Russian tourists might not be traveling to Turkey this year due to the escalating military conflict between the two countries, but they are not opting to visit Greece either, Greek tourism sector insiders are saying, citing the tedious and time-consuming visa procedure as the reason, Agora newspaper reports.
The new visa regime, which took effect in September last year, requires applicants give their fingerprints when applying for the first time, with data stored for five years after the expiry of the visa.
“For the first time, we are seeing the tourism ministry making serious efforts, but there are major delays and time is running out, with a little more than a month remaining until the start of the tourist season,” explains Dimitris Charitidis, head of Tez Tour.
The delays are channeling Russian holidaymakers to Italy, Spain, Montenegro and Croatia, with Israel, Bulgaria and India offering package deals and discounts.
Tour operators are calling on the government to set up more visa centers and hire more consular employees in order to effectively deal with the influx.
If Greece doesn’t step up its efforts to deal with the problem, the country is bound to see its good reputation as a major tourist destination diminish, sector insiders say, particularly in view of the “Cross-Year Greece & Russia” events.
Nikos Chalkiadakis, president of Crete’s Heraklion Hoteliers Union, said Greece should follow the example set in Spain, where officials take fingerprints at applicants’ homes.
“We have been working with the consulates and visa centers of all countries and especially with the Consulate General of Greece in Moscow we have the most frequent problems and that is very sad,” Yury Batunin, head of the Russian Journalist Union’s press office, told Agora.