Free electronic visa to St. Petersburg – competition for Tallinn? And Kaliningrad?

Since 1 October 2019 citizens of 53 states may go to Saint Petersburg and Leningrad region, north-west of Russia if they hold a free electronic visa. Of course, it is a tourist visa, which allows you visiting this beautiful c…

Since 1 October 2019 citizens of 53 states may go to Saint Petersburg and Leningrad region, north-west of Russia if they hold a free electronic visa. Of course, it is a tourist visa, which allows you visiting this beautiful city and places of interest around it, such as the Peterhof Palace. Tourists will have 8 days. They can come by ferry, car or plane and even cross the border on foot. It’s a pity that the system does not include the trip by train.     
Saint Petersburg and Leningrad region is the third region of Russia that can be visited if you hold a free electronic visa. In 2017 such a possibility was granted to citizens from 18 countries, mostly Asia, to enter the Far East federal district with an electronic visa. Russians tell that soon they will introduce an electronic visa system applied in all Russia. Although various sources indicate different dates it is most probable that it will be introduced by year 2022 at the latest.   
However, we have no doubts that the new rules to enter Leningrad region will be advantageous to citizens of Estonia and Finland first of all, which are the closest neighbours. Estonians even started to fair that Saint Petersburg might take off a big number of tourists from Finland to Estonia’, Ilona Kbejan, attaché of the Embassy of Estonia in Russia told to the portal rus.err.ee.      
Nonetheless, does Estonians’ fair is grounded? It is no secret that Finns come to Tallinn first because of the fact that prices of alcohol are significantly lower than in their country. High prices of alcohol are the outcomes of the policy of the Finnish government that fights against abuse of alcohol. In Saint Petersburg the prices of alcohol are even lower than in Tallinn. However, the issue of crossing the border easily remains. For a Finn, who is taking a ferry to go to Tallinn, actually needs nothing else except for his wallet and identity card. For going to Russia by ferry a Finn needs to have not just his passport but also go though some procedures that are not so pleasant.
When you cross the Russian border you have to be ready to go through various procedures that have been forgotten in the EU. Thus, you will always have to stand in long lines despite of the fact in which way a tourist is crossing the border. This obviously brings dissatisfaction and complaints. A completely different code of conduct of Russian border authorities that the tourists from Finland are used to when they go to Estonia or Germany shall be also remembered. The Lithuanian portal 15min. wrote about behaviour of the authorities and Russians. The journalists called their analysis ’11 traps for tourists’. First of all, they talk about cheating foreign tourists in every step they take – starting with taxi services and taking pictures in public places of interest and higher prices in shopping centers.      
However, the Russian government have already announced about great success of its decision to introduce electronic visas to Saint Petersburg. The Russian version of the most popular news portal in the Baltic States delfi.ltm based on TASS information with great enthusiasm announced that on the first day over 100 citizen of Latvia applied for free visas to Saint Petersburg and even 400 people from Estonian that is the closest neighbour of Leningrad region. However, journalists for some reason took no interest in the fact how many Finns wanted to go to Saint Petersburg for the weekend.    
We should note that a similar propaganda of the success was announced when Moscow introduced free electronic visas to Kaliningrad to citizens of some countries, but first of all Lithuania and Poland. In the words of the Russian government, a decision to introduce free visas had to significantly increase the number of tourists to this region. In the forum ‘Saint Petersburg Dialogue’ that was held recently the governor of Kaliningrad region confirmed that over 8 thousand people applied for e-visa to Kaliningrad in two week time.   
It turns out that not everything is so nice as the Moscow authorities wished.
The Lithuanian media (e.g. the portal Delfi.lt and 15min.lt) described how employees from the Russian Embassy in Vilnius and Consulate in Klaipėda actively promote new possibilities to travel to Kaliningrad easily. After very critical publications on Delfi.lt, where journalists interviewed Lithuanians who came back from Kaliningrad about their impressions, the government of Russia and the region reacted hysterically by accusing the portal in being unfair and anti-Russian. After harsh statements the portal 15min.lt decided to analyse the issue of e-visas and conducted an investigative journalism what the real situation with the ‘inrush’ of tourists from Lithuania is.    
After analysis of the data of July 2019 and July 2018 it turned out that the number of tourists from Lithuania slightly increased. In July 2018 160,000 Lithuanian citizens visited the Kaliningrad region. 4.5 thousand of them declared that they were going for tourism. In July 2019 a little bit over 166,000 citizens of Lithuania entered that region. Just slightly over 5,000 of them had tourist visas.  
Journalists also deny a widely spread opinion (that is supported by a pro-Russian portal bukinvieningi.lt) that prices in Kaliningrad are significantly lower than in Lithuania and thus it is worth going there for holidays, for instance. Journalists compared prices and it turned out that prices of the basic goods made in Russia are close to the ones in Lithuania. The only type of goods that the price is lower, is the fuel.   
Of course, Saint Petersburg significantly overcomes possibilities of Kaliningrad in the sense of tourism. However, it is hard to anticipate what will attract tourist from abroad and from the neighbouring countries first of all – the city, its museums or the idea that the prices of everything, first of all, alcohol, are significantly lower in Russia.   

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Autorius: Voras Online