Expansion of a free-visa policy has proved a boon for Belarus’ tourist industry, with foreign visitor arrivals via Minsk National Airport increasing by 43%.
The highest number of foreign tourists, more than 207,000 people, or 57%, travelled to Belarus from Russia, who never needed a visa to Belarus. An additional 37% travelled to Belarus from the EU countries, according to Belstat, the country’s state statistics service.
“The visa-free scheme itself could not have increased numbers without better informing people about travel to the country. We have managed to do that,” said Belarusian deputy tourism minister Mikhail Portnoi.
However, some tourism experts disagree. Mario Lobo, the head of Iron Curtain Tours to Belarus, believes there’s a lot to be done for the 30-day visa-free travel scheme to work properly.
“I actually own a travel agency in the EU and I take people to Belarus. There is close to nothing that the state has done to promote the country. The European Games are coming and besides the stands present in tourism fairs there is ZERO promotion of the event in the EU.
As for the National Agency for Tourism, it is impossible to talk to whomever it is inside unless you know some minister to tell them to do so. True, there is a lovely database with thousands of photos and videos.
Only accessible in crappy quality and with no sorting/search mechanism. If tourism is growing in Belarus is due to private initiative, namely: BelarusFeed, Minsknotdead.com or Free Walking Tour in Minsk.”
And he is not alone in viewing the situation.
On 12 February, Belarus celebrated a two-year anniversary of its visa-free regime via Minsk airport. BelarusFeed talked to experts to draw a line under one of the most anticipated legal changes for tourists and this is what they said.