have agreed to sign a new agreement on digitalizing visa-free group trips, the Russian Economic Development Ministry's press service said on Tuesday.

"The new agreement should have key provisions for verifying documents and the compatibility of digital seals and digital signatures. [...] It is important to do this work simultaneously with the development of 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," the press service quoted Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov as saying after a meeting with Chinese Culture and Tourism Minister Hu Heping in Beijing.

Reshetnikov said he was expecting "group tourist exchanges to work in full once the technical processes are adjusted, and the number of visa-free trips to grow in the central regions of both countries."

The sides discussed the convenience of issuing Russian e-visas to Chinese citizens, the press service said. Over 15,000 Chinese tourists used the new mechanism during the first month of its availability.

Reshetnikov also declared Russia's readiness to receive Chinese tourists.

"We are equally interested in being visited and in developing inbound tourism. Colleagues said they would inform all travel agencies once again this week that everything is allowed, the mechanism works, everything is signed, and that groups can be formed and allowed to go. The Russian side is ready to receive them; we have made every decision necessary and have prepared the infrastructure. We are waiting for Chinese tourists, who used to constitute an important part of tourist arrivals in our centers, Moscow and especially St. Petersburg, as well as Kazan and Siberia," Reshetnikov said.

Russia would like to ensure parity of air transportation, the minister said. "For now, we have 32 flights from Russia to China and about 40 flights from China to Russia. We want this side of business to develop more or less on a parity basis. We will address all of that in its totality together with the ministries of transport and the central bank, as tourism is a comprehensive product," he said.

At the end of the meeting, the ministers discussed the possibility of a Great China Road transborder route involving Russia, China and Mongolia, which 18 Russian regions wish to join, the press service said.

"The sides agreed to draft a roadmap with a list of specific events and projects for the Great Tea Road project by the end of 2023. A draft memorandum to that effect is expected to be signed at a trilateral ministerial meeting in Wuhan in October 2023," the press service said.

Russian tourist arrivals in China stood at 2.3 million in 2019. Over 60% of tourists traveled under the agreement on visa-free group trips.