YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The government will ask parliament to approve a fivefold reduction in visa fees for foreign citizens making short trips to Armenia as part of its efforts to boost the national tourism industry.
Foreigners traveling to Armenia currently have to pay a fixed fee of 15,000 drams ($50) for a visa valid for up to 120 days. Under a draft legal amendment approved by the government on Thursday, those of them who plan to stay in the country for up to 21 days would be charged only 3,000 drams. The fee for those planning longer stays would remain unchanged.
A government statement said the measure is designed to attract more tourists to Armenia. It argued that such travelers typically spend no more than three weeks in a particular country.
Obtaining an Armenian visa is already quite easy. Foreigners can get it not only at Armenian consulates abroad but at Yerevan airport and the country’s land border crossings. Also, in 2003 Armenia became the second country in the world to issue visas online.
Armenia’s tourism sector has expanded significantly over the past decade parallel to its economic growth and improving services infrastructure. Successive governmen’s in Yerevan have declared its development a top economic priority.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian also approved on Thursday a separate four-year plan of measures which it hopes will spur further growth in tourism. The government statement said they are specifically aimed at “improving the legal framework regulating the sector and developing the tourism infrastructure.” It did not elaborate.
According to government estimates, a record-high 500,000 foreigners, most of them ethnic Armenia’s from Europe, the United States and Russia, visited Armenia last year. Tourism officials at the Armenian Ministry of Economy say their number will likely rise to 600,000 this year despite the recent war in neighboring Georgia.