The visa-free program launched in Grodno District has given a boost to business development in the region, Belarusian Deputy Sports and Tourism Minister Mikhail Portnoi told the media on 16 February.
Mikhail Portnoi took part in a wrap-up session at the Sports and Tourism Department of the Grodno Oblast Executive Committee. In his words, the region has been making headway in all fields, including tourism development. “The country which has neither oil nor gas can capitalize on tourism and infrastructure. The fact that we are situated in the center of Europe also helps us. Grodno Oblast is active in this regard,” he said. Over 52,000 so-called visa-free tourists came to see Grodno and surroundings in 2017. The increased number of tourists caught the interest of local businessmen. Several new hotels and food facilities opened in Grodno, more than 400 new jobs were created. Tourists spent over €12 million in the region.
“Within two months, the region will present a serious document – the Grodno Oblast tourism development program – which will include a whole set of measures. This document is meant to find out what hampers tourism development in terms of legislation and what should be done in this context. The program should also envisage infrastructure development, marketing measures, and favorable conditions for SMEs. These things should give an impetus to economic growth,” Mikhail Portnoi stated. The successful implementation of the program should boost the contribution of tourism to GDP growth multiple times, he stressed.
“The duration of visa-free stay in Grodno Oblast and Brest Oblast was extended in 2018. It is also important that the checkpoints at railway terminals and airports were included in the visa-free area. In the future, they should provide competition to the airports of Vilnius and Warsaw. We should work hard, however, to achieve this,” the official pointed out. In his opinion, it is necessary to develop the infrastructure of air, water, and rail communications.
Economic effect is not the only important result of tourism development, he added. “Foreigners often come to Belarus with a sort of a misconception about it. However, as soon as they see the clean beautiful safe country that is open to any guest they want to come back again,” Mikhail Portnoi underlined.
The interest of foreign tourists in the region has been growing, noted Oleg Andreichik, Head of the Sports and Tourism Department at the Grodno Oblast Executive Committee. Over 3,600 visa-free tourists from 23 countries have visited Grodno and surroundings since the beginning of 2018. More than 800 foreign nationals have registered for a visit to Grodno for the next weekend.
Decree No. 462 on the visa-free entry and departure of foreign nationals came into force on 1 January. The document extended the duration of visa-free stay to ten days, launched the visa-free program in more areas, and increased the number of border checkpoints in order to allow more foreign tourists to enter Belarus and stay here without visas. The visa-free area near Grodno was expanded to cover the entire Grodno District. Now foreign visitors are able to come to Belarus via the checkpoints located at railway terminals and airports along with the ones designed for motor vehicles.