RIGA - The mayor of the Latvian seaside resort city of Jurmala has suggested easing or even lifting visa requirements for Russians to help boost tourism in Latvia.
"Restaurant owners claim the Russian tourist is special, and they are delighted about every Russian tourist. They have bigger hearts 's sometimes they spend more," Jurmala's mayor, Raimonds Munkevics, said.
However, the mayor of Latvia's most popular seaside resort city, when asked, avoided a direct answer to the question of whether Jurmala should cater specifically to Russian tourists.
"We participate in tourism exhibitions with our booth. If we removed our booths in Finland, Sweden and Germany to organize one more show in Russia instead, I don't think it would give any results," he said.
Munkevics also said it would not be sensible to focus only on tourists from one particular country.
The mayor pointed out that easy entry into Latvia is essential to attracting tourists.
The mayor also said that tourists from the Schengen zone enjoyed substantial advantages in this respect. Asked if it would be useful to lift the visa requirement for Russians, he gave a positive answer, implying that the lift would be useful both for tourists and for businesses in the region.
In 2007, Jurmala welcomed 128,200 tourists in a 2.9-percent increase from 2006, and the number of guests at Jurmala's hotels and other lodging facilities reached 21,500 in the first quarter of 2008, which is 7 percent more than the same period a year ago.
Of the foreign tourists visiting Jurmala in the first quarter of this year, 13 percent came from Estonia, 11 percent from Russia, 8 percent from Lithuania and 5 percent from Belarus, but there were also guests from Sweden, Germany, Finland, Great Britain and Ukraine.
In the first quarter of this year, the number of tourists from Germany surged by 64 percent, from Russia by 39.8 percent, from Sweden by 27 percent and from Ukraine by 21 percent.
The current visa situation for Russian tourists is quite difficult. To obtain a visa to Latvia one must have an invitation, a substantial amount of money and the will to fill out numerous forms.
Russians questioned about this process, however, replied that "there are ways around everything."