Easing visa regulations makes Russia big attraction for Saudis

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Russia witnessed a 10 percent increase in international tourists in 2018. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Zarina Doguzova. (Supplied)
Updated 15 October 2019

Easing visa regulations makes Russia big attraction for Saudis

  • Tourists can visit the country’s regions by simply applying online

MOSCOW: Walking the cobblestone streets around Moscow’s Red Square, tourists from far and wide enjoy the crisp, cool fall air, surrounded by architectural wonders dating back hundreds of years.
Similar to Saudi Arabia, which has begun promoting tourism for the first time, Russia has opened its doors wider to the world by easing visit restrictions, increasing the flow of tourists.
Zarina Doguzova, head of the Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation, explains to Arab News the dynamics behind it all. “Russia is now very focused on easing visa restrictions and formalities. At the moment, an electronic visa is used for tourists coming to the regions of the Far East, as well as to the Kaliningrad region. And just a very short while ago, an electronic visa regime went live in the territory of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region,” said Doguzova.
Doguzova stressed to Arab News the importance of working with Saudi Arabia to increase mutual openness and to develop a successful travel industry in both countries.
“Saudi Arabia is on the list of countries whose tourists can visit Russian regions using an electronic visa. We are always happy to see tourists from your country visiting us. Moreover, from Jan. 1, 2021, an electronic visa will work throughout Russia, and we consider it a real breakthrough for global tourism. The same can be said about Saudi Arabia — the things you are doing are a new step in the development of global tourism,” she added.
Doguzova went on to explain that a significant easing of visa restrictions increases incoming tourism by an average of 10-15 percent for a country.
“Tourism is at the intersection of the economy and the country’s image, and that is why its value is even higher. Therefore, we are now developing the concept of Russia’s systematic promotion in international markets in terms of tourism potential.”
Russia is one of the 49 countries on the list recently announced by Saudi Arabia whose citizens will be able to apply for tourist visas to the Kingdom for the first time.
Ahmed Al-Khateeb, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), announced on Sept. 27, 2019, at an event held in the Kingdom’s capital that international investors agreed to invest SR115 billion ($30 billion) in the tourism sector.
Al-Khateeb and Doguzova met at the 23rd session of the General Assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization held in St. Petersburg in September, the first high-level event hosted by Russia for the UN in the field of tourism.

FASTFACT

14,000 Saudis attended the 2018 FIFA World Cup using FanID, an identification document required by the Russian authorities that provided visa-free entry to Russia for foreigners that purchased tickets to the match.

At 6.6 million sq. miles, Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of landmass and an exotic destination for many. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia gave it a serious incentive to develop tourism, with 14,000 Saudis arriving under the FanID visa that was launched before the start of the games. The e-visa system allowed fans to enter Russia visa-free once they had purchased their match tickets.
The number of tourists has soared since then, placing Russia on the global travel map. Russia saw a 10 percent increase in international tourists, with 4.2 million tourists overall in 2018, the state-run Vesti news website reported, citing the Federal Security Service (FSB) border guards.
Doguzova said there are many points of interest for both Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation to maintain a mutual tourist flow.
With President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Saudi Arabia, Doguzova hopes that both countries will sign the first framework agreement on tourism.
“For the first time, the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism has drafted such a document and agreed on it with the interested parties. This agreement will create a legal basis for further cooperation in tourism and will contribute to the development of tourism between our countries,” she said.
Doguzova noted that Russia has previously raised the issue of a possible visa-free regime between both countries and will continue to discuss the issue. “We are excited about Saudi Arabia’s efforts to promote tourism. A trend to lift visa restrictions is underway in the world because people want to cross the borders at will in order to travel. Visa liberalization is now taking place all over the world, and both Saudi Arabia and Russia are making significant progress in this field.”
“We want millions of tourists from all over the world, including Saudi Arabia, to discover our country,” she added.


6 Saudi teams scale heights as Canadians win Entrepreneurship World Cup

Updated 22 min 10 sec ago

6 Saudi teams scale heights as Canadians win Entrepreneurship World Cup

  • Third-ranked Saudi startup Red Sea Farms receives thunderous applause from audience
  • The EWC is the world’s largest startup competition, with over 100,000 applicants

RIYADH: Canadian firm NERv Technology Inc. emerged victorious at the Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) at the Misk Global Forum (MGF) 2019 in Riyadh on Thursday, with Saudi startup Red Sea Farms coming third.

