I hope that recent international events have somehow turned a corner with respect to Russian travel. It has been a pleasure to report some positive news after years of sanctions, conflict, concerns over terrorism and the prospect of violent clashes during World Cup 2018. In spite of our prior concerns, the latter was an outstanding success; who would have thought it, one year ago? More importantly; is this the start of something good, -or just a blip?
Regardless of our views on the methodology of Russia’s security forces (not that they would care), there is no denying that they achieved exemplary results in this particular instance. Compared to some of their European and English counterparts; perhaps they were some of the few that could? Yes, if you want an absolute clamp-down; call Russian security (and then back off quickly).
There was absolutely no way that any other outcome would have been permitted of course. The event had to be remembered for all the right reasons. Pride and considerably more was at stake. Prior to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine (and the subsequent international sanctions), Russia’s tourist economy peaked at over 20 Bn US dollars in 2013. By 2016, it had fallen drastically to below 13 Bn US dollars; an alarming figure not seen since 2010 when the Russian tourist industry supported approximately 1 Million domestic jobs.
What better advert for Russian tourism then, than 2.9 million foreign tourists returning home after World Cup 2018 with stories of their experiences that exceeded initial expectations, and doubts, considerably? This not only factors-in the general welcome received from the Russian people themselves, but also acknowledges the relatively ‘measured’ manner of the Russian police too. Yes, of course: the authorities were on their best behaviour, naturally.
Some regard this latter point with a degree of cynicism; that it has rarely been more enjoyable to wander the streets without aggravation or hindrance from either end of the legal spectrum, but also that a less desirable ‘normality’ is just around the corner. Once media attention is directed elsewhere and those emissaries of good news are distracted by their daily lives once more, we’ll see. However, after the multitude have gained a taste of a better life, it is hard for them to relinquish its bonuses and blessings.
Out of left-field came some remarkable news, that the Fan IDs issued by Russian authorities have been temporarily elevated to the level of fully-fledged Visas until the end of 2018. So, if you seek to return for a late summer, autumn, or winter break, then the door remains open. This is not to say that you can automatically bypass the other travel document requirements of course. There are several: passport, immigration card, travel confirmation/invitation, plus any other paperwork specific to your personal circumstances (ie: medication).
As reported on Radio Free Europe, this latest initiative comes directly from Putin himself who stated:
“Naturally, I cannot do otherwise but to thank our guests – foreign tourists, foreign fans…People tried to scare us by saying the English would come and commit hooliganism…But everyone behaved in a most exemplary manner.”
I’m yet to see the minutiae of the terms and conditions associated with the ID/visa stipulation announced on 15th July. Confirmation of the exact criteria would need to be made prior to travel, either directly with the embassy or via your agent. You may need to ask such questions as, “Can I bring my family and do they need visas?”, for instance. At any rate, it would appear to save one trip to a Russian Visa application centre (London, Manchester or Edinburgh) plus at least one Visa fee (over 100 GBP in the UK). Definitive documentation on the offer would be handy, but all things considered: no complaints.
Ultimately, I hope that this is the start of a new period in Russian travel where the bureaucracy is a little less stringent and the logistics a good deal more negotiable. Call me an optimist, I dare you.