“ Minister of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Ali Asghar Mounesan is arriving in Moscow to sign an agreement on lifting visa requirements for tourist groups,” Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Kazem Jalali wrote in a statement posted on his Facebook page on Sunday, as quoted by TASS news agency.
According to Press TV, the visa deal aims to facilitate group visas for tourists of both countries traveling through accredited travel agencies.
Jalali wrote that travel agents will lodge visa applications for tour groups to receive one single visa for the visit. He expressed hope that by easing the visa process, bilateral tourist exchanges will gain momentum and form a strong foundation for further boosting ties between Iran and Russia.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said last year that the visa waiver deal for Iranian tour groups will take effect “after the Russian tourist agency determines an Iranian partner to regulate carrying out the agreement.”
Based on a 2017 agreement between Russia and Iran, tour groups of five to 50 people traveling to eastern Russia from Iran, or vice versa, were to be granted free two-week visas.
The head of Iran’s Tour Operators Association, Ibrahim Pourfaraj, said last year that a large majority of potential Russian tourists were unaware of the wide array of tourist attractions scattered across Iran.
“The fact is that Iran’s political and economic relations with Russia are considered good, but this has nothing to do with attracting tourists because the Russian tourists need to make up their minds to come to Iran for tourism,” he said.
Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, had told Sputnik that the visa agreement may significantly surge the tourist flows between the two countries, just like it happened when a similar deal was signed between Russia and China. The flow of Iranian tourists to Russia increased by 50-70 percent following the operation of direct flights that connect Iran to St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Sochi, she said.