NERv Technology Inc. was handed a $500,000 prize and the winning trophy, while second-ranked team Koniku Inc. from the US won $250,000.

Red Sea Farms received $150,000, and fourth and fifth-ranked Sumato-ID (of Argentina) and SUN Mobility (India) were handed $50,000 each.

Speaking to Arab News, NERv Technology’s Amr Abdelgawad said: “It’s been a fantastic experience going through the event here over the past few days.

“We have been working really hard for almost five years to make sure we have a device that can actually have an impact on people’s lives and I think we are getting one step closer to that.  

“It was a great experience in terms of the people we met, the people we engaged with, being able to be in the same place with like-minded individuals who understand how difficult it is to start our own business. We helped each other and have great respect for all the finalists, the grand prize to us is just a small part of winning, to be in the final was great.”     

On coming to Riyadh to participate in the EWC, he said: “It was really nice being here, I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, so it is great to come back and see this country the way it is right now, and it is absolutely fantastic to win the EWC here.”

Third-ranked team Red Sea Farms (Saudi Arabia) received a $150,000 cheque. (AN photo by Ziyad Al-Arfaj)

Mark Tester, CEO and founder of Red Sea Farms, told Arab News: “It is a fantastic feeling to come third, to be in this event is fantastic to be honest, I am really proud of representing Saudi Arabia.”

He commended the role played by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) describing it as a “fabulous organization” to work with.

“This is real affirmation of our efforts to build companies and deliver research back to Saudi Arabia,” added Tester. 

Speaking at the final ceremony of the MGF, Commerce and Investment Minister Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi praised the startups at the EWC finals and described the MGF as a “hope forum,” saying it provided a platform for making the Kingdom a land of opportunity.

Shaima Hamidaddin, executive manager of the MGF, thanked all the participants and EWC contestants for “really amazing sessions”.

She also gave a sneak peak of MGF 2020, saying it would be historically important because of the Kingdom hosting G20 Summit next year.

“The EWC global finalists represent the cream of international startup talent. We’re looking forward to seeing the entrepreneurs reach even greater heights thanks to the bootcamp ahead of the finals at the MGF. Our partnership with KAUST is part of our commitment to working with top international leaders in innovation, training, and development to achieve our global mission of empowering young people to thrive in the knowledge economy.”

Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi, commerce and investment minister, left, and Bader Al-Asaker, chairman of MISK initiative center, right, with coo and cofounder of Nerv Technology that emerged victorious at the entrepreneurship World cup under the Misk Global Forum 2019 in Riyadh on Nov. 14, 2019. (AN photo/Ziyad Al-Arfaj)

Red Sea Farms received thunderous applause from the audience as it placed third, with all the successful teams well-received.

Notably, of the 100 global finalists, six were from Saudi Arabia: Sadeem, Faheem, Cura, Dhad, Red Sea Farms and UnitX. All were founded by graduates of KAUST’s entrepreneurship programs.

The contest’s 10 semifinalists were: Bambrew (India), CiDi (China), Corumat Inc. (US), DRD Biotech (Russia), Koniku Inc. (US), NERv Technology Inc. (Canada), Red Sea Farms (Saudi Arabia), SUN Mobility (India), Sumato-ID (Argentina), and Tensortec (China).

Judges at the event included Kevin O’Leary, chairman of O’Shares Investments, Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, CEO and managing director of STV, Christine Tsai, CEO of 500 Startups and Aneel Ranadive, managing partner at Soma Capital.

Earlier over the course of the forum, the 100 startups drawn from national and regional finals around the world were whittled down to a final top 10.

KAUST hosted the EWC finalists between Nov. 8 and Nov. 11 at its entrepreneurship bootcamp in partnership with the MGF, at its campus in Thuwal near Jeddah.

The EWC is the world’s largest startup competition, with over 100,000 applicants.

Saudi Arabia presents an extraordinary opportunity for startups interested in accessing the MENA market and tapping into KAUST’s unique ecosystem, focused on finding solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges in food, water, energy and the environment.

The KAUST-Misk partnership aims to advance Saudi Arabia’s ambitious economic transformation goals by attracting cutting-edge, impactful startups and top entrepreneurial talent to the Kingdom.

The EWC was conducted by the MGF in partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship Network, alongside local and regional partners.