Minsk National Airport Welcomes First Visa-Free TouristsMinsk National Airport started the day of 12 February with excitement as the presidential decree on visa-free entry for nationals of 80 countries came into force.
All the agencies concerned had been busy preparing for that. Journalists were particularly excited as they hoped to welcome the first tourists to arrive in Belarus via the airport without a visa.
They were tracking all the flights, especially those from the European Union, which could carry potential guests. However, the first visa-free tourist to arrive in Belarus and talk to the media was transiting from Abu Dhabi.
Li Yan from China arrived at Minsk National Airport from the United Arab Emirates.
She was greeted with a bunch of red roses presented by Mikhail Portnoy, Belarusian Deputy Sport and Tourism Minister. Surprised by the attention, she answered a couple of questions from reporters.
Li Yan confessed that she came to Belarus for the first time. She learned that she could go without a Belarusian visa (Chinese nationals only need to have a Schengen visa in their passport) from her colleagues. The tourist told the media what she already knew about the country.
Li Yan noted that Belarus is a beautiful country with wonderful people. She also said that she was going to do some sightseeing in Minsk and visit a number of museums.
“I know that the food is good here, and that there is much snow in winter,” the foreign guest said.
Li Yan showed the curious journalists her passport with a Schengen visa. She works as an air traffic controller in China.
Riccardo Biancci from Italy, who also arrived without a visa, was frustrated by the attention and was not particularly willing to share his impressions. As he saw the media crowd at the passport control, he refused to talk and answer questions.
The persistent journalists, however, persuaded Ricardo to share a few things about himself. He said that he came to Minsk for personal reasons (he was greeted by a girl at the airport) and was happy about Belarus' decision to abolish visas.
Earlier, Ricardo had to obtain a visa in Milan. Last year he visited Belarus about two dozen times, and the process of contacting the embassy took a lot of time.
Now everything is much easier, but Ricardo would like Belarus to extend the period of visa-free stay. The young man is a programmer.
Among the first EU citizens to visit Minsk visa-free was Aleks from Lithuania. He said that his trip was related to his work. The Lithuanian traveler said his business partners sent him an invitation and prepared a program for his stay in Belarus.
"This is good news that Lithuanians need no visas to visit your country now. This is like traveling in the EU,” Aleks said showing his passport with no visa in it.
Belarus' Deputy Sport and Tourism Minister Mikhail Portnoy named the recent changes in the tourism sector of Belarus a groundbreaking step, a gesture of goodwill. “It is clear that the flow of tourists will not increase manifold in the first two or three months. We expect an increase of some 15 to 20%,” said Mikhail Portnoy.
He noted that to attract more tourists, the Sport and Tourism Ministry has yet to undertake a lot of marketing efforts.
Meanwhile, work is now underway to inform as many potential guests as possible that Belarus is open to those who want to see the country or to start business.
Mikhail Portnoy believes that Minsk National Airport provides all necessary conditions for travelers, including Internet, good transport connection, tours, hotels and many more.
“Of course, we cannot take care of every detail at once. We will learn and improve the process,” he promised.
Public transport and taxis wait for tourists outside the airport. The airport staff say it costs some Br55 to get to Minsk by taxi.
Photo by Maksim Guchek, BelTA.