Hong Kong, Russia agree to drop visas for travellers

Hong Kong, Russia agree to drop visas for travellersHong Kong - Hong Kong is to give visa-free access to Russian travellers in a bid to tap into new markets in the light of the current economic downturn, officials confirmed Friday. The 14-day visa-free access is expected to come into force later this year following an agreement between Russia and Hong Kong signed Thursday which also gives Hong Kong passport holders 14 days of visa-free access to Russia.

The move comes as part of a push by Hong Kong to promote the former British colony as a tourist destination to short-haul destinations as the economic crisis continues to take its toll on tourism numbers and in particular those travelling long-haul.

In February, visitor arrivals dropped by 8 per cent compared to the same month in 2008. The number of travellers from America, Europe and the Middle East fell by more than 11 per cent.

The agreement was welcomed by Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) Chairman James Tien who said a series of promotions aimed at Russia were being planned to capitalise on the opportunity.

"Our key target segments include middle-age couples and family visitors. Tailoring to Russian travellers' interest in shopping and dining, the HKTB will leverage on the Hong Kong Food and Wine Year platform to promote Hong Kong's appeal," Tien said.

"We will also join forces with Hainan and other mainland provinces to promote multi-destination itineraries featuring Hong Kong."

Russia is one of a number of countries included in an emerging market plan by the HKTB.

In 2008, visitor arrivals from Russia exceeded 37,000, 13 per cent more than in 2007.

Hong Kong is expecting a disappointing 2009 with around 29 million people expected to visit, a drop of 1.6 per cent year-on-year.

Longhaul travellers are expected to account for a large proportion of the fall but are to be offset by a predicted 4-per-cent rise in the number of visitors from mainland China. (dpa)