Both Greece and Bulgaria, two of Turkey's neighbors, have stepped forward to lure Russian tourists, who have abstained from their most popular destination as part of Moscow sanctions on Ankara due to the downing of Russian military plane last November.
Greece has started granting three-year visas for Russian tourists with a single-day procedure, as Bulgaria has lowered its visa fees. Last year, some 3.5 million Russian tourists visited Turkey, where they enjoyed visa-free travel. Many of them chose “all-inclusive” packages offered by hotels in the country's Mediterranean and Aegean resorts.
Oleg Safonov, the head of the Russian Tourism Agency, told RSN, a Moscow-based radio, that Bulgaria and Greece were in action to replace Turkey. Greece has opened new visa offices in Russia and employed more staff, in a bid to break a 2013 record of 1.5 million Russian visitors, he said. Bulgaria, meanwhile, has stopped demanding fingerprints from Russian visitors.
Ankara and Moscow have been at odds since Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet operating in Syria on Nov 24, 2015, for insistent violation of its airspace.
Scheduled flights between Russia and Turkey by the two countries' flag carriers have dropped almost 50 percent along with the number of passengers after the downing of Russian jet since then, a Turkish tourism executive said last week.
A total of 22,106 people from Russia visited Turkey in January, a decline of 56.7 percent compared to the same month of the previous year.
However, Russia's federal tourism agency Rostourism restored 13 out of 19 licenses of Turkish-owned tour operators that were revoked as part of Moscow's sanctions, as reported by Russian media on March 16.
One tourism player claimed that only 55 Russians visited Antalya in February.
Dmitry Gorin, the vice-president of the Russian Tour Operators, said Russian tourists were instead choosing Greek Cyprus along with Greece and Bulgaria this year, and were also interested in southeastern Asia.
Russians have placed 20 to 30 percent more bookings in total when compared with a year earlier, he said, adding that the Egypt route was still not open.
Gorin told Russia Today earlier last week that Gorin, Russian tourists were “a rather tricky task” for Albania, as the Muslim country had strong rivals such as neighboring Montenegro and Greece as well as Bulgaria, Greek Cyprus and Russia's own Black Sea resorts.
“There are 230 resort hotels in the country that can accommodate a total of 8,000 people [but lack the] Turkish-style ‘all inclusive' format that was so popular among Russian tourists” he said, also highlighting the lack of direct flights